What exactly is a personal brand? Do you really need one? And, if so, how do you go about building one? Discover everything you need to know about personal branding in this guide.
A personal brand is, quite simply, a presence—either online or offline—that represents you, your values, and what you have to offer. Want to stand out in your field? Want to connect with people in your industry and discover relevant professional opportunities? Then you need a personal brand.
But what exactly does a personal brand look like, and how do you find yours? If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry: You’ll find everything you need right here.
We’ve teamed up with content strategist and branding expert Brittni Bowering to bring you the ultimate guide to personal branding. Brittni likes to work with small organizations, helping them differentiate themselves in their niche. She’s helped brands build dedicated communities into the tens of thousands through storytelling, content and branding. She’s a big believer in personal branding, because it’s the only lead generation tool she uses.
By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to build your own personal brand—we’ve even included an actionable, step-by-step plan you can follow to the letter.
- What is a personal brand?
- Why do you need a personal brand? What are the benefits?
- What makes a great personal brand?
- How to build a personal brand (step by step)
- Free personal branding tools to help you get started
- Personal branding tips and best practices
- Key takeaways and next steps
Ready to start building your personal brand? Let’s do it!
1. What is a personal brand?
A personal brand is, quite simply, a presence—either online or offline—that represents you, your values, and what you have to offer. It’s the impression you make on the world; through content, imagery, and actions, you intentionally present yourself in a certain way. If you do this effectively, you can start to build recognition and position yourself as a credible voice in your industry. And, in the world of work, your personal brand will ultimately allow people to identify you for jobs and other professional opportunities.
It’s a lot like branding in the typical sense, except you’re marketing yourself rather than a product. When you see the Nike “swoosh,” you instantly think of sportswear. When you see that apple with a chunk missing, you immediately associate it with a certain technology company. What kinds of associations do you want people to make when they see your name or your profile picture? That’s what personal branding is all about!
Where does your personal brand show up?
Personal branding can’t be boiled down to one or two tangible “things.” As we said before, it’s a presence that makes itself felt in different ways, and across various channels. Your personal brand shines through in the content you share—whether it’s images, videos, articles you’ve written, or status updates—and the way you talk about yourself, for example in your Twitter bio, on your personal website, or in your LinkedIn header.
So: Your personal brand needs to be well thought-out, consistent, and true to who you are—but more on that in section three. First, let’s take a look at why you need a personal brand.
2. Why do you need a personal brand?
At this point, you might be wondering if you really need a personal brand. Isn’t it just for famous people or wannabe influencers? And a tad self-important?
If the idea of building a personal brand leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable, you’re not alone. In fact, Brittni, our branding expert, took a while to warm up to the idea herself:
“I wasn’t always convinced that a personal brand was necessary. I actually used to cringe a bit when people talked about it…it seemed a bit self-absorbed, and I thought that, as long as I’m doing good work, people will work with me! But when I started to put stuff out there and talk to people in my industry, I realized how powerful personal branding can be. As a freelancer especially, it’s really transformed my career. I’m now at the point where I don’t really have to do any outreach to get clients, as I’ve focused on developing my personal brand and demonstrating the value that I offer.”
Even if you’re not building a freelance career, a strong personal brand is essential. No matter what field you’re in (or aspiring to be in), a personal brand allows you to communicate your expertise, your experience, and your personality all at once. Ultimately, this tells people who you are, what you’re about, and why they should contact you.
Why is this useful? Let’s take a look.
The benefits of a personal brand
The ultimate end goal with personal branding is to boost your professional network and help you progress in your career. An effective personal brand will enable you to:
- Increase visibility. In actively building a personal brand, you’re regularly and consistently sharing content and insights—whether it’s a brief status update or a full-blown blog post. Over time, this regular content-sharing will increase your visibility in your chosen networks.
- Make yourself relatable. The idea of a personal brand is to inject some personality—to show the world that, in addition to being a very talented professional, you’re also a “regular” person just like everybody else. This makes you relatable, helping to build empathy and rapport.
- Stand out from the crowd. Anybody can share content and have an online presence, but your personal brand is entirely unique to you. No one can emulate that, and your personal brand is your opportunity to differentiate—it’s how you’ll resonate with, and get noticed by, those you want to connect with.
- Make yourself memorable. Not only will a personal brand help you to stand out; it’ll also help you make a lasting impression. Next time someone is looking for a quirky content strategist or an eco-conscious designer, you’ll spring straight to mind thanks to your personal brand.
- Build your confidence. As you develop your personal brand, you’ll be forced to think about your skills, the value you offer, and the things that make you unique. This is a really good reminder of why you’re great and what you bring to the table—an excellent boost of confidence that you’ll carry with you in your career.
Personal branding is especially important for career-changers!
Everybody can benefit from a personal brand, but personal branding is especially important for career-changers. As a career-changer, you need to highlight how your previous experience can be transferred to your new profession. You need to convince employers and clients that, while you may be new to the field, you’ve got plenty of value to offer. And, if you’re building your network from scratch, you’ll definitely need to increase your visibility and cultivate some recognition within your new field. As we’ve seen, a strong personal brand will enable you to do all those things.
So what makes a great personal brand? Let’s find out.
3. What makes a great personal brand?
Brittni Bowering, our personal branding expert, identifies two core pillars of personal branding: Value and authenticity. These should be at the heart of your personal branding plan.
First and foremost, your personal brand should demonstrate value. There are millions of people in the world putting things out online, which means there’s a lot of noise to compete with. How do you cut through the noise and make yourself heard? By delivering nothing but value.
Brittni recommends doing a test she’s coined “the thank you test”:
“This is something I do with myself and my clients. Before you put something out online, browse through it and ask yourself: Will I get a thank you from an audience I care about? If the answer is no, you might want to reconsider.”
So: Make sure you post thoughtfully and with intent. Does what you’re sharing bring value to your audience? Are they likely to enjoy it? Will it resonate with them in some way, and add some kind of value to their day? If it passes the “thank you” test, you can go ahead and hit that “post” button!
The second pillar holding up your personal brand is authenticity. In Brittni’s experience, the worst way to go about building a personal brand is to pretend to be something you’re not.
So what does authenticity mean, and how can you cultivate it? Firstly, don’t try to give the impression that you have more expertise than you do. Any attempts to exaggerate your skillset or get creative with the truth will soon be picked up, and that won’t impress hiring managers, clients, or your peers. Trust in the fact that what expertise you do have is enough, and that you’ll continue to learn and grow as your career progresses. This kind of honesty and vulnerability is much more appealing (and believable).
Secondly, don’t be afraid to show some personality. Bear in mind that, when hiring, experience isn’t the only thing people are looking for—they also want somebody who they can connect with and relate to. You don’t have to be strictly business, all the time; people like to work with people! Add a dash of who you are here and there—it’ll go a long way.
So, the golden rule when it comes to building your personal brand: Be yourself and offer real value.
4. How to build a personal brand (step by step)
Now we know what a personal brand is and why it’s so important, let’s consider how you can build one. Here are three steps you can follow to get started.
Step 1: Write your personal branding statement
A personal branding statement tells people, in one or two sentences, who you are and what you’re about. There are three key components: Your job title (or desired job title), your expertise or the niche you’re zeroing in on, and something interesting about yourself—say, a special talent, or something unique that you bring to the table that could be helpful in your industry.
For example, Brittni’s personal branding statement goes something like this:
My name is Brittni Bowering, I’m a content strategist, and I focus on helping B2B organizations differentiate themselves in their niche. Another interesting fact about me is that I’m a stand-up comedian, and that’s allowed me to figure out the best way to communicate with my audience succinctly and in an entertaining way.
Let’s imagine you’re an ex-teacher starting a new career in the design industry. Your personal branding statement might read:
My name is Aubrey, I’m a UX designer with a focus on ethical, eco-friendly design. I used to be a teacher, so I’m great at building empathy with a diverse range of users.
You can think of your personal branding statement as a kind of elevator pitch. How does it sound when you say it out loud? Play around with it until you feel like you’ve really captured who you are and what you can offer.
Step 2: Identify your key audiences
You’ve crafted your personal branding statement. Now who do you want to see it? The next step in your personal branding plan is to identify your target audiences. First, think about your career goals, then think about the people who will help you achieve them. Who are the audiences you care about? Who do you want to connect with? Be specific. Rather than targeting “companies who are hiring designers,” make a list of different companies (or company types) who are likely to need designers in your area.
Step 3: Identify relevant topics and start talking about them!
Now you know who you’re targeting, you need to find ways to connect with them. Identify topics that you feel comfortable talking about, and that would also be interesting to your audience. At this stage, it’s important to find a middle ground: don’t just pick random topics that you think your audience will like if you’re not particularly passionate about them yourself. Likewise, don’t just talk about your favorite topics if they’re not relevant to your audience. Spend some time finding the right niche.
Got your personal branding statement? Know who your audience is and what you want to talk about? Then you’re good to go! You’ve taken the first steps towards building a personal brand—now it’s time to make your presence felt. Update your online profiles, start talking about your chosen topics, and connect with the right people. We’ll go over some personal branding tips and best practices in section six, so be sure to check those out, too.
5. Free personal branding tools to help you get started
Now, curating and creating content to share on a regular basis can be time-consuming, and you’ll need a few good tools in your arsenal. Here are Brittni’s top tool recommendations to help you get started:
- Canva: This is a free yet powerful design tool that allows you to create your own visual assets. You might need cover images for videos, graphics to post on social media, images to go with blog posts—anything to help convey the personality of your brand and help deliver your message. Canva is ideal if you don’t have the time (or expertise) to design things from scratch.
- Blush: Another free tool, Blush offers a huge library of high-quality illustrations which you can customize and download. These are great for Instagram posts and blog articles, and it doesn’t cost a dime! Again, this is a great tool for those who want unique imagery without creating it themselves.
- Buffer: Buffer is a social media analytics and reporting tool that allows you to keep an eye on how your posts are performing. This is useful as it helps you figure out what kind of content performs best, and if there are certain factors that impact engagement—for example, when you post.
This is just a handful of tools you can work with. Of course, you can experiment with different tools until you find those that work best for you—as long as you’re getting good content out there and keeping an eye on how it performs, you’re well on your way to establishing your personal brand.
6. Personal branding tips and best practices
Last but not least, here are some tips and best practices to bear in mind when building your online presence. These are all based on Brittni’s personal experience as a branding expert, so you know they work!
1. Keep your content short
As Brittni says: “I like to think of it as starting a conversation, not ending it!” With that in mind, don’t feel like you have to cover everything with every piece of content. Feel free to leave things out, and always leave room for questions. This is a great way to get engagement and encourage conversations—and that’s the whole point of content and personal branding, after all.
2. Tell stories
Remember what we said about showing a bit of personality and making yourself relatable? Well, storytelling is an excellent way to do that. Brittni advises using your own stories and experiences to allow people to feel closer to you. This helps to build empathy and lets your audience relate to what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal every now and again!
3. Put your face out there
It may feel uncomfortable at first, but if you can, try to put your face on the content you’re creating. For example, if you write an article, embed a photo of yourself somewhere in the article. In Brittni’s experience, this helps to create a connection between you and your audience: “I find that people tend to respond better if they feel like they can see you and they’re talking to a real person.”
4. Pay attention to how your content is performing
You don’t need to be a complete analytics fanatic, but it is worth keeping an eye on how your content performs. This way, you can slowly determine what works (and what doesn’t) and tailor your strategy accordingly. What days of the week are you putting content out there? What platforms and content types are driving the most engagement? Use a tool (like Buffer) to monitor these insights and make tweaks as you go.
5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable
Personal branding, and everything that comes with it, can be scary at first. When you’re just starting out, you might find yourself experiencing a bit of imposter syndrome. Brittni assures us that that’s totally normal; everybody feels that way at first. So how can you overcome it? In Brittni’s words: “What’s super important is that you put yourself out there, be vulnerable, be authentic, and add some value to your space.” What feels uncomfortable at first will soon become natural, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you start to reap the rewards of your personal branding efforts.
6. Career-changers: Use your past experience to your advantage
When you’re breaking into a new field, it can feel like you’re starting from scratch. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your previous experience is a waste, or means nothing in your new industry. The opposite is true! Your past experiences are important in shaping the value that you bring to your new career, so don’t shy away from talking about them. In fact, they can be great differentiators.
Think about what you were doing before and how that could be useful in your new profession. For example, if you worked in a restaurant before you became a designer, you’ve probably got an excellent knack for putting people at ease. That’s a huge asset when it comes to conducting user research and running usability tests! There are so many ways to take what you were doing before and bring it into your new career, so spend some time joining the dots when building your personal brand.
7. Key takeaways and next steps
So there you have it: A complete introduction to personal branding, jam-packed with tips and advice from content and branding expert Brittni Bowering. Hopefully you found this guide useful and are ready to get started on your own personal brand. Remember: Authenticity and value are key!
For more tech-focused career advice, check out the following:
- Which tech career path is right for you?
- 9 Essential non-design skills for designers
- When and how to ask for a raise
- Storytelling for career-changers (Workshop recording)
And if you’re worried about ageism as you consider a career in tech, here’s how we know you’re not too old to start a career in UX design (the ideas apply across tech fields).