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  • Writer's pictureScott Russell

Building Your Personal Brand as a Creative Professional: Lessons from a Perpetual Work-in-Progress

If you’re reading this, you might be in the throes of building your own personal brand, navigating the tumultuous waters of self-promotion and identity creation. You're not alone. Even for a seasoned Creative Director and College Professor of Media Arts and Design—someone who’s spent over 30 years helping others sculpt their public personas—the task of branding oneself can feel paradoxically daunting.

 

Imagine a building contractor, expert at crafting magnificent homes for others, yet his own kitchen perpetually sits half-upgraded, tools strewn about, with that new island bench forever on the "next weekend" list. It’s a similar story for many of us in creative professions when it comes to branding ourselves. Why is it so much easier to solve other people’s branding puzzles than our own?

 

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I’ll share some personal reflections and strategies that have at least moved the needle for me—and might just do the same for you.

 

The Creative’s Conundrum

Personal branding for creative professionals can feel like a never-ending renovation project. You know exactly what needs to be done, you have all the tools at your disposal, and yet, the cobbler’s children have no shoes. This isn’t just a quirky happenstance—it’s an occupational hazard. We are so close to our own skills and shortcomings, our own ambitions and doubts, that creating a coherent brand out of our complex selves seems a daunting task.

 

Why Is Personal Branding Hard?

  1. Professional Deformation: We spend our days so deeply immersed in amplifying others' voices that turning the lens on ourselves can feel awkward, even narcissistic. This phenomenon, known as professional deformation, means we might struggle to apply the same innovative thinking to our own projects that we easily utilize for clients. For a creative, showcasing personal talents might feel uncomfortably self-promotional, which paradoxically can inhibit us from fully expressing and marketing our own distinct creative vision and services effectively.

  2. Perfectionism: As creatives, we are often our own worst critics. Anything less than perfect feels like a failure, which can lead to endless tweaks rather than completion. This pursuit of the unattainable perfect can cause significant delays in launching a personal brand or portfolio. It can also lead to burnout and dissatisfaction, as constant refinements in search of perfection can obscure the originality and authenticity that often captivate an audience more than flawless execution.

  3. Over-Familiarity: Being overly familiar with the tools and tactics can lead us to undervalue or overcomplicate what we do for ourselves. When you know every option and capability at your disposal, it's tempting to use them all to try to stand out. This can result in a brand or project that feels overdesigned or cluttered, losing the clarity and impact it might have had with a simpler approach. Furthermore, this over-familiarity might make us cynical about the effectiveness of branding techniques that are still very much effective for engaging an audience.

 

Personal Branding Tips for the Creative Professional

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered over the years that might help you cross the finish line with your personal brand:

 

  1. Start with Why Simon Sinek's powerful idea, “Start with Why,” is crucial for distinguishing your brand. Many professionals share your skill set, whether it's video production, graphic design, or social media engagement. But, it's your unique motivation and passion that will set you apart. Why you do what you do resonates more deeply with your audience than the specifics of what or how you do it. There are lots of people who do what you do, and some are probably going to do it better, and some are going to do it for less money. So convince your clients of why you do what you do. For instance, if you're a photographer passionate about environmental conservation, highlight how each shot aims to raise awareness or drive change. This core purpose attracts clients who share your values and strengthens your brand’s identity. Think about a a graphic designer whose primary motivation is to help small businesses grow. By focusing her brand message on empowering small businesses through professional design, she not only finds clients looking for just that but also establishes a meaningful connection with them. I am a storyteller at heart, so my branding will always focused around my desire to tell people's stories.

  2. Use Your Tools—But Don’t Overuse Them Having access to advanced tools is great, but the best brands often stand out through simplicity. A logo, for example, needs to be effective in various formats and sizes—it should look as good on a business card as it does on a billboard. An interactive, animated 3D logo in virtual space might be awesome, but it also has to look good in black and white at one-inch square. Focus on clear, versatile branding that communicates your essence at a glance. A web developer might be tempted to create a highly interactive resume website. While impressive, it's crucial to ensure that the resume is also accessible and effective in simple, printed form or as a basic PDF. Simple is often better. We know this for our clients, but sometimes we forget this for ourselves.

  3. Seek External Perspectives This might be the most important and most difficult to accept. It's often difficult to evaluate our work objectively. Seeking feedback from peers, mentors, or even your audience can provide new insights and help refine your brand. “I’m an expert! Why would I go to someone else?” Just as a mirror reflects our external selves, external perspectives can reveal blind spots and opportunities for growth that you might not see on your own. Even if you don’t want to hire another creative to design your brand, feedback can be a powerful tool in shaping a brand that truly represents who you are. A creative writer might feel their personal brand is well-represented by their intricate storytelling. However, feedback from an audience survey could reveal that readers appreciate their educational content more, guiding the writer to adjust their branding focus. Use platforms like Behance and Dribbble, which allow creatives to showcase their work and receive community feedback. Professional networking groups on LinkedIn or even Facebook offer opportunities to get unbiased feedback from industry peers.

  4. Embrace Imperfection This is another tough one. Learn to launch and then tweak. Your personal brand doesn’t need to be perfect from the outset—it’s a living, breathing entity that evolves with you. Remember, “perfect” is the enemy of “good”. Perfectionism can be a barrier to progress. Launching your brand—even if it’s not flawless—allows you to start building relationships and refining your approach based on real-world feedback. Your brand should evolve as you do, adapting and improving over time. A startup tech company might launch a basic website to start building its client base, even though they plan to add more features later. This approach allows them to gather user feedback that can shape the website's development, making it more user-friendly and effective over time.

  5. Document Your Journey Your personal brand is a narrative, and sharing your journey can make it more relatable and authentic. Regular updates about your professional experiences, challenges, and achievements can help your audience connect with you on a personal level and see the real person behind the brand. A freelance illustrator might use Instagram to post progress shots of their work, share stories about what inspires them, and discuss the challenges they face. This transparency builds a genuine connection with their followers, who become more invested in their success. Social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn are ideal for sharing professional updates and personal stories that enhance your brand narrative.

  6. Be Consistent, Not Repetitive Consistency helps in building a recognizable and reliable brand. However, it’s important to refresh your content and approach periodically to keep your audience engaged. Introduce new projects, share fresh insights, and explore different aspects of your professional life to keep your brand dynamic and interesting. A marketing consultant might consistently use the same color scheme and logos across all platforms, but they could vary their content by posting case studies, hosting Q&A sessions, and sharing client testimonials to keep their audience engaged. Hootsuite and Buffer are social media management tools that can help you maintain consistency in your posting schedule and branding across multiple platforms.

 

Building a personal brand is not unlike renovating a house—you lay the foundation, frame the walls, choose the fixtures, but there’s always room for improvement. And just like that ever-evolving home project, the work on your personal brand is never truly "done." It's a continuous journey of self-discovery and expression.

 

As I continue to grapple with my own branding challenges, I invite you to reflect on your branding journey. Maybe, just maybe, some of these ideas will help light your way. And maybe, you’ve got some insights for me that would be helpful (please, please message me... I'm always looking for good feedback). After all, shared challenges can lead to shared solutions, and in this creative community, we’re all contractors helping to build each other’s dream houses.

 

Remember, the only way to fail at personal branding is to never start—or to never allow it to evolve. Here’s to building and renovating our brands, one brick at a time.

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