The complete guide to personal branding


Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos famously quipped that branding is “what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” It’s an arresting thought; what are the lasting feelings that people around you feel when you’re no longer in their presence?

Many of us associate the concept of a carefully considered brand with a company but in an age of online influence where we ourselves are the product, personal branding has become ever more crucial to success—on both a personal and professional front.

The fact is, you have the power to design how you and by extension, your professional brand, is seen by the world. You have both visual and written elements at your disposal to channel a new energy to the space you take up in the world, whether you’re an intrapreneur looking for career advancement or a self-employed designer wanting to show the world what you’re capable of. Crafting a strong and authentic personal brand is the key to securing more interviews, being considered for more promotions and giving people around you a memorable sense of who you are, even when you’re not in the room.

Here’s our guide to creating a personal brand that’s both authentic and an accurate reflection of who you are and what you offer.

How to build your personal brand

1. Decide how you want to be seen

Image by Paul Skorupska via Unsplash

In order to create a cohesive and authentic personal brand, you need to have a clear focus for how you’d like people to perceive you. Although figuring out who you are as a ‘brand’ might seem like the definition of inauthentic, you could think of it in the same way you might adjust your clothes in order to suit different situations. Sociologist Erving Goffman believed that we adapt who we are in order to keep in step with those we’re interacting with, dubbing this ‘self-presentation’. In practice, you could think of it as such:when you’re with friends, you’re casual and relaxed and your clothes and language reflect that. Other times, when you want to be seen as more professional, you’ll dress in something more formal and speak in a more eloquent, authoritative tone. It’s really just a series of adjustments across visual, written and verbal spheres, that add up to create a more distinct perception of the person that you are in differing situations.

Personal branding isn’t about trying to carve a new identity for yourself; at its core, it’s an exercise in highlighting your true strengths, not just creating ones that you don’t actually possess.

Start by asking yourself some pointed questions. What is the core of my offering to my consumers or audience? What makes me unique and allows me to offer my audience something that others don’t? What are my strengths? Do I have a distinct style? Knowing the answers to these questions and creating strategies to express them creates consistency and makes it easier to build relationships with an audience.

Want to capture your findings somewhere? Try Canva’s Off White and Black SWOT Analysis Chart(opens in a new tab or window) for a more detailed analysis.

2. Amplify what you offer

Certainly there are many things that make you unique. What does your deep love of Haruki Murakami novels offer someone else, however? If you’re hoping to connect to an audience, whether it’s your manager or your social media following, you’ve got to get to the bottom of your value proposition. That is, what are you offering people and what problem are you hoping to solve for them?

You might be particularly good at creating candid videos(opens in a new tab or window), for instance. You could either build a name for yourself in this, reaching out to brands or influencers and offer your services, or position yourself as an expert on creating them and offer advice on how your audience can recreate them. In both cases, you have the opportunity to offer your audience something that’s distinctly yours, with you at the centre.

What you offer is more than what you’re good at, too. You might be great at creating reports(opens in a new tab or window)but loathe the task so instead, focus on the things that really bring you joy. Is pepping people up your thing? Maybe your Instagram could be sprinkled with tiles of inspirational quotes. Do you love talking about modern Japanese authors? Perhaps you could blog about the connection between Murakami and young Japanese novelists. While you can pull off aptitude (fake it ‘til you make it, right?) in some things, you can’t fake enthusiasm. People will be drawn to you for your true passions, so work on amplifying these. Somewhere in between your knowledge, personal experience and passion will be your true, unrivalled niche.

3. Know your audience (and your competition)

Image by Tim Gouw via Unsplash.

Just as you would when starting any new business or tackling any new design, you need to know who you’re speaking to. Sometimes, that audience is your boss, determining whether you’re doing a great job in your role. Other times, it’s the growing number of followers on your Instagram page. While following the beat of your own drum is important, you must keep your audience in mind—with any luck, if you’ve carved your niche correctly, your audience will be the kind who’s interested in what makes you, you.

Start by constructing a profile of your typical audience member; who they are, what they like and dislike, as well as what other brands do they associate with. If it helps, put a face to them and give them a name to round out your vision of them as much as possible.

While you’re building this profile, don’t forget to look at competitors. What other brands that occupy the same market does your profiled consumer commonly associate with? If you’re a designer, find other designers with similar strengths and a similar style to see what they are doing to attract clients. If you’re designing for your organic cafe brand, look at popular organic cafe brands, see what similarities they all have and what sets them apart. You can also perform a competitor analysis(opens in a new tab or window). This is a great jumping off point for finding any gaps in your market.

4. Establish a tone of voice

Branding goes so much deeper than the visual appearance and in order to maintain that all-important consistency, you need to get clear on what kind of words make them distinctly yours.

For any copy that you use, whether it be a status update, tweet, copy on your website or conversations with clients, make certain to maintain a specific tone that accurately reflects you. Sophisticated brands aren’t going to send out emails with “Hey, what’s up?” as a greeting, and likewise, you can’t establish a fun, casual, friendly tone if you apply language that’s overly formal.

If you’re not sure about what tone suits your brand, then write some sample tweets, emails or messages. Give yourself some scenarios, for example:would it better suit your brand to say “we apologise for the inconvenience” or “sorry about the mix-up, we’re on the case”? Have a look at brands you admire and see what might also suit your brand check out their syntax and tone and swap and change elements until you get a tone that is just right for your brand, and that accurately reflects you.

5. Develop a tailored font and color palette

Willie Nelson has his plaits, Drake has his goatee. When it comes to being memorable, you can channel your uniqueness into the visuals of your brand, too.

The visual representation of your personal brand, whether it be your portfolio, website or streamlined LinkedIn page, can incorporate consistent elements of color and typography that have the power to change perceptions about your brand, generating certain emotions and feelings and can help (or hinder) people’s perception of you. If your personal brand centres on altruism and problem-solving, a sunny yellow peppered through your website might be more appropriate than a serious, stark black.

Canva’s templates span every color of the rainbow and can suit every personality. Need a website overhaul? Whether you want to highlight your fun and lively personality (Beige, Pink and Gold Visual Storytelling and Branding Website(opens in a new tab or window) is great for this) or keep it professional and serious in tone (try Orange Real Estate Business/Advertising Website(opens in a new tab or window) for this), there’s a template for every type of person.

6. Set up your online platforms and create your digital assets

Social media isn’t purely a recreational tool anymore; businesses use social media to network, advertise, show off their skills, and shape their brand. This is where streamlined digital assets will be particularly important:creating a brand doesn’t mean you can just create a logo(opens in a new tab or window) and color palette and stop there. In reality, there are many other elements—commonly known as deliverables—that can enhance your brand.

Take Facebook as an example. There’s a profile picture, cover photo, image posts, content design and app button images, for starters. Beyond that, you have X (Twitter) headers, X (Twitter) image posts, Instagram posts, Google+ headers, YouTube Channel Art, and so much more, depending on what sites you choose to put your brand on.

Oftentimes, the dimensions, sizing, cropping of each digital deliverable is different. So, to make sure your designs are perfectly sized and optimized for each platform, use specialized social graphic templates(opens in a new tab or window) in order to avoid having to recreate assets from scratch for every platform.

Beyond social media, consider what other digital elements you might need. Do you need content for your website? Do you need a signature for your email? Try to think about every channel that you’ll be using professionally, and pad it out with cohesive designs.

To streamline the process, make a checklist of every element you need to create for your digital mediums and create them together. This will keep your designs consistent, prevent any inconsistencies (e.g. if you used a slightly different color) and make it way easier and quicker for you to launch.

If you need help creating a new logo, try the 1000s of templates on Canva. From logos that signal dependability and trust(opens in a new tab or window) to those that hint at modern trends(opens in a new tab or window), there are thousands to choose from.

7. Create all your physical deliverables

While so many things are online these days, it’s important to not forget the medium that started it all – print. You can network online all you like, but handing someone a real business card(opens in a new tab or window), or sending them a letter with a personalised letterhead(opens in a new tab or window), or letting them physically flip through a portfolio of your work can be refreshing and just as important as any digital connection.

These physical deliverables can span things as basic as business cards, letterheads and invoices but you could expand this to compliment slips, envelope(opens in a new tab or window) designs and packaging depending on your needs. Assess your brand, note down its needs, and work from there. Don’t think you need to spend a fortune on graphic design (or anything at all, for that matter!); there are thousands of free templates(opens in a new tab or window) to choose from to support your design needs.

Another great physical deliverable to have in your artillery is a portfolio. So many portfolios(opens in a new tab or window) these days are online or digital, and while this is great for convenience in some cases, if you plan on meeting clients, consumers or employers in person and have a good body of work to show off, handing them a physical portfolio(opens in a new tab or window) can be a nice way to stick in their minds.

Create your portfolio with the help of Canva’s extensive range of templates. Need striking and sleek? Try Green and White Simple Modeling Portfolio(opens in a new tab or window). Want something softer and more approachable? Cream Handwritten English Tutor Marketing Presentation(opens in a new tab or window) could be a better fit.

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