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Personal Branding Guide for Designers 2018


You may not be aware of it, but you have a personal brand. Even worse than not knowing about it, your personal brand may not even be something that you’d like it to be! If you’re unsure what people think when they see your portfolio, then it’s time to take things into your own hands.

Photo by Negative Space
Photo by Negative Space

Time to Get Personal

A personal brand is your image and reputation. It comprises your past, present and future you. In today’s business landscape there’s no room for being just another face in the crowd. You need to stand out from the competition, appeal to your audience and you can do that by creating a recognizable personal brand.

Here’s (the often outspoken) Gary Vaynerchuk’s take on personal branding:

“It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have.Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.” – Gary Vaynerchuk

Personal Brand is Not Just Cosmetic

For design experts and professionals, a strong personal brand is the key to influence and recognition. For freelancers and recent graduates, personal brand is the gateway to landing new jobs, projects and gigs. For entrepreneurs, personal brand is a foundation for confidence that propels investors to fund your ventures.

No matter who (and in which stage of life) you are, a personal brand can bring you many benefits.

  • Industry recognition for you and your business.
  • Opportunities to work on meaningful things with smart and driven people.
  • Sets a foundation for your future success.
  • More and better clients for your company that will lead to higher revenue.
  • Enables you to build online communities.

Personal branding done right is very powerful. Over the years, it has led me to numerous speaking engagements, interviews on publications like Forbes and Fast Company, business growth and leads, not to mention the connections and friendships I’ve made.

What do You Stand For?

 Perhaps more importantly, why do you stand for those things?

My own website

Your brand is not just about how many people know you. It’s about how many people recognize you for who you are. Therefore, before diving into your own website, brand colors, marketing and outstanding style, define your vision: the number one thing you want to be known for and the main reason for why you do what you do.

“My work is my art, and my art is my life.” – Robin Sharma

Your vision will light your way everywhere you go.

For instance, designer and author Ethan Marcotte is known for “starting the whole responsive design thing.” Another author and design entrepreneur Denise Anderson seeks to “unleash and empower others with design thinking.” My personal vision at tomaslau.com is “to empower one million people to change their lifestyle for good.”

Don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars and be bold.

Identify Your Target Audience

Just like you can’t sell dog food to cats, it’s also impossible to make a brand that appeals to everyone. As Walt Whitman once said, “To have great poets there must be great audiences.” That’s why instead of trying to please everyone, you should focus on the people who actually mean business to you.

According to Neil Patel and Aaron Agius, after you separate the wheat from the chaff, there should be three sorts of people in your target radar:

  • The people who pay you.
  • The people who influence people that pay you.
  • Your loyal fans and supporters.

If possible, get to know some of these people. What are their problems? What drives them forward? And most importantly, how can you help? Getting to know your audience and establishing authentic crystal clear relationship since the very beginning is necessary for creating mutual understanding and trust.

Consistency Matters

Time for another quote I think!

“The secret to great branding is consistency; every appearance and every interaction demands that you project the same image.” – Liz Goodgold, branding expert and author

Every great brand has its own outstanding visual style, voice tone and feel. When building your personal brand, you’re in charge of it all. As a designer, you may prepare:

  • Your brand logo.
  • Color palette.
  • Choice of font(s).
  • Website layout.
  • Communication style.
  • Social media accounts, images and deliverables.
  • Physical deliverables like business cards or portfolios.
  • An elevator pitch for (un)expected opportunities.

Whatever content you prepare, it’s critical for them to be consistent with your overall brand. Inconsistent messages lessen your brand’s credibility, lead to brand confusion, create miscommunication and distract your customers from the core message.

But consistency doesn’t end here. Consistency is also about delivering value on a regular basis. If your fans and followers don’t hear from you in months, they are likely to forget you.

Your Work Speaks Volumes, Make it Visible

A remarkable personal brand may get you noticed. However, it’s your portfolio that will get you the job. It’s time to show it to the world.

Your design portfolio is the single most significant proof of your abilities and expertise.

Most designers present work completed for other clients. On the one hand, that’s a great way to leverage secondary brand associations and boost your brand value. On the other hand, client work and past projects don’t always show your full capabilities, as they are restricted by various requirements and conditions. Therefore, make sure to include samples of work that you do for fun, as this will give a real glimpse of what you can actually deliver.

Here are some great designer portfolios for your inspiration.

Debbie Millman
Debbie Millman
Max Friedman
Max Friedman
Leta Sobierajski
Leta Sobierajski
Raewyn Brandon
Raewyn Brandon

Engage and Deliver Value

Personal branding is not just about stunning visuals and showcasing your work. It’s also about engaging your audience and delivering valuable insights, tips, strategies, tactics and entertainment. That’s why your brand needs good storytelling.

Just take a look at this example from Claire Baxter.

You don’t need perfect stories to engage your audiences, but you do need tell them in an immersive way. That’s why developing good storytelling skills is critical.

As Michael Simmons puts it, “authenticity is the key in the digital age.” Everyone knows something you don’t and so do you. Share your experiences and knowledge with your followers and it will result in unwavering support.

Make Use of a Mentor

One of the best ways to keep on learning is by having someone to look up to. That’s where mentoring comes in. In times of information abundance, it's easy to take good advice for granted. However, it’s your mentor who can provide you with expertise, accountability, clarity and new challenges tailored just for you.

You don’t need to look far for a mentor–it can be your boss, friends, or just someone in your extended network. As Johnny Lee Dee, the host of Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast says,

“you’re an average of five people you spent the most time with.”

Surround yourself with people you can learn from and see yourself and your personal brand grow.

Everyone Has a Unique Story to Tell, Share Yours!

You’re an ongoing story that unveils itself as time goes by. At the end of the day, your personal brand is all about you: your past, present and future. Naturally, your brand will evolve with it. You may not have complete control over everything, but having a strategic approach over its main elements will significantly increase your future prospects to get what you desire.

After all, whether you develop it or not, your brand is out there anyway.

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