Why You Need A Personal Brand (And How To Build One)
Yeah, a personal brand sounds like the kind of cringe-fest that should remain the exclusive domain of teeth-bleached Instagram influencers or mum-preneurs who’ll send you their free ebook if you connect with them on LinkedIn. It’s embarrassing, uncomfortable, and unnecessarily self-absorbed – right?
But with 70% of bosses admitting to snooping on job applicants’ social media profiles, and around a million Australians in insecure gig employment, standing out, sharing your strengths and showing personality isn’t optional anymore – it’s imperative.
We’re not just talking about a perfectly sleek pastel Instagram aesthetic or a bowl of short-stemmed peonies by your bed. A personal brand is the presentation of your values, behaviours and character, and it’s a crucial tool for work success, meeting new people, and learning new things.
But how do you actually do it?
#1 Draw on what you’re doing already
There’s no better place to start than where you currently are.
Freelance copywriter Naomi Faye recently launched the online face of the one-woman writing business she’s been running for a couple of years. A slick-looking black-and-white website, an illustrated logo, and business pages on Instagram and Facebook show her services to the world, but she says she put little thought into how it was going to look – instead, simply making her personal preferences public.
“Change is scary, but it’s so important to growing yourself, and your brand.”
“I love line drawings, my tattoos are lines, and I love drawings of women, the look of urban girls on computers,” she says of the logo, a hand-drawn portrait she commissioned from a designer friend. “You just have to find out what you really like and what works for you.”
Naomi suggests spending time on Instagram to find the visuals that draw you, and the same is true of other media: observe what attracts your attention. “When it comes to making your own presence, it will come naturally, because you’ve cultivated your own tastes,” she says.
An authentic brand that draws from what you already like will seem natural, not contrived, and will encourage trust – ideal for finding new clients, connecting online with people who share your ideals, and saving you the hassle of inventing new content.
#2 Be authentic, and don’t fear disagreement
You’re far more than the sum of your social media accounts, and your brand should reflect this. But don’t feel like you have to perform a public character – a strong personal brand will simply neaten the edges of a real personality.
“I used to think you had to present a perfect version of a flawless human being to be taken seriously, but I’ve since realised that’s not what people connect with,” says Jaclyn McCosker, a writer and activist who uses social media to connect with people. Jaclyn says she chooses to show up as herself every day, even if it’s not perfectly aesthetic, in order to forge stronger bonds with her community.
“Being unapologetically yourself means you won’t be palatable for everyone, but it definitely helps you build a deeper connection with the people that are the right fit for you,” she says.
#3 Treat your personal brand like guidelines, not rules
It can feel intimidating to tackle building a personal brand, but it doesn’t have to be restrictive. You don’t need a style guide for your LinkedIn profile or a list of banned colours for your Instagram – just make sure you take people along with you if you suddenly pivot your densely populated CV to a low-fi list of adjectives.
“I like to show vulnerability because I think that empowers people more than false confidence.”
“Don’t be afraid to change,” says Kelsie White, a graphic designer and hand-letterer, who built a quirky online stationery business before moving recently into a full-fledged design practice. “Change is scary, but it’s so important to growing yourself, and your brand.”
Kelsie suggests telling people the story of why you’re drawn to new things as you try them, in order to bring your community along.
If you’re regularly posting op-shopped outfits on your thrifty Instagram, a sudden switch to vegan smoothie bowls may feel jarring – but if you explain you’re exploring minimalism and low-impact living, the change may feel more intuitive, and your exploration more authoritative.
#4 Take control of the content you can
One of the most persuasive reasons for building a personal brand is that it’s content you can control. People make split-second judgements about what they see, so it makes sense to do what you can to control what comes their way.
Jaclyn says she uses consistent colours and formatting in all her social media posts to show people what they’ll get if they hit follow.
“People want consistency,” she explains. “Nobody wants to follow an account because they really liked something they saw, only to find out that’s not the kind of content you normally even share.”
#5 Show your less-shiny side
For a small business owner who finds clients online, writer Naomi’s occasional sharing of Instagram posts about procrastination, writers’ block and difficult deadlines seems counter-intuitive. But for Naomi, that’s part of the plan.
“Of course, your online presence is a more confident and capable version of yourself,” she says. “But I like to show vulnerability because I think that empowers people more than false confidence.”
At the end of the day, you’re of course far more than the sum of your social media accounts, and your personal brand should reflect this.
If you’re naturally polished, professional and sophisticated, then by all means litter your LinkedIn with corporate slang and maintain a sleek, neutral Instagram aesthetic. But if you’re a goof who loves to try new things, don’t shut yourself into what a Forbes article tells you about job interview etiquette, or buy folders for the sake of it. Be you, but deliberately. And remember potential employers may be able to see your online brand.
Sophie Raynor is a writer and list-maker from Perth living in tropical Timor-Leste. She loves ethical development communications and taking about sweating, and tweets at @raynorsophie.