By Haele Wolfe
Some days it can feel like attracting clients, people to work with, or potential employers is impossible. You know the kinds of people and projects you want to be aligned with, but for some reason, they just aren’t seeing you. This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to being a professional these days—you need to invest in personal branding in order to attract the specific kinds of work you want. Though the term “branding” is often used nebulously, it really just refers to the ways you present yourself either personally or professionally, across social media platforms, a personal website, and how you choose to present yourself in person.
Beyond an online presence, branding encompasses your professional voice (like the way that you might write a blog post for a UX site versus the way you might write an email to your best friend), and the body of work you have out in the world for people to see. Whether you’re starting from zero or looking to upgrade, we rounded up info from the pros on how to build your personal brand to set you on your personal branding journey. Start taking notes.
Google Yourself to Check Your Existing Personal Branding
When it comes to building your personal brand for your professional life, all you need to do to start is research. Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified, recommends using search engines like Google to look up your own name to see what pops up. If there’s any work you want to take down because it’s out of date or not the direction of the kind of projects or clients you’d like, start deleting. A clean slate is a great place to start building a brand.
While you’re at it, go ahead and start cleaning up some of your other profiles (or deleting them) on old sites, and update the ones you want to keep with relevant work info, projects, and links. Add your resume to networking profiles, and make a place to keep it up-to-date.
Build Credibility and Trust Into Your Branding
The cornerstone of branding—especially for freelancers—is building your professional credibility or expertise on subjects relevant to your work. There are a few ways to do this: First, you need a website. It can be simple or have as many bells and whistles as you feel like adding—just make sure its accurate, clean, and professional. Does the information answer the questions potential customers might have? Is your contact info easy for people to locate? Are you displaying work that is a good example of what skills you have to offer, and that will attract the interest of potential clients who you would like to work for? If you already have a site, ask a few friends and peers from your profession (or people in the field you’re interested in entering) to review it for you and give some user feedback. It never hurts to double check.
Next, take a look at your social media platforms. Depending on what kinds of work you want to be doing and where the clients who you would most like to attract are, you might not need to worry about managing a huge number of accounts. Lavalle says that focusing more on one or two platforms (like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook) is more beneficial to you if it means you’re actually going to maintain posting to them regularly. When it comes to social networks, it’s the content and consistency that matters, says Nammy Sirur, co-founder of marketing firm The 9to5Misfits. Whether it’s in person or regularly posting online, make sure when you decide to show up, you’re ready to continue to do so.
As for what to publish on social media: The great news is that it can be as simple as finding thought-provoking articles and pieces of content and reposting them across your platforms. Lavelle especially recommends posting helpful articles to websites like Linkedin that are specific to hiring and work resources. Posting regularly helps create a presence, establish you as someone who knows good sources, and creates the opportunity for others to repost original work you might publish.
One last note about social media etiquette—always do a grammar and spell check before posting content, especially if it’s representing you professionally. And don’t be afraid to brag a little! Use social media to showcase your skills and professional know-how so that your brand speaks for itself.
Establish Yourself as an Expert
After getting comfortable reposting content from other experts, adding your voice to the conversation is the natural next step. If you’re struggling with where to start, try defining your value proposition first. “Think of 1-3 things you do better than anyone else. And if you have no idea, start by asking your family, friends, or colleagues what they think your biggest strengths are,” says Sirur. Once you can define your strengths, you’ll have a better idea of what you can confidently write or speak about.
Think of blogging or speaking in terms of legacy content, or content that you’re making to strengthen your expert status in terms of your overall career. After all, once published online, your writing doesn’t just go away. It creates a backlog of examples of your expertise, interests, and knowledge, for the world to see. You’re cultivating your voice! Medium is an excellent platform for publishing your articles, or you can email your favorite publications and ask if they take guests posts. In your email pitch, make sure you articulate what you want to write about, why it’s relevant to their target audience, and what qualifies you to write the piece.
Iterate Your Personal Branding Process
It’s tempting to set up your website and call your personal branding journey over and done with, but the reality needs to be a bit more flexible. As you continue working, growing, and finding out more about what kind of career works for you, it’s normal and natural that you’ll want to discard some things you once considered important to your brand, and fold in new ideas that you simply didn’t know about before. Being open to this kind of iterative work is important to building a strong and genuine brand for yourself.
Austin Iuliano, a social media consultant, says that change is such a big part of building a brand for new businesses and career builders that he cautions beginners not to stress too much about it. No matter what size business your brand needs to represent, you’ll be able to grow as you lock down clients and learn more about the professional identity you need to cultivate—so leave space for that! In addition, consider polling your clients on your site and platforms after completing projects with them. Getting feedback from users will help you make smarter changes more quickly—what more could you ask for?
Remember, branding is about iteration. Find what platforms, website details and design, and networking styles work best for you—and dive in! When you need to redo parts of your brand, don’t fret. Taking the time to figure out what genuinely represents you professionally is never a waste of time, and there are a ton of resources out there to help inspire you if you feel stuck.