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In 2015, it is imperative that creative professionals begin to think of themselves as media companies. While the term “personal brand” as become something of a cliché, that doesn’t diminish its importance or the truth behind it. Being in a position to control and determine your own career growth seems beyond the reach of most people. In truth, it’s not nearly as difficult as one might imagine.
image from Shutterstock
The Cost of Relevancy Is Content
Today, if one wants to be relevant in any industry or any profession the cost of entry is content. By producing content, one can establish a personal brand by creating and demonstrating value. This is particularly true for graphic designers as they already have experience doing this for clients or employers.
For most people, the barrier to doing anything comes down to the means of production—not having the skills or the resources to execute great ideas. Graphic designers and creative professionals do not encounter this limitation, and as a result they are uniquely positioned to succeed in a Content-Driven Economy.
As a graphic designer, you should be generating content that people can engage with and share, but that content should also demonstrates your value. In the design world, you value lies in your skills and your knowledge. Whenever possible, you should be leveraging social media, online galleries and even video to promote and market yourself and your skills. You are already contributing your skills in this way to help your clients or employer promote their services or products, so you should be doing it for yourself as well.
What Is a Personal Brand?
Even in the creative services industry, the meaning of the word “Brand” or the concept of “Branding,” can differ from person to person. The simplest and most common definition is this: “Your brand is what people think and say about you. It is the values that are associated with you and what you do or provide.”
To put this in the context, think about the first three words that come to mind when you think of Apple or Adobe. Those three words are the impression you have of their brand. That impression has been reinforced by the content they have created and presented to you, as well as your personal experiences with their products.
- Identify three words that you want associated with you and the work that you produce.
- Identify three words that you would like people to associate with your visual style.
- Finally, identify three words that you want people to associate with the experience of working with you.
These words are your brand values. These values frame the story of you and your brand. When you promote and market yourself, focus on being consistent with your brand values in your storytelling.
Telling a Story That Matters to People
Developing your brand as a graphic designer is about the story that you want to tell about you, the work you produce, and how you deliver for your clients. In truth, it’s not about simply building a presence on social media and other public platforms, but about how you leverage them to tell your story.
The way most graphic designer tend to promote themselves via a platform like Facebook is to post an image or multiple images of their latest project with the title and a few hashtags. This approach fails to do is create context and tell a story.
As an alternative, you could post a title that addresses a problem that you solved for a client or they way you provided what your employer needed. Hashtags are certainly great elements to include in social media posts, but they should not take priority over creating context for the reader.
In addition to your title, it’s also valuable to post 1 to 2 short paragraphs about your latest project, the process and the results you produced.
Don’t forget to cater your story to your target audience. Consider what audience you’re trying to reach. Are you trying to reach other creative professionals? Or are you trying to reach potential clients within a specific industry?
Keep this in mind as a point of reference when deciding how to market and promote yourself. When crafting a marketing strategy, many individuals—and even companies—often do what “they would like” instead of identifying and meeting the needs of their target audience.
These considerations and strategies are all part of your interaction with the Content-Driven Economy. We are no longer simply consumers of physical products; we are consumers of media. We consume media for both entertainment or education. We either want to enjoy an experience, or we want to learn how to solve problems and build new skills.
With that in mind, ask yourself: Who are you performing for? Whose problem are you solving?
Answering that will frame the context of your storytelling and the content you create and share. Think about the resources you can create to help your potential clients and improve the experience of working with a designer like yourself. Also, consider entertaining ways to gain the attention of a broad audience and get them interested in your work. Instead of committing to either informative content or entertaining content, build a marketing strategy that enables you to do both!
Personal Branding Isn’t Just for Freelance Designers
Many graphic designers don’t feel they need to establish and build a personal brand because they have no intention of ever becoming freelancers. They enjoy the stability of a day job and what it offers them. What they don’t realize is that by not developing their brand, they are putting that stability at risk.
Building your personal brand is about demonstrating and communicating your value, as well as increasing it by creating demand for a product: yourself. By thinking of yourself as a product and increasing the value of your brand, you create the leverage necessary to command a higher salary, find new immediate job prospects and be on people’s radar. If you aren’t putting yourself out there, how can you be in demand? If you don’t tell your story, what will you do should you need to find another full time job?
Quick Tips for Developing Your Brand as a Graphic Designer
- Create a design blog showcasing your work and your thoughts on the industry.
- Submit your personal design work and art to magazines, blogs and online galleries.
- Participate in graphic design forums, and design sub-reddits.
- Post your design work to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, and use those platforms to tell stories.
- Compete in graphic design competitions. (Like, for example, the HOW Promotion Design Awards!)
- Create free downloads and resources that help a specific group or niche.
Quality Work Deserves to Be Shared
Above all else, remember to produce quality work—work that you are proud and happy to share with as many people as possible. When are you are producing high-quality work, you’ll feel less anxious about sharing it and won’t feel like you’re “tooting your own horn.”
If you wait to be discovered, you may actually be robbing yourself and others of a great opportunity. A person who doesn’t discover your work may not have the opportunity to benefit from your abilities as a designer. Another designer or student may not benefit from the inspiration that your work could provide them.
Focus on the idea that what you are creating has value in ways that you yourself may not even fully appreciate. Everyone loves a good story—make sure you’re telling a great one!
Whether you are looking for a job or starting your own freelance business, you need to present a visually distinctive blend of personality, talent and capabilities to succeed in the design world. Learn how in Ellen Shapiro’s online course, Designing Your Personal Brand. This four-week intensive course will help you define your unique brand personality and selling proposition. You’ll create your visual identity, design the necessary applications as a cohesive branded package and get your message out in the world. Register today.