In this sponsored guide written by our friends at Domain.ME, learn how to create an authentic online presence that stays true to you, and helps you land work. Plus, get inspired by how other designers are successfully showcasing their own personal brands online.
I found a stash of business cards that my dad collected throughout his career. They were all flashy, with logos and typography that leaped from the card.
I thought about how those business cards were a way for people to express themselves and get recognized. How would you otherwise remember who gave you which business card and who was who? Back then, business cards were the utmost token of your personal brand—that’s how you stood out from the crowd.
Fast forward a decade or two, with the development of digital technologies and the introduction of social media, ‘personal brand’ takes a whole new meaning. Suddenly, you have more room to show the world who you are and what you are about. Your online identity becomes defined by everything you share on the internet.
That identity, in turn, is slowly shaped and turned into your personal brand guided by the ‘look-at-me’ cultural change. So how do you make your personal brand stand out in the overgrown crowd?
Are we all doing the same thing?
If we dare say, there’s nothing substantial about trends. They come and then they fade, only to be replaced by new trends.
On platforms like Dribbble that invite the designers around the world to connect with one another and participate by sharing their Shots, we notice these trends more clearly. And the reason is, more often than not, a need to fit in and/or please the client’s request to create a more ‘trendy’ design, as to make sure their customers would take to it more quickly. But on the other hand, following what the majority does can take a toll on our design thinking and the glorious creative process.
Regardless of whether we are walking down the trend line or pushing the limits and discovering new things, there is one thing that always sets us apart—our personal brand.
We reached out to a number of our community members who are also Dribbblers at heart, and asked them to share with us their vision of what personal brand means to them. Each of these designers has a different background and comes from a different part of the world, yet they all agreed that the story about you and your brand is the most important thing to focus on right now.
Tip #1: Tell your story
Brent Galloway, a freelance graphic designer in Columbus, Ohio, who creates killer merch for rad bands and brands all around the world—including but not limited to Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy—believes that the most neglected, yet very important aspect of a personal website has to be the ‘about’ and ‘process’ pages.
Brent explains that as someone who runs their entire business online, showing the face behind the work helps instantly establish trust with potential clients. And having a strong, thorough process page can help show your level of expertise. Those two pages alongside a curated portfolio are his secret to landing more client work through his website.
And Brent is absolutely right. Your narrative is one of the most powerful tools to use in creating your own brand. Pay some special attention to your ‘about’ and ‘process’ pages on your website, and make sure each of those pages tells a special story about you—the one that will grasp the client’s attention.
There’s another Dribbbler and member of the .ME community that comes to mind when questioning the importance of telling your story. Ognjen from Ographics.me shared with us that the one thing he regrets not paying more attention to is his personal brand. As someone who is always busy with client projects, Ognjen noticed that he slowly started neglecting his own brand. He stated that if he had a chance to hit a reset button and go back to the beginning of his career as a graphic designer, he would definitely start focusing more on his personal brand.
“It’s very important to present yourself in the best possible light, not only with your work, but with your personal brand too. It’s something that will definitely set you apart from your competition and in the prospective client’s eyes. And while it might be true that it’s definitely easier to present and create a brand for others than it is to do so for yourself, you need to stop postponing it and actually devote some time to your personal brand, because this will set you on your path.”
Tip #2: Be consistent
There is a reason why big brands stick to the same name and visuals for decades, even hundreds of years (just think of Coca Cola). Their slogans might change and they might invest resources into various campaigns, but some things remain the same which helps them be recognized and capture the essence of their brand.
If you want to build a strong personal brand and make sure you are easy to find, it’s important to keep the same brand look and feel across all of your online profiles. If available, use a first and last name combo for your social media usernames, and feature the same photograph. It’s important this matches the information on your personal website.
Likewise, if you already built a certain following with a specific alias you go by on social media and other platforms where you share your work, then your .ME domain could be that alias as well. People will check multiple places when they want to learn more about you, and keeping it consistent will help to make you memorable.
Now, if you remember Luka from our previous introduction of Dribbblers and the members of the .ME community, he’s the one who capitalized on the alias he was known for as a designer before he created his website and paid more attention to his personal brand.
When asked what he would do if he got to press the restart button on his career, Luka revealed:
“I wish I worked more on my online presence and being more consistent with sharing my work, instead of constantly trying to re-brand and re-invent myself by using and abandoning various social media networks, constantly trying to find my ‘style’ and create the ‘next big thing’.
“What really matters is just to practice, work, have a little faith in what you make and what you share, but also to bear in mind that not everything you make has to be shared with the world. Sometimes it’s good to just draw a tree on a piece of paper and leave it in your drawer.
“I wasted so much time thinking and feeling guilty about not working and learning, instead of actually doing it. So my plan for the future is just not to worry that much. The moment you draw something on that blank piece of paper or artboard you have to know that it’s all uphill from there.”
You heard his words. Be consistent, and believe in yourself and your work.
Tip #3: Live your brand
The most important tip—live your brand. By defining what makes you unique, whether it’s your story, your style, and most often, a blend of both, it’s important you commit to it and let others see it. Your personal brand should follow you no matter where you go. In essence, you should not only strive to leave your brand’s mark on the about me and process pages, but through all your spheres of work, regardless of whether it’s the work you do for clients or YouTube tutorials.
Get social. It’s vital that you work on your networking skills and expand your network. Represent your brand in your Tweets as much as you do in your meetings with clients. Your brand is an extension of you, so keep it natural and never forced.
Cool merch is also a part of living your brand. Create awesome stickers, maybe a t-shirt or a smartphone case—whatever it is that represents your brand the best. And of course, if your merch becomes popular, you can always sell it through your website.
Why your personal brand needs a website
It might not seem as important to have a personal website, but surely we’ll agree that first impressions are vital—a deal breaker or a deal maker. What your prospective client or employer might find after googling you can lead to them hiring you or continue searching for someone else. Your personal website is the greatest first impression and introduction you’ll ever have. It does not only give you context and guide people through your work, but also portrays you as someone who’s devoted.
Remember, your social media accounts reflect just one part of your online personality. What we are looking for is the full picture. Social media does not offer you full control over your virtual self–you are limited by the features of the service, its purpose, and rules of conduct.
When we asked Brent how important a personal website is in acquiring clients, and whether it had a direct or indirect impact, he gave quite an informative answer:
“My personal website is the foundation to my freelance business. I built my website to work for me—It helps attract new clients and is how I stand out online in such a saturated market. The way it works is my blog posts drive traffic to my website, then with well-placed calls-to-action and a strong, curated portfolio, that traffic is turned into clients reaching out to hire me.”
‘I don’t have the skills to build a website’ is no longer an excuse
‘I don’t have the skills to build a website’ is the excuse as old as the internet itself. And while that might have been true in the ‘90s, more than thirty years later, anyone can make a website—no coding skills needed. When we asked our designers what they thought of this infamous excuse, they had a thought or two to share.
Not everyone is a designer/developer, so you don’t have to try and be one. If you’re not a website designer, trying to build your own can actually be harmful to your brand and the first impression you make to potential clients/customers. I’ve seen too many bad websites that use horrible colors, layouts, fonts, and stock photos.
If you can’t afford to hire an expert to help create your website, luckily, there are tons of services that can help you build a website at an affordable price. My rule of thumb when creating your website is “keep it simple.” Focus on the content and try injecting your personality wherever possible. Don’t feel like you need a bunch of bells and whistles.
Get to the point by showing exactly what you do, who you are, and how you can help others. Then a simple way for people to get in touch with you.
Wanting to be noticed and taken seriously in this day and age and not having a website, or at least some kind of an online portfolio, is almost impossible. If your job is creating visuals and you want to be seen, making excuses for not creating a website doesn’t make sense. Not all of us have strong coding skills, or perhaps no coding skills at all, but there are many different ways to create a website.
You can always make a website with the help of website builders. If neither of these options work for you, you can always make an online PDF portfolio to send it out to clients—but make that the absolute last resort.
Well, I am as far from being a developer as you can get, and for long I’ve been struggling to push myself to sit down and create a website which would represent me. Having a website not only sets you apart from your competition and makes you seem more professional in the eyes of your clients, but it also gives you more space to showcase your personal brand. Sure, it might seem hard to create your online portfolio, but there are many free or affordable online platforms for creating a website on your own.
I was pressed with time to create a website, so I chose Dribbble’s Playbook. It is a simple and easy way to create a website and show my work with a contact button on it.
For designers, who want to express more through their website, but don’t have any experience with building websites on their own, I suggest using Wordpress or Webflow platforms. I know I’ll use this crisis to focus on building a website through Webflow.
Before You Go
Focusing on your personal brand is crucial to your success as a designer. As people, we are curious and drawn to see who’s hiding behind the work that has left an impression on us. At times, it’s your personal brand that can help you with acquiring new clients, without you having to lift a finger. So pay attention to it. Make sure that in this oversaturated market you stand out by showing your personality and your glorious brand.
About the author: Natasa Djukanovic is the CMO of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She has spent her entire career at the intersection of social media, leadership, and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.