With the huge influx of new solo or small group entrepreneurs into the world, the realm of branding has shifted. Where “personal branding” used to refer to the act of dressing up your personality, packaging yourself as a commodity in order to climb the corporate ladder, it now means something very, very different. Now personal branding refers to bloggers, solo photographers, freelancers, and all kinds of entrepreneurs and how they market themselves and their products or services. Furthermore, as these talented and capable people begin to brand themselves, a trend of DIY personal branding has taken over the blogosphere and social media marketing genres.
There is nothing wrong with DIY branding, particularly in the creative sector. After all, branding is something many creatives learn by trade and doing it in-house can save a lot of upfront cash for a new or small business. However, there is an unfortunate downside to the the DIY approach, especially in today’s post Pinterest world. Too often creatives, bloggers, and infopreneurs build a brand from shallow trends in their niche. Driven by the time stresses of the #sidehustle, or the ever-present comparison game, they abandon the core concept of authenticity and originality in branding and clamor to make something, anything so that they can launch their endeavors and build their businesses.
This struggle is one that I can deeply relate to, being jealous of others in my genre, wanting to look like they look, have the website they have, grow the audience they’ve grown. It can be so easy to just mimic in an effort to maximize the returns on our time investment. The harsh reality is, however, that this IKEA way of branding with low cost, mass produced assets and a little home assembly is not authentic or original. These cookie-cutter looks are a dime a dozen, which means they don’t stand out to anyone — the exact opposite of what branding should do.
There is a better way. Personal branding that stays closer to the things you love, the things that represent you and your business, will equate to more authenticity and more connection with your audience. It just takes some evaluation of your current standing, introspection about yourself and some personality. The best part is that you can still use some of those easy to find and minimal investment assets, and you can still do it yourself.
Evaluate Where You Are
The first step in a DIY overhaul of your personal brand is in finding out where you are right now. Take a break and stand back, evaluating what you have with an honest and critical eye. I help clients to do this by asking a few poignant questions:
Are you being represented?
When you look at your business, do you see yourself there? Or do you see the same thing that hundreds of others are doing? Even if your name is in the logo, if the colors aren’t from you or the voice isn’t yours, then you aren’t being represented. This is a big deal because at the end of the day you aren’t just selling a product or service. You’re selling a product or service provided by the human being that is you, and that is what makes it special.
Do you like to look at it?
I could be pretty well represented by a cold cup of coffee in a teal mug, but it wouldn’t be a great brand decision. Evaluate your current personal brand with your creative intuition. Is it attractive? Do you, as a creative professional, like it? Chances are your gut will tell you if something isn’t up to par.
Is your audience responding?
Does your current look and feel support you in getting new clients or sales? Do you feel like you’re successful in spite of it or because of it? Like a cold cup of coffee won’t entice a new customer, a personal brand that doesn’t key into the overlap of what you want and what your audience wants might fall flat.
Evaluate WHO you are
If your current setup passed the evaluation, then you are probably in a pretty great place. If it didn’t, then chances are you need an update, DIY or otherwise. Possibly the most important element of a personal brand is the personal part. To strengthen any weak spots you might have on that front, you’ll have to look inward.
Why are you in this business?
I’m in it to pay my bills while also doing something I enjoy, but there’s probably something deeper. Why this business, instead of countless others? I find that understanding what roots a person in their business, while not directly related to branding, helps tackle the solution from a place of understanding.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
Find the thing that builds your own excitement, and then hold on to that. In a lot of cases this can be the cornerstone of a personal brand. Love talking to new clients? Then ideas like “handshake, open, welcoming, smile” could be a springboard for your brand update. Love putting pen to paper? Then you might try “ink, tactile, black and white, paper texture, traditional” as a place to start.
Embrace Your Personality
One of the most enjoyable things about a Personal Brand versus a Corporate Brand is the opportunity to infuse it with real personality. In a solo business, the connection with your customer can be much, much more immediate. That one-on-one relationship makes it not only possible, but beneficial to show a little bit of the real you. There’s an added bonus too — adding a bit of your own flair is one of the easiest ways to update your personal brand.
Giving your audience a glimpse into your way of life isn’t a science, but there are some guardrails. Start small, and with your natural way of speaking. Instead of tweeting a proper Oxford style sentence, consider using a bit of your own slang, or a favorite catchphrase. Regina Anaejionu of ByRegina is a great example of this. She calls her email newsletter “Ninja Notes” and refers to being “Epic” as a business strategy.
In a similar way, you can use informal platforms like Instagram to branch out even further. Show yourself with bare feet, or covered in paint creating a new product. Let people see the human side of your business, but don’t go overboard.
When it comes to showing your personality, there can be too much of a good thing. Avoid using your brand as a stage to rant or complain about your life, and definitely don’t post any inappropriate photos. The internet is forever, folks, and slip ups like that can damage your brand as well as your reputation.
Love the Look
I know, I’m avoiding the elephant in the room. What about the graphics? After all, a visual identity is the first thing your audience sees about you. In many cases they make dozens of assumptions in the first seconds of landing on your website or other brand material, so it has got to be original, and great.
If tweaking your existing brand with the tactics above doesn’t go far enough to make you stand out, then it is time to consider larger scale changes. This is where things can go awry, and you might end up with something incongruent with who you are, or what you sell. In order to keep on track, I recommend a mood board. Pull together not only elements of your personal visual style, but some of the words or themes from your evaluation of who you are in your business, and elements of your personality as well. This is where a picture of cold coffee might fit for me, alongside mint watercolors, my favorite sweater and beautiful ocean views.
Put these elements, colors, fonts, and favorite outfits, together into one master document. This should be informal, not at all like an official brand identity. Use the result as a guide while you find new visual assets, and incorporate them into your personal brand. Having a solid foundation built with care and thought can take the cookie-cutter DIY branding trend and transform it into budget savvy, excellent personal branding.
It is likely that solo entrepreneurs will continue to change the definitions of the traditional business lexicon, and the internet will serve to make ready-to-use visual assets more and more available to the masses. Overall, this is good news and with a little soul searching, a little DIY spirit and a good foundation, personal branding can become an integral part of any creative person’s skillset.