How do I build my personal brand?

Picture from Ben Sweet — Unsplash

When shopping for that stick with a piece of cotton on the end to clean your ears, millions of people don’t search for cotton swabs but rather Q-tips. Facial tissue? No, Kleenex please. A strong brand has the power to not only differentiate itself from similar products but to become the gold standard of the category, one against which all others must measure themselves.

This works with skilled professionals too. After what he did at Apple, which product designer would not want to be Jony Ive? In blockchain development, Vitalik Buterin and, recently, Andre Cronje have become celebrities. But you don’t have to be famous to have a powerful — professional — personal brand that takes you to a whole other level, far above freelancing (and into DreamTeaming, hint hint).

Why is personal brand important?

Instagram stardom? Hope not. Your personal brand is rather one of the best lifehacking tools you can have, at least when it comes to your work life. Instead of competing on price, you can compete on value. Better yet, you may not even have to compete much: good clients are drawn to the best talent, and a strong personal brand is the best way to let them know you are the best of the best.

It’s like pushing a food cart through a busy market vs. having a shiny storefront in the middle of the upscale tourist area: sure, you will probably sell out with the cart but it’ll take a lot of work and bumping into others; but with the storefront, just open the doors and let the buzz bring them to you.

Where to begin?

Start with the basics: who are you as a professional? Designer? Engineer? What kind? Get into the details. If you haven’t heard of the japanese concept of Ikigai yet, here is a good Medium article about it (complete with the all-important diagram). To paraphrase, Ikigai is about finding the nexus between what you love to do, what you are good at, what people need, and what you can actually get paid for (enough to earn a living, ideally).

This will be your foundation, so take your time and be honest with yourself. This is not the place to create a persona — authenticity goes a long way towards establishing a strong personal brand. Remember that a brand takes significant time to build. If you build one that’s not really you, keeping up the appearance will burn you out fast (and people will see right through you sooner than you may think). Note also that this isn’t about how good you are at what you do. (That part comes later.)

Give your personal brand some personality.

Now that you are clear about your skills, what is your brand’s personality? You are not just a lean-mean-designing-machine — you are a very unique and interesting human being. Your personality can be part of your brand’s personality. At the same time, there are many sides to you: maybe you are quirky with your friends, professional with your colleagues, and take-no-prisoners active on your football team. Which side of you would you like your brand’s personality to show?

Moreover, what is your vision for your personal brand? When people talk about you as a professional, will you be known as the world’s top expert on vector graphics or clean code or… think far and think bold. Set a mission for your brand: be about more than making money — what do you actually want to accomplish professionally over your entire career? Answering these questions will help you create a brand that not only draws attention but is also interesting for you to represent. When driven by a strong sense of purpose, you feel more motivated and energized, and clients notice that.

Find your audience

The worst thing you can do is to try to be everything for everyone. Think of your ideal client: demographic, industry, what they want to achieve, what they struggle with, etc. You could be the expert on solving the problems of early startup CEOs who need to simplify their DIY code but have zero time to dig through it or explain it to another coder. Or you could be the expert on designing eCommerce product layouts for first-time mothers in southern Sweden. Go as deep or wide as you want to (just make sure there are enough potential clients there who are willing and able to pay you well).

If you want to have an exceptional brand, here is the secret: it’s not about you. Every client ultimately only cares about WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? If you become the best at understanding and solving their problems — your brand will become legendary. Back to the Jony Ive example, 99.99% of Steve Jobs’ demands ideas were impossible to implement if you asked anybody inside or outside of Apple. But Jony Ive always found a way — and it was pure brilliance. Be that person who finds a way when others give up.

Channel your inner Godfather

Now that you know what you’re good at, what you want to accomplish, who your ideal client is, and what pain points you can solve for them, you are ready to make them an offer they can’t refuse. Yes, this is what some call your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) or Unique Selling Proposition (USP). But really, you just need to figure out what your ideal client wants most of all (that you can do) and make it crystal clear that you will do that perfectly. Be as precise as possible and focus on one thing:

“Get ranked #1 on Google in a week.” << great

“I will use my SEO expertise to optimize your meta tags and improve your search rankings.” << snooze

Time to dress your brand for success

When you are found, online or offline, make sure your brand looks stunning from the very first second. Your website, your logo, your LinkedIn and other social media profiles — all of these need to look consistent, professional (even if your brand is quirky), and capture your ideal client’s attention. Same goes for your copy: clear, concise, and consistent with your branding. Make sure your UVP shines through, your mission and vision energize the reader from every page, and your skills and passions are easy to spot.

And don’t wait for them to come to you. Show your expertise with content that’s actually useful to your audience. Give them so much value (for free) that they will come with bank accounts open for more. Pick your favorite distribution channels: email, blog, social, all of the above. NO one would know Picasso if he stashed every painting in his apartment.

Want to take it to the next level? Beyond just feeding your ideal clients with useful info, make it a two way street. Get feedback. Encourage discussion. Build a community. Few brands are stronger than that of a community leader.

The takeaway

Ikigai really is the way. Show your ideal client that your skills and your goals will combine to solve their problem in the most effective way. Make them feel seen and you will be seen. Just make sure that everything they see is spot-on.

And… action!

Let’s put this into action. Answer these questions in writing, in full, and honestly:

  1. What do you really do? What’s your Ikigai center? (Do the actual diagram — write it out; will be 100% worth it.)
  2. What’s in your brand toolbox to begin with: skills, awards, passions, experience, etc.?
  3. What’s your brand’s personality? (quirky, serious, laid back, aggressive, etc. — jot down some adjectives but also feel free to draw pictures and really get creative)
  4. “I want to be known as the world’s top expert on _____.”
  5. “My ultimate purpose with all of my work and career is to ______.”
  6. Who is your ideal client? What do they really want? What are their biggest problems and how will you solve them?
  7. Formulate your “irrefutable” offer in 7 words or less.
  8. Think of 5 pieces of content you can write about right now. Write them down. Do one today and all 5 by the end of the week.

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Dream Team

The best freelancers in the world — building award winning interfaces for today’s most innovative companies.