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Personal Branding 101 for Creatives Focused on Good Work

Lauren Olson, July 12, 2017

We all know the loudmouth.

They jabber on, talking at people, and trying finesse deals. While they can produce results, they lack style. Unfortunately, that’s the type of activity that’s associated with the words, “personal branding.”

Personal branding is not purely about schmoozing, or becoming the loudmouth.

If built properly, your personal brand can be a lightning rod, attracting talented employees, and curious customers your way. Making your name trustworthy enables you to share your views with the world and challenge other people to think differently.

In helping you build a brand your audiences can trust, we won’t cover schmoozing or social media setup. Not only has that been written about in multitudes, we also believe that branding can be a little less shallow.

A focus on networking and web presence isn’t vain or untrustworthy — but they’re about chasing fame for the benefits, not about doing good work. If we know anything about you, you didn’t come into the game to just make money — you came because you want to do good work.

Networking doesn’t contribute to your craft’s skillset (although some might argue networking is a skill) or your integrity, which is are two fundamentals that will encourage people to trust you.

You have a business to run, you have a team to lead and take care of, and customers to inspire and satisfy. In this case, our hypothesis is we want your personal brand to be a byproduct of the things you do, not the other way around. To stick to that, we suggest a simple strategy: make things, share them (which is our more specific iteration of “Do things, tell people”).

Make Things that Excite You

Many people start out asking successful, notable people how they got where they are. They seem to be hoping for a magic trick that will help them skip the work and go straight for the notoriety.

Gary Vaynerchuk is a well-known entrepreneur, author, speaker and internet personality who is tired of this exact question. In an episode of his YouTube series #AskGaryVee, he says, “From 22 to 32, my friend, I did nothing in building the Gary Vaynerchuk brand. You know what I did? I did the work that allowed me to have the audacity to build the Gary Vaynerchuk brand.”

He corrects the attitude of up and comers who want an easy answer to building an influential brand, saying you have to work first to become an authority whose brand people will respect and listen to. You can try to build an image out of nothing, but, he says, “There is no substitute for honest hard work.”

Brands are built on patterns that we associate with them, not just the messages they repeat (which are important). Apple is not just their logo, but the distinctive look and user interface of their many products.

Start off by creating. Create interesting and useful content, businesses, or side projects. Even if they’re just passion projects - in some industries, those are even better for getting potential customers or team members’ attention.

When in doubt of what to create, solve problems that other people in your industry face (e.g. if you’re a writer, show people how you get traffic and build an audience.)

Alternatively, you can recreate or deconstruct something that seems difficult or impossible to make. For example, beat breakdown videos by music producers are incredibly popular.

They educate songwriters, singers, amateur producers, and anyone interested in music but without an innate understanding of how different instruments combine their individual parts into a song.

You also might be seeing more recipe videos floating around Facebook these days, because they are a highly visual way for people to check out a dish and see how it will come together (and then share with their friends) instead of just reading long instructions on a cooking blog.

Show, Don’t Tell

Though sharing instructive or experiential content may seem intimidating (will you ever really feel like an expert?), Gary Vaynerchuk suggests that expertise is subjective and you should just do it anyway. In other words, work through the doubt. (As developer Jose Gonzalez writes, “My worst career decision ever made is: Not blogging/sharing content online.”)

You can share your work not only at your own website, but also on external communities (e.g., Behance or Dribbble for designers, r/pics for photographers) and social media sites. By displaying it far and wide and making it free to access, you are making sure it gets seen as much as it possibly can.

Sometimes it does mean taking a loss and creating an actual product for someone, which can be scary to do. It can also pay off later. Toronto-based jeweller Maison Raksha created gold name bar necklaces for Kim Kardashian that caught her attention, which led to her husband, Kanye West, ordering one himself.

As a design experiment and interesting way of attracting attention, Pictogram founder Sebastiaan de With created company branding for various Pokemon. Not only are they cute and well-designed, it’s made easy to share at the bottom of the post, something fans of design and/or the Pokemon franchise did to exciting results for his own branding.

There are some entrepreneurs out there who have become synonymous with the good work they do. Ryder Ripps, an artist but also the creative director of a digital marketing agency, made a name for himself springing out of the art world, making his own eccentric projects and attracting top clients such as Red Bull and Soylent.

Internet entrepreneur Noah Kagan shares his industry experience and tips on his own marketing blog, OkDork. Not only has he been out creating his own products, he’s made a name for himself helping in his field improve their brands. Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers has also seen her copywriting work take her to the level where she is a respected leader in the marketing world.


It all boils down to show, don’t tell. In a world full of talkers, actually doing things will set you apart because you’re showing someone that you’re skilled, reliable and trustworthy.

You’re not just talking yourself up or selling what you have no proof of. They see it with their own eyes. You deliver while other people are busy schmoozing.

That’s the good kind of brand to build, and a good quality brand to be known for.

Written by

Lauren Olson

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