How Personal Branding Can Help Your Creative Career
Calling all creatives! Raise your virtual hand if you find it hard to put yourself out there and shout about your work or services... it's often harder than making the work itself, right? But building a personal brand can seriously elevate your business and, if you're a freelance creative, it can help you draw in the right kind of clients. It’s all about building a reputation! So we've brought in brand coach and strategist Hollie Arnett of Maker & Moxie to deliver some expert advice in a three-part series on all things personal branding, from understanding its power to finding your niche.
What do you want to be known for?
Do you want to be known as the go-to illustrator for creative brands that need a bold, bright style?
…Or maybe you’d love recruiters to think of you when they’re looking for detail-oriented designers with a passion for A11y-friendly design systems.
…Or is it your dream to be asked to speak at conferences around the world about your experience as a remote product manager because you’re a charming, funny speaker that people love to have on their stages?
Whatever your goals are, the way to achieve them is with a personal brand.
A personal brand is what people think about when they hear your name.
That might be the work you do, the clients you work with, the colors you use, the things you’re passionate about, the experiences people have had with you, your personality, or a number of other things.
These associations are powerful, because they influence the conversations your name comes up in, the doors that are opened to you, and the opportunities that come your way.
When that creative client is looking for a bold, bright illustrator, you want the people they ask for recommendations to think of you straight away!
That recruiter on the hunt for a systems-savvy designer needs to see your portfolio at the top of the pile and know, “yep! This person’s the one for us!”
And if you’ve built a brand as an in-demand speaker who rocks the topic of remote project management like no one else, you’re going to be top of mind for the event manager looking for someone just like you.
This is the power of a personal brand.
It’s all about building a reputation that gets your name out there in the right places, at the right times, for the right people, so that you can make your goals happen.
What does a personal brand do?
I don’t know if you know this, but you already have a personal brand.
When your name comes up in conversation, someone lands on your portfolio, or you are introduced to a new connection at a networking event, there are already assumptions and associations being made about who you are based on what people already know and can determine about you.
The real magic happens when you actually stop to think about what these assumptions and associations are. When you intentionally build a personal brand that aligns with your goals, values, and personality, it can:
Attract your ideal clients/employers
Establish you as a go-to in your field for what you do
Represent you in the best way possible
Tell people what to expect when they work with you
Capture people’s attention
Build trust with potential clients or recruiters
Clarify your purpose and direction
Give you confidence to share your work
Help you stand out
Generate engagement and excitement to work with you
Increase loyalty with existing clients
All of this and more can happen when you’re clear on exactly what you do, who you do it for, why you do it, how you do it, and the value that it adds, and can communicate that through words, visuals, and experiences.
That, is branding.
Why would I want to build a personal brand?
Whether you know it or not, when people hear your name, a story starts to play in their mind about who you are, what you do, and what you’re all about. With branding, you get to control that narrative.
And it takes five to seven impressions for someone to remember your brand, so that narrative is something you want to consistently maintain and build over time.
This might not be something you need to worry about if you’re happy where you are, with what you’ve got, doing what you’re doing.
But there are a bunch of situations where intentionally building a personal brand is going to position you for success. You’d want to focus on your personal brand if you want to:
1. Get more clients
If you’re freelancing or running a business, building your personal brand is super helpful for getting new clients, and the right clients at that.
When you’ve got a clear reputation for the work you do, style you use, clients you serve, or kind of person you are, it’s so much easier to attract your ideal clients, get referrals for new clients, and keep your existing clients coming back for more.
When I’m asked for recommendations for web designers, copywriters, and other service providers, I immediately think about who would be the right fit and each creative’s personal brand helps me to determine who that is. When their brand communicates their unique passions, skills, values, stories, and styles, I know right away who to recommend and I feel confident sending my friend their way.
And I’m not alone. 84 percent of business decision makers choose the people they work with based on referrals, before next hopping onto Google to search for options. That means if your reputation or online presence aren’t up to scratch, you could be missing out on your ideal clients!
But with a personal brand that makes you noticeable, memorable, and reliable, you can increase referrals, get in on recommendations, and make a great first impression on those Google searches.
My personal brand in action on Twitter. My bio, photos, URL, and the content I share all build a picture of who I am, what I do, and what I’m all about. Potential clients can see the work I do, the content I create, the topics I talk about, the services I offer, the values I outwork, the kind of person I am to work with, and more. This makes it easier for them to decide if I’m the right fit for them, and allows others to confidently recommend me!
2. Change industry
Pivoting can be a daunting task, but building a personal brand can enable you to navigate it without worrying about the transition period. By changing your messaging, creating relevant content, connecting with the right people, and communicating your new niche, you can start to associate yourself with the industry you want to move to and become known in those circles before you take the leap and make the switch.
This applies to niching down too. When I first started my freelance career, I was a hand-lettering and typography artist. This led to designing hand-lettered logos, which turned into crafting full brand identities, which in turn meant adding brand strategy, and has brought me to where I am today, doing brand strategy and coaching. Each time I’ve niched down, I’ve clarified my messaging, communicated my mission, and evolved my personal brand to establish me firmly in my new area of expertise. You can do the same.
3. Increase your prices or salary
If you’re ready for the next level, you’re gonna need the brand to match.
Having a strong reputation in your field and an elevated identity that communicates the quality of your work tells the world that your services are worth investing in.
When you’re known for the work you do, the results you deliver, and the experience you provide, clients and managers will have no doubts when it comes to paying you what you’re worth. And your visual identity supports that when it represents you and your work well.
4. Build a side project
If you’re like me and have too many creative ideas, you might be thinking about building a side-hustle. Whatever this extra-curricular project might be, you can build, grow, and scale it by leveraging your personal brand.
One of Charli Prangley’s side hustles, Inside Marketing Design, leverages her personal brand to gain listeners, book guests, and grow the podcast. Charli shares her side-hustle via her personal Twitter, Newsletter and YouTube Channel to increase its reach & engagement.
The website for Charli’s side hustle, Inside Marketing Design
5. Get a new job or promotion
Whether you’re looking to move up in your current company, or out into something new, your personal brand is going to help you get there. Showing that you’re interested in the things that role covers, that you’re passionate about the problems that need solving, and that your values align with the company are just a few ways that your personal brand can get you in the door. Having a clear, consistent brand is just the leg-up you need to stand out and win that role.
Plus, more and more employers are looking not at resumes and cover letters, but at what they find online. In fact, eighty-five percent of recruiters and HR professionals say that an employee’s online reputation influences their hiring decisions. So a purposeful personal brand isn’t just a nice thing to do, it could be the thing that nabs you your dream job.
And if your personal brand is that good, you might even be headhunted for roles you didn’t even know you wanted!
6. Open yourself up to new opportunities
Say you want to start speaking on podcasts, collaborating with brands, or getting your hands on some guest writing opportunities – to open those doors, you need the world to know that those are the ones you want to open and that you’re capable of opening them! That means starting to include those things in your personal brand so that it’s clear what kind of opportunities you’re open to.
Meg Lewis uses her website and other online platforms to clearly communicate the work she wants to do. She lists the work she does, the content she delivers, and the clients she works with, as well as examples of projects she’s done in the past. This establishes her as a content creator for happy brands who are looking for someone with her kind of energy and makes her the go-to option for those customers.
How can a personal brand help me achieve my goals?
Personal branding isn’t just a theory, it’s a tried and true strategy that leads to clients, jobs, speaking engagements, and other opportunities that can make your goals happen.
Take me, for example.
Ever since I started intentionally building my personal brand back in design school, I have been blogging about my experiences and sharing what I know. Back then, I started writing about being a design student and sharing my tips with others in a similar position.
As I stepped into freelancing, I added articles about my experiences there and created educational content for my ideal clients so they could find me and learn from me.
From there as I took my branding business full-time, my blog became all about branding so I could establish myself as an expert and provide valuable resources for my ideal clients. And now, my business publishes weekly articles about brand strategy, design, and creativity that helps creatives build their brands and achieve their dreams.
Because of all of that, being a writer has become part of my personal brand. Now I’m known as the creative gal who teaches about branding! That reputation has led to:
Podcast guest spots
Guest writing opportunities
How do you think I ended up writing this article? Because I’ve built a reputation as a writer who consistently shares valuable knowledge about branding, has done guest blogging before, and has a big old passion for helping creatives! So when the SuperHi team asked a friend of mine for recommendations, she thought of me straight away and boom, here we are!
The Maker & Moxie blog with over 100 articles that establish my business as a go-to source for branding & creativity knowledge, and builds my personal brand as a writer.
And I’m not the only personal brand success story.
Among many others is my friend and client, Femke van Schoonhoven. Fem wanted to pivot from marketing to design a few years ago, so she started building a personal brand that established her as a designer. She started a newsletter where she talked about what she was working on, launched a podcast called DesignLife to share her experiences, and most importantly, started calling herself a designer and sharing that with people who asked what she did. By creating content and messaging that made it clear what Fem was about, she built a personal brand that landed her her first design job. Since then, Fem has niched down, started a YouTube channel about product design, landed a job at Uber, and has just moved to a senior product design role at Wealthsimple. When I interviewed Fem about this process, she said: “It’s kind of amazing to think back that if I didn’t start this little personal brand, I might not even have the job that I have today.”
Fem’s personal brand is communicated through visuals & copy on her website so visitors know exactly who she is, what she does, and what she’s about.
Okay, I’m all in on personal brands. What now?
Leadership Coach Dave Buck said “Your brand is a gateway to your true work. You know you are here to do something – to create something or help others in some way. The question is, how can you set up your life and work so that you can do it? The answer lies in your brand. When you create a compelling brand you attract people who want the promise of your brand – which you deliver.”
When it comes to building a personal brand, this is our ultimate goal: to create a compelling brand that attracts people to you and your work so that you can create the life you want to live.
Thankfully, you’ve already got a personal brand, we’ve just got to take it from accidental to intentional. And now you know the power of a personal brand, you’re ready to start crafting yours.
So watch this space, because I’m going to walk you through exactly how to do it in the upcoming article, the creative’s guide to building a personal brand!
Hollie is the founder of Maker & Moxie, a business on a mission to help creators build their brand, share their work, and own their moxie. With a background in graphic design and typography, Hollie offers brand coaching, strategy, resources, and events that help creatives find clarity and build a business they're proud of.