A personal brand is more than a résumé, more than an elevator pitch or a social bio. It is the essence of you, curated as a formalized expression of your outward professional self. It’s a code you live by in every way that you engage and operate in the world.
In the novel and film Big Fish, dying protagonist Edward Bloom tells his life story to his adult son. That son, who perceives the story as a tall tale, tries to know his “real” father before it’s too late. What he discovers is that the stories weren’t so much lies but real details colored in to fill gaps in memory. But the story also reflected the self that Edward wanted his son to see—and the world to remember him by.
Your personal brand is for and about you, but its central intent is to connect with others.
The character used storytelling to create a persona that was larger than life but still rooted in truth. In some ways, this is the definition of a personal brand: authentic and curated elements of a person’s story, characteristics, and values combined to put one’s best self forward and meet specific personal and professional goals.
Edward’s personal brand failed in this way, though, as it didn’t achieve his goal to win over his audience of one (until the end, but we won’t spoil it).
Your personal brand is for and about you, but its central intent is to connect with others. Here, we’ll take you step by step through the process of building your own personal brand that packages the best you in a way that resonates with your target audience.
What is a personal brand?
Seth Godin once said, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
Seth’s definition applies equally to personal brands in that they contribute to a person or company’s decision to follow, engage, hire, or work with you. In this example, you are the product. A personal brand encompasses who you are, what you stand for, your strengths, and how you use that strength to bring value to your community.
But what is a personal brand, exactly? Basically, it’s your story. It can be told in multiple formats and extends to all of the ways you present yourself online, including the color palette of your website, the intro music for your podcast, and the written tone of your bio on Linkedin.
A personal brand encompasses who you are, what you stand for, your strengths, and how you use that strength to bring value to your community.
Much like building a brand for your business, developing a solid personal brand early will help you meet goals—whether it’s connecting the right people to your cause or landing the perfect job. It also creates a template to help you scale easily across platforms and projects.
Effective personal branding achieves the following:
- It builds credibility and trust, which can be helpful in building relationships with your audience or landing business opportunities.
- It surfaces you as an expert or personality in your niche or community.
- It reflects an authentic and sustainable version of you. Unless you perform as a character in your work, your personal brand should be a version of you that you can pull off consistently. This may differ slightly from your true private self, but it should still be you.
- It puts a relatable face and personal story to your business or product, building trust in customers who see a real person behind the brand.
- It’s portable and seamless across platforms and press coverage. A set of personal brand guidelines, keywords, and visual assets (say, a press kit) can help you maintain consistency in your story, even when you’re not in control of it, as in the case of media coverage.
7 steps to building a personal brand
Chances are you already have a personal brand. Maybe, though, you haven’t put it to paper. All of the tiny choices you make when interacting online (and even IRL) add up to an image or brand upon which audiences form an opinion about you.
It’s important that you are more intentional about your personal brand in order to project yourself in the way that you want to be perceived. If you are a job seeker, an entrepreneur raising funding, an emerging creator, or really anyone conducting life and business online, a thoughtful approach to your personal brand will help open the right doors.
Let’s get started.
1. Get to know yourself
There are many questions that you may never have asked yourself directly as you go through the motions of life. But some of these answers hold the keys to unlocking your personal brand. This is a critical step in building your personal brand statement and telling your story.
Interview yourself in the medium where you’re most comfortable expressing your thoughts, or have a friend pose as an interviewer. Ask:
- What are you all about? Capture your hobbies and interests, your desired industry or career. What excites you?
- What are you not about? What adjectives absolutely do not describe you? What do you want to avoid people thinking about you?
- What are your defining characteristics? Ask friends and family to describe you and compare their answers with your own.
- What are your values? What causes or social issues are important to you? Are any of these central to your personal brand or goals?
- What’s unique about you? This will help you determine your value prop later.
- What are your goals, short term and long term?
- What are your strengths? Is there one thing you do exceptionally well?
- What impact do you want to make—on your audience, on your business, on the world?
- How might your personal brand overlap with your company’s brand (if applicable)?
2. Define your audience and focus
After getting to know yourself, let’s answer your “why.” Why are you building a personal brand? Do you want to break into the creator economy? Are you building a personal brand as a lead-in to a business or product? Are you creating a professional public image to help you secure funding or other business partnerships?
Answering your why will now help you define your audience. Is it customers, investors, employers, some other group? What does that group need? What’s your value proposition? Basically, how does what you uniquely offer create value for that audience?
Here’s where you put everything together to create a simple personal brand statement that captures your value prop, reflects your personality, and speaks the language of your target audience. Think of it as one part catchphrase and one part elevator pitch—for yourself. One to three sentences can usually capture the greatest hits (bonus points if it fits neatly into a social bio).
If you’re stuck, the following template can help you craft a first draft of your personal brand statement:
I'm [INTRODUCE YOURSELF: NAME, DEFINING DETAILS, CREDENTIALS, WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT]. I offer [PRODUCT/SERVICE] for [TARGET MARKET] to [VALUE PROPOSITION].
This is a skeleton of a formal personal brand statement that captures the important facts, but you should edit it for tone and personality.
Megababe founder Katie Sturino leads her personal brand story with the following statement:
“Katie Sturino is an entrepreneur, social media influencer, body acceptance advocate and fierce animal activist. Through her personal platform, @katiesturino, she lends her voice and personal style to raise awareness for size inclusivity, empowering women of all sizes to find their confidence and celebrate their style.”
The statement contains the key ingredients:
INTRO: Katie Sturino, entrepreneur, social media influencer
WHAT SHE CARES ABOUT: body acceptance and animal activism
PRODUCT/SERVICE: her voice, personal style
TARGET MARKET: women
VALUE PROP: raising awareness for size inclusivity, empowerment
Katie has chosen words like “fierce” and “celebrate” to capture her personality in the tone of her statement.
On Megababe’s website, Katie’s personal story is dialled back, though her personality still shines through on the brand’s About page. Elsewhere, the Megababe brand focuses on the customer story, as the products speak to common pain points.
3. Tell a story
Your personal brand statement is the jumping off point to telling the rest of your brand story. You’ll want short and longer versions of your story in your toolkit to use for varied purposes, such as social bios, press kits, your personal website, or investor pitches.
The best person to tell your story is you—even if you’re not a strong writer. Tell your story in your voice first before working with a writer or editor to help you polish your draft. Remember that this is not a formal cover letter—the tone should reflect your personality. Revisit your “get to know yourself” exercise to remind you! Was “silly” one of your qualities? Be sure that your story leaves the reader with that feeling about you.
The best person to tell your story is you—even if you’re not a strong writer. Tell your story in your voice first before working with a writer or editor to help you polish your draft.
The principles of brand storytelling can be applied to personal brands too. You’ll likely start with a written draft of your story but you can bring it to the world in the format that best reflects you or is most suited to the platform where you hope to spend the most of your attention. That could be short- or long-form video, podcast/audio, a pinned tweet thread, or all of the above.
Creator and designer Alice Thorpe captures her personal brand in a quick bio on her personal website’s homepage and a longer story on the site’s About page, but her medium of choice, and the one she uses to connect with her audience, is video. Her written bio is written in such a way that it tells audiences what to expect from her on-camera personality.
Visual storytelling for personal brands
A picture is, as they say, worth a thousand words. Choosing and creating visuals to represent your personal brand is just as important as your written story.
What colors or mood best represent your personality? What tone should your headshot have—casual, fun, professional, artistic? Will you use photography or illustration? Are your videos raw and handheld or polished and produced?
Work with photographers and designers whose portfolios align with your aesthetic and clearly communicate your expectations (another great use for a polished brand story!)
Bloom founder Avery Francis took to Twitter to ask her audience to weigh in on her headshot:
The following examples show that headshots don’t have to look like passport photos. Play with backgrounds, poses, colors, and moods to reflect your personal brand:
Visuals extend to the design of your website, logo, and other assets. If you’re not a designer or developer by trade, there are many free and inexpensive tools to help you DIY your branding design and website. The Shopify Themes store has many options you can tweak to align your site’s aesthetic with your personal brand and style.
4. Draw lines in the sand
The “real” you, your public personal brand, and your company’s brand, may be deeply linked. But there will likely be some distinctions. There may be aspects of your personal life that you choose to keep private and separate from your public personal brand. Or, in the case of some online creators who produce vulnerable and unfiltered content, those two selves may be one and the same.
There may be other reasons that your personal brand is different from your true self. Privacy and safety are concerns for online personalities whose work is prone to attracting trolls, doxxing, and harassment. Decide how much of yourself you’re willing to give away.
If you have spun a business out of your personal brand, tying your story to it will help you sell to an audience that’s already bought in to you as a person.
Your personal brand and your company brand will likely have parallels and overlap. If you have spun a business out of your personal brand, tying your story to it will help you sell to an audience that’s already bought in to you as a person. Your business’ brand storytelling, however, should also try to center your customers, their experiences, and their pain points. Tell your story, then reflect theirs back to them.
Alice Thorpe’s personal brand website and design store have distinctly different looks, and her story has been pared back, allowing the Soul + Fire brand to shine.
5. Build and find community
Building a community from the ground up starts with a solid personal brand. We are beyond the years of quick tricks and hacks for social growth as audiences are hungry for authenticity and meaningful connections online.
There’s no bigger indicator of this than the success of TikTok during the pandemic, when personal and unpolished content brought audiences closer to authentic versions of the creators they love. TikTok made it possible for anyone with a phone and an internet connection to create content and join in a shared experience—a need to connect in a time of isolation. And online personas became closer to resembling the people behind them.
But building community is different than just growing followers. It’s a two-way street. Your community is nurtured only if the relationship is symbiotic—both you, the brand, and the audience benefit in some way. Engage with your audience by including their stories in your content, asking for feedback, and participating in discussions in threads and comments.
Where you decide to set up your home base for your brand will depend on a number of factors:
- What medium of expression is most comfortable for you? Short-form written, live streaming video, short pre-recorded video?
- On which platform have you already established a small following?
- And most importantly, where is your desired audience hanging out?
As a brand of one, focusing your efforts on one platform may be the most sustainable at first but you will eventually need to expand to other spaces to grow your audience. Hugo Amsellem of Jellysmack tells us that audience overlap across platforms for some top creators is in the range of about 10% to 20%.
6. Be consistent across channels
Remember that as you engage and communicate across platforms and audiences, your message cannot simply be “Copy>Paste.” Understand the nuances in language and format expected by audiences on each platform and tailor your content accordingly—while still staying true to your personal brand (tone, language, values, etc.).
✨ Tip: Build audiences on platforms with short form content (TikTok, Twitter) that you can create with low investment. This will help you test what resonates. As you grow and polish your content style, you can urge your audience toward long-form content by starting a blog, online course, or YouTube channel.
7. Create content—and value
A solid content marketing strategy can help you grow your personal brand and drive traffic to your website. However, a long-term content strategy should include continuing to build value for your community to retain loyalty and build long-term relationships.
SOKO GLAM founder Charlotte Cho built her personal brand prior to launching her Korean skincare brand. During that time, she wrote content that helped bring her readers along on her personal skincare journey while helping them discover products as well.
By the time she launched SOKO GLAM, Charlotte had already established herself as a knowledgeable source for skincare content and easily translated fans of her personal brand into customers for her business.
On SOKO GLAM’s site, Charlotte’s original mission to educate permeates the brand’s story, as it’s interwoven with her own.
Monetizing your personal brandThe creator economy was built on a foundation of personal brands. As the lines between creator and company blur, these new creator entrepreneurs are finding ways to build independence by monetizing their audiences on their own terms.
If your goal is to build your personal brand into a business, there are several ways to monetize it, even as your influence and audience are still growing. While the typical avenues that people often think of are ad share revenue and brand sponsorships, only the top personal brands can truly survive on these alone.
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Monetizing your personal brand is possible on-platform through ads, brand partnerships, tips, and shoutouts, but moving your audiences off social to owned channels is more sustainable. Here are some business ideas to help you do that:
- Launch a website where you drive social audiences and collect emails. Building an email list helps you own your audience and bring them with you across platforms. Incentivize sign-ups by offering free access to exclusive content.
- Use a subscription model. Sell “subscriptions” or fan club access to give subscribed users access to extra content. Many apps, like Patreon, can help you do this, or you can set up user accounts on your owned website.
- Sell merch through an online store. If you set up a store on a platform like Shopify, you can extend the personal brand that you have built into physical goods. A print-on-demand app that plugs into your store can help you easily translate branded designs into goods to sell—without having to buy or manage inventory.
- Sell content like tutorials or courses. Creator duo Colin and Samir have established themselves as experts in online video content creation. After building trust with their audience, they launched a course teaching YouTube storytelling.
Now that you have all the tools to bring your personal brand to life online, it’s time to ship it! Remember, as you grow and learn from your audiences and your own experiences, your personal brand may evolve. What’s important is that it always aims to achieve your goals and resonate with your audience, even if those things change.
Personal brand FAQ
What is a personal brand and why is it important?
A personal brand is a public statement of who you are, what you stand for, who your audience is, and what value you’re bringing to that audience. It is developed based on your goals and values, which should remain central to your personal brand as it’s used across channels. A personal brand is important to anyone building an audience online with a specific purpose (finding work, seeking funding, becoming an influencer). Similar to a set of brand guidelines for a business, a personal brand helps you remain consistent across platforms and stay true to your vision.
What makes a good personal brand?
What are some personal brand examples?
How do I use social media to build my personal brand?
What is a personal brand statement?
Feature illustration by Stefania Infante