Personal Branding: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide
This post was last updated on December 15, 2022.
We’ve all Googled ourselves, right? If you haven't, there is no time like the present to quickly search your name and see what comes up—or doesn’t. Whether you’re applying for jobs or colleges, or trying to make a name for yourself as a business owner or freelancer, your reputation and your image matter. A lot.
When establishing a name for yourself, it’s all about ‘talking the talk and walking the walk.’ In other words, how you hold yourself, how you speak, and how you dress are all major factors that influence the way others will perceive you, both on and offline. And this is precisely where personal branding comes into play.
From crafting your logo design, to building up your online presence, every step cultivates the persona you project. Below, we’ll show you just how to create a personal brand that will leave a lasting impression you can be proud of.
What is personal branding?
Personal branding is nearly synonymous with your reputation. It is the appearance you display in your life towards the people in it, and the impact this has, both inside and outside your career.
No matter where you see yourself on the professional scale—a student, job candidate, employee, business owner or freelancer—personal branding is crucial. It includes your skills, job qualifications, personality, and everything else that makes you, you. Yes, it matters how you dress and speak, but in today's world it's equally important to pay attention to how you appear online.
This can be anything from removing unprofessional tagged photos of yourself and maintaining your social media accounts, to creating a free website that cleverly puts all your essential information in one convenient place. Just like branding for products or services, personal branding is all about taking control of how others perceive you. It's important to note that personal branding is more than simply marketing or selling yourself, it is about putting your best foot forward in the most authentic way possible. Thinking beyond the external image you portray to others, and fully personifying your genuine self inside and out.
To quote author, researcher and iconic TED speaker Brené Brown, authenticity is “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” With this in mind, you must suit your actions to your words and make sure your personal brand is accurately representative of who you are and what you’re capable of.
History of personal branding
While the evolution of personal branding can never be attributed to one person or source its origins can be traced back to Tom Peters in his 1997 article 'The Brand Called You,' first published in the Fast Company. He developed this further with his 2001 book, The Brand You 50 (Reinventing Work): Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an "Employee" into a Brand That Shouts Distinction, with his concept of
'Brand You.' This was then built upon again in 1999 with Be Your Own Brand, first published by marketers David McNally and Karl Speak.
However as early as 1981 in their book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout, introduced the idea of using positioning strategy to advance your own professional career in what could be considered the pre personal branding days.
Benefits of personal branding:
As a personal brand, you’ll develop your own unique brand identity. People will come to know you for what it is that you’re really about, and get to see the whole package. The best part about all of this is that it comes with many benefits for you:
Become more relatable. In other words, become more ‘human’ and less ‘markety’ by revealing more about yourself. This also helps build trust and authenticity.
Establish a brand identity. Personal branding will ensure that people know what to come to you for, and that they will be able to rely on you for specific things. It will also allow you later to figure out your brand extension strategy.
Get more opportunities. With a strong personal brand, you will most likely be exposed to more interviews, job offers, promotions, contacts, clients, event hosting gigs and more.
Differentiate yourself. Building a brand allows you to show off unique characteristics about yourself that set you apart from others in your area of specialization. In much the same way that a product branding guide would do this for a business, you can create a personal branding guide for yourself.
Enhance your expertise: The more exposure you get, the more your network expands and those who you interact with will start to identify you as an expert in your field. They will reach out to you for your opinion and expertise, which only further supports your personal brand.
Leave a lasting impression: An unforgettable personal brand will stick out in people’s minds, so when it comes time to give referrals or recommendations, they’ll think of you first.
How to create your personal brand:
01. Get to know yourself better
There are a few different ways that you can evaluate your own professional persona, both from the inside and how the world perceives you:
Learn your strengths: Figure out what it is that you’re good at in order to allow yourself to become an effective leader, communicate better, and find personal empowerment. To do so, you can ask ten people that know you dearly from all walks of your life what your top three strengths are, and then choose the most common answers. You can also take a personality and strengths test such as the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or opt for a free VIA Character Strengths Assessment.
Focus on your passions and interests: Just as important as your strengths are the fulfilling activities in your life. That’s because if you do something from your heart, you’re more likely to do it with motivation and energy, and others will certainly notice that.
Establish your values: Values are your core, they are what you stand behind, no matter what. These are the things that you won’t budge on, as they are most important to you and the way that you live your life. When your values are positive, people will feel more connected to you. Even more, when you clearly outline what matters to you, it will trickle down to every interaction you have, and keep your personal brand aligned.
Find your inspiration: Do you have someone that you look up to? If so, think about how you can focus your brand to emulate theirs. This doesn’t mean you should copy what they do, but rather take advice from them. What made them successful? Why do you want to learn from them? What do you want to learn from them? While answering these questions, be genuine and honest with who you are, rather than striving for something too far from your personal truth.
02. List your education and work experiences
Make a record of all of your life experiences relevant to your professional career and interests, from education at school and training programs to work and hobbies. Plus, creating this list will help you focus on what to speak about with the relevant parties (jobs, clients, etc.), as well as what to include on your resume, social media, website, and other content-based projects.
It will also serve as evidence to back up your skills and strengths, as mentioned above. Lastly, it will serve as a reminder to yourself to take a look at all that you’ve accomplished thus far in your career.
03. Hone in on a goal
What do you hope to achieve in one year? In five years? In ten years? Having a realistic focus in mind will help you establish a clear vision for your brand that not only you will understand, but also everyone else in contact with you. This way, when you speak about yourself or others speak about you, you will be known for this vision and people will remember you because of it.
If you’re not sure what your vision is, use your experiences, passions, and strengths to come up with something. You can also take a career or purpose-related test, such as IKIGAI.
IKIGAI is a Japanese concept for finding your purpose or ‘reason for being.’ You’ll fill in ‘what you love,’ ‘what the world needs,’ ‘what you can be paid for,’ and ‘what you’re good at.’ Then, blend them together and discover your purpose.
04. Know your target audience
Here’s how you can define your target audience:
They are the people offering opportunities in the field you specialize in
They should be reasonable for you to reach
There are enough of them requesting the kind of work that you offer
You’ll be able to earn a living out of having them as clients
After you’ve envisioned your target audience, find a way to talk to them and start a professional relationship. When you get their attention, have a readily planned prompt of what you want to communicate. You should be able to explain how your skills can be beneficial for them. This is finally the moment to start acting on your vision, so make sure you do so with professionalism, confidence, and charisma.
05. Develop your story
Like any good brand story, you want to use all the information you’ve gathered until now (your strengths, passions, interests, target audience) and define your own unique narrative. Nobody has the same experiences or perspectives as you, meaning your story is just yours to tell. This doesn’t mean exaggerating or embellishing details for the sake of a good tale, but finding a way to honestly express who you are, and what you’re all about.
Make it something you can remember and share over and over again, from conversations to the content on your website. This will ultimately set the tone of your personal brand.
06. Find your unique selling proposition
Any type of branding has a unique selling proposition (USP), or something that makes them stand out against their competitors. It refers to their biggest strength, or their one defining quality that sets them apart. When it comes to personal branding, the same idea rings true.
Now that you’ve taken the steps to recognize your strengths, goals and audience, it is time to pinpoint exactly what you have to offer that nobody else does. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Channeling your inner quirkiness or eccentricities is precisely what sets you apart, so don’t be afraid to show them off.
You can craft a personal branding statement that includes your USP, which can be used on your website, your social channels, in interviews and can even serve as your elevator pitch. It instantly let’s people know who you are and what you’re all about.
07. Build your credibility
Establishing yourself professionally is something that requires regular work and attention. You’ll need to stay active in your community—both online and offline.
Here are a few suggestions of ways to get yourself noticed:
Network via events and other community-based organizations.
Mentor others less experienced in the industry.
Seek a mentor of your own to receive guidance.
Volunteer as a guest speaker for relevant events.
Work on projects with others in your area of specialization.
Host your own professional events (happy hours, Q&As, speaker series, etc.).
Join and actively participate in organizations and communities.
When choosing what to focus on, pick activities that you are truly passionate about. Not only do you want to actually enjoy the process, but authenticity is easily spotted.
08. Create a website
A printed resume is certainly one powerful sheet of paper meant to describe your professional personality, experiences, skills, and accomplishments. Yet, the online version does all of this and more. By creating an online resume, you can add many features that you wouldn’t be able to on paper. Furthermore, you can customize your site to your liking, and keep everything organized in one place.
For inspiration to get you started on yours, take a look at these polished CV website templates, including examples for a large variety of popular professions, such as business-oriented, students, graphic designers and more.
Make sure that your website includes a detailed personal bio about yourself and all your contact information. You should also be sure to showcase any publications, presentations, certifications or important projects that help convey your skill set and your personality. If you have any speaking engagements or video content, you can also use a video maker to highlight your public speaking skills directly on your site.
To take your website a step further, you can create a free blog and regularly add relevant and interesting content. A blog can be a huge boost for your SEO, and a chance to show off your expertise and voice. And if you are looking to gain press coverage, you can add a press kit to your website. No matter what you do, keep in mind that in the digital world, it’s more than a goal to be impressive, it’s a requirement.
09. Get active on social media
Social media is an important place to market yourself and grow your personal branding initiatives, as well as a recommended promotional strategy to drive traffic to your website. There are many places where you can present yourself: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn, or Pinterest, start a YouTube channel, write for Medium, and more.
You don’t need to be active on all of them, though. Since you’re just one person, that can be quite overwhelming and, in turn, highly ineffective. Start with the most popular and relevant channels for your field of expertise, then if you have the time you can also work on other niche channels that serve your interests best (video-focused, design-focused, etc.).
In general, these are the channels we recommend pushing your efforts towards:
LinkedIn is suggested for every personal brand, as it’s essentially a resume without a page limit. You can also connect with other professionals and companies, network in groups and with individuals, and share updates.
Instagram is a constantly growing hub to focus on the visual aspects of your brand, and is not just limited to images, it also includes videos and reels, especially since Instagram says they are “no more a photo-sharing app”. Instagram Stories and Reels allow you to regularly update your followers on your life. And then Instagram posts are a great place to share permanent content to your profile and feed. Within your posts, include popular Instagram hashtags to reach more followers and get more engagement to your content.
Facebook is still one of the most popular social media channels. It’s full of many opportunities, from creating a Facebook business page or promotion campaigns, to joining relevant groups. It’s essentially an online phone book with a multitude of other resources. Think about it: When you want to find out more information about someone (what they look like, what they do, who they are friends with, etc.) where do you turn? Probably Facebook.
TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform in the world and a great opportunity for personal branding. The 15-second to 1-minute videos are easy to digest, relatable and fun. According to this report, 62% of TikTok users are aged between 10 and 29 years old, so if this is your target demographic, this might be the right social channel for you. Just remember that videos can go viral, even if you have limited followers, so always put your best foot forward and share content that you would be comfortable with future colleagues or employers watching.
The other channels that you might consider are YouTube (for videos), Medium (for articles), Twitter (for short-form content), and Pinterest (for creative ideas and designs). When it comes to these channels, it’s very dependent on your niche specialty in personal branding. In other words, not everyone will find value in being present on these platforms. In addition, arguably one of the most important aspects of this social platform is your bio, a coveted piece of social media real estate which describes your brand, including the option to link to your website. Keep this in mind for each platform.
For your inspiration, check out our social channels at Wix: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Medium, Twitter, and Pinterest.
10. Design a logo
A logo is a visual mark of your brand. Like your face, it’s a symbol that everyone will associate with you and your work. From your personal website to social media channels, business cards or resume, your logo can be used in every context.
Don’t have one? No problem. In just a few short steps, you can create your own logo to represent your personal brand. After answering a few questions about your brand, you’ll be presented with choices and then given the ability to customize your favorite option to your liking. Simply download your high-quality image files and use them across your branding assets, both online and offline.
11. Get a branded email address
Sadly, an unprofessional email address is a major problem for 35% of employers. When communicating with clients, prospective employers, mentors and mentees, and other individuals in your professional life, you want to give off the most impressive appearance possible. For that to happen, a custom email address is an absolute must.
This simply means placing your website’s domain as your email, for example email@example.com, rather than a generic, or less professional firstname.lastname@example.org. This small change will do wonders for your reputation, trust us.
12. Stay consistent
Branding is an elusive process that requires time, energy, and commitment. Staying on top of your personal brand is equally important as creating it. The best part is, as you grow and evolve, so does your brand. Keep your personal brand consistent and make sure that any changes you make, you update across the board. Most importantly, stay true to your values, and your personal brand will follow suit.
Potential drawbacks of personal branding
The concept of personal branding to advance your career, or to market yourself via social media, is not without its drawbacks and potential criticisms. Some of the main ones to surface in recent years include,
Superficiality. One criticism of personal branding is that it can encourage individuals to focus too much on their external image and presentation, rather than their actual skills, knowledge, and achievements. This can lead to a superficial and insincere approach to self-promotion, which may not be authentic or sustainable in the long run.
Self-promotion. Another criticism of personal branding is that it may promote a culture of self-promotion, where individuals prioritize their own interests over those of an organization or even society. This can lead to a lack of collaboration and cooperation not just amongst colleagues but wider groups of people too.
Pressure to conform. Personal branding can also create pressure for individuals to conform to certain stereotypes or expectations in order to fit in with their desired image or niche. This can limit creativity and individuality, and may discourage people from exploring new areas or taking risks outside of their established personal brand. It may also lead to a rise in not feeling confident enough, and lead to undue pressure to conform to a certain ideal.
By Jennifer Kaplan
Small Business Expert & Writer
By Kylie Goldstein
Branding Expert and Marketing Blogger