Being Your Own Brand: how to brand yourself in today’s free agent economy

Branding yourself is more than just having a slick business card, website or popular blog, it’s also about identifying what you are passionate about, having a good attitude and a vision. Also important is what others think of you.

When trying to determine your own brand, “Ask yourself what you think your brand is and then try and ask other people to see if they say the same thing,” said Charlie Fashana, President of the Advertising Club of Buffalo and Tuesday night’s moderator for the “Being Your Own Brand” panel discussion, an exploration of personal branding.

Fashana suggested doing a simple three adjective test to describe yourself. “Then ask some family, friends or colleagues to do the same and see if they match,” said Fashana. “If they don’t, then you’re going to learn about yourself and your brand.”

Fashana also outlined the four steps of personal branding: discover, create, communicate and maintain. Tuesday night’s AdLab panel discussed the various steps they felt were important in discovering and creating your own brand.

Reputation is key

Whether you are aware of it or not, your previous work experience is part of your own brand. Warren Stanek, a photo illustrator and retoucher with over 20 years of experience, says that his consistent work has helped him keep and land new clients through word-of-mouth.

“I have propagated my business just from reputation and from doing consistence work over the years and building a brand through (my) clients,” said Stanek who says he doesn’t use Twitter or social media at all.

Although he does not use social media, Stanek does think it can be a powerful tool in brand-building.

“Social media has really been a blessing and curse when it comes to this kind of thing because it really exposes you for who you really are; so we also need to pay attention to what we put out there,” said Jeff Pappalardo, a Partner and Creative Director at Crowley Webb and Associates.

Branding and visioning

“Having that vision allows you to check yourself once in a while and making sure you are staying true to who you want to be and moving in the direction you want to go,” said founder and principal of Block Club, a design, marketing and publishing studio, Patrick Finan.

Finan recommends people check out Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a company that effectively utilizes visioning. In addition to running several food related businesses, Zingerman’s also conducts training and seminars on their approach to business through ZingTrain.com.

“Values and mission are important, but those are more broad-based things,” said Finan. “What’s great about a vision is you can find the time (to do it) and it’s something you can build with your entire team or department. You can also test yourself constantly against this vision. It’s a great way of looking at growth and guidance as opposed to these kind of rigid mission statements that we develop for ourselves and never really use.”

Set yourself apart

Pappalardo says that your brand can help set you apart from the crowd and also a crowded marketplace and help attract clients. In his business, ad agencies that specialize in niche markets like pet products can set themselves apart from other agencies.

“Those agencies — if you’re in a small market – do well because then people from around the country have a reason to come to Buffalo for an ad agency,” said Pappalardo.

“We decided a few years ago to brand an attitude – this hard-working attitude,” said Pappalardo. “This whole hard-working position came to the surface, so we embraced that and introduced it (as our brand) and it has helped steer us into B2B and industrial based (work) based around this whole hard-working, ‘grittier’ kind of attitude.”

Network, network, network

When Jordan (Case) Hegyi, a Designer/Art Director was considering striking out on her own with her company, Riveter Design, the first thing she did was reach out to her network.

“The first thing I did was reach out to everyone I knew that might be a good contact to me,” said Hegyi.  “I gave them a heads up to let them know what was going on with me. I thought about my logo and what the name of my company was going to be and what my business cards were going to look like, but really the first thing I did was e-mail and call people.”

“You can put together a basic business brand cheaply. My business cards are black and white, they cost me nothing to print. When you are first starting out, there are ways to save money so you can start building your own brand without spending a fortune, such as doing your own website yourself.”

Items that are essential or help you to build your own brand:

  • Business cards
  • An e-mail address
  • Resume/cover letter/references
  • Portfolio, either online (website) or on a CD/flash drive
  • A blog and/or website
  • Social media accounts on LinkedIN.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com
  • Online resume