Creating a Personal Brand From Scratch

So you’re not selling anything but you still want to have a personal brand?

How do you come up with a neat, tidy, recognizable box that is supposed to fully express who you are and let everyone know everything about you within 5 seconds of looking at it?

Welcome to the headache I found myself in!

What is a Personal Brand anyway?

A personal brand is basically a marriage between your mission, your “unique value proposition” (what’s your unique corner on the market) and all the visual styling that helps tell that story. Basically anything you create, any social media post, any product description, anything, it either helps build the brand and contributes to communicating that overall feel, or it muddies the water and confuses your customers. In theory you want everything you put out to be consistent and lead your customers (or perhaps future employers) to think about what makes you unique and valuable every time they see something you’ve put out there.

Who Are Personal Brands For?

General wisdom says that personal brands are mostly for people who are selling services or products. They are less for people who are job hunting, but I think they can be.

I decided that even though I’m not using my brand to sell services (although I do some freelance writing) or sell a product, I think one would be useful for marketing myself to employers anyway. It seems like the job market is a tough place and people have short attention spans, so what harm could some branding do?

Developing a “Personal Brand” also leads to creating a cohesive visual style to link my website, my Instagram, my resume, and my LinkedIn all together. I wanted someone to be wowed by the level of professionalism that I put into my own personal materials because then they would know I’d be capable of giving even more to a paid project (hopefully).

In that sense I think that anyone can benefit from a personal brand!

How to Get Started

But what should the style be?

…What is my brand?

…Who am I?

Seriously, nothing causes an existential crisis faster than trying to decide on branding.

At least this turned out to be the case for me!

As part of my research for this I watched “A Brand Called You” on Creative live which, though aimed at graphic designers, could be applied to anyone. The instructor, Debbie Millman, talked about what elements make a personal brand and how to stand out from the pack. In watching this course and doing the exercises recommended, I came up with some ideas, but also come contradictions.

I really don’t know about how most people feel, but I totally feel like a person of contradiction. I like this, but also this thing over here. I’m passionate about this, oh but also this completely unrelated thing. I like this, but not this other thing you think I would… and so on.

Deciding on just one message, even just one skill to emphasize felt, and still feels, like torture.

What I did come up with was something that surprised me.

I realized that when I wrote down a list of my favorite projects, jobs, and experiences, all of them involved one-on-one collaboration. To be honest this goes against my own personal self-conception which has always been that I’m something of a social awkward loner. Don’t get me wrong, I like people and I’m friendly, but I’ve struggled with shyness my entire life to the point of feeling like I don’t quite connect with other people the same way everyone else can. BUT I do feel like that I’ve been able to connect with people over creative projects and those have been my most treasured and exhilarating experiences.

This was such a mind blowing realization for me.

The other thing I realized was how much I treasure being able to surprise someone. My favorite accomplishments have been challenges that I took on without being asked and solutions that came out of far right field. I love innovating something that makes someone say “Wow!” I think this is also why I love making people laugh, since humor stems mostly from (pleasant) surprise.

So my driving passions in my work are collaboration and creating surprise or wonder. Now what? I can turn this into a mission statement, but I definitely feel like I lack the physical proof that I can attain these results. My portfolio of illustration, for example, may kind of show this, but is it that applicable when I’m applying for a job as an administrative assistant or a copy writer? Is it enough to just tell people what I am always striving to do without actually doing it?

Those questions aside, in the Creative Live class this is suggested to be the nugget around which I would grow the rest of my brand.

Once you Have Your “Brand” – How do You SHOW it?

Then I got stuck trying to decide how to SHOW this idea. Basically anything and everything CAN show your brand, but what are the most basic parts?

To hit the ground running, I started trying to nail down these basic elements:

  • General “feel”
  • Color Palette
  • Fonts/Typefaces
  • Logo

Visual Element: General “Feel”

Do I want to show the more creative, artsy fartsy, whimsical side of the message? Or the high energy side of the message about creating results and “wow!”

I decided to go with the idea of “Wow!” to build my brand around. I figured that a more whimsical, delicate energy may not be as likeable as something more outgoing (even if I myself am not especially outgoing, and am somewhat shy, in my opinion the work itself lends itself better to a high energy look).

Visual Element: Color

There are lots of resources out there that show you what colors are related to what concepts from a psychological and cultural basis. I was looking for a high energy “WOW” color. I decided on  a coral-ish bright orange-red-pink.

I then visited a website palette generator and had it help me generate some accompanying accent colors.

Let me give you fair warning: These palette generators are highly addictive.

This part was hard not to turn into a rabbit hole, but I managed to make myself stop when I felt like It was “good enough” rather than spend days looking for “perfect.” I have to remind myself of the 80/20 principle all the time and remember that I can usually get 80% of the way there with about 20% effort and it’s going to take so much more effort to get to 100% that it’s likely not worth it right away.

Visual Element: Logo

With my color palette done I decided to make a logo. I sketched out about 50 different concepts but ended up going with a play on the exclamation point (remember my concept was “Wow!” so it kinda makes sense). I turned a couple on their sides, made them a bit swooshy, then put my name in them.

Again, I have to remind myself of the 80/20 rule and put this down on my list as something to return to later if I’m not 100% satisfied.

I think in most things in life getting the rough draft out there is important because you can sit revising something literally forever and never put it out there if you are too much of a perfectionist.

Visual Element: Font/typeface

Last thing I needed was a couple primary fonts (or if you’re a fancy-pants designer type, typefaces). I really wanted to use something unusual and crazy but I went with something more bold and modern and also easy to find. I wanted it to look effortless not like something I put tons of time into every day.

Putting it All Together

Adobe Spark Post has been helpful in inputting all these brand elements and being able to quickly generate posts to Instagram that are relatively cohesive (I’ll write another article about that later). I’ve also incorporated my design decisions into my website.

If it feels overwhelming, start with just a signature color and put it everywhere. But for best results, choosing any random color isn’t really the idea, it’s to think hard about what you really stand for and then trying to communicate that.

I have my brand core message, my brand look and feel, and my own personal authentic voice is the voice of the brand. I think you can probably have success creating a personal brand voice that isn’t totally you, but you’re not going to attract the kinds of employers and associates that want the real you, you’re going to attract the kind of people who want that fake you, so is that something you really want? That means its totally worth it to put in the energy and the work to think about what YOUR values really are, what YOUR mission really is, and what makes YOU actually uniquely you.