Creating a Personal Brand: Too Late! You Already Have One

By  | August 2, 2011 | Web Pro Business

There was a particular manager at the company whose name I’d heard several times, but I had yet to meet. Despite that, I felt like I knew him well, because, whenever his name came up in conversation, the typical reaction I heard was, “He’s a real a$$*#%! h@#!.” After about the fifth time hearing that description, I had begun to develop a very distinct impression about him. Like it or not, he had been branded.

When we think about commercial brands, we tend to think of a name, logo, or slogan … anything that is used to identify and distinguish a specific product, service, or business. But on a more basic level, a brand is an identification mark … like when a rancher or farmer uses a branding iron to mark an animal to indicate ownership. A mark can also be a symbol of disgrace or infamy, as in the Old Testament when “… the Lord set a mark upon Cain” after he killed his brother, Abel. This type of mark is used to stigmatize, condemn, or brand as disgraceful, as in the case of the a$$*#%! h@#! manager.

So a brand is a distinctive identity associated with the product, service, or organization … or in the case of the freelancer—with you. Most companies think their brand is centered around their product or service. But brands are more about the promises you deliver than the products you sell. The promise of value (and the delivery on that promise) is at the heart of it. So true branding is about selling a promise of value.

Making a promise is serious business, and, as in personal life, making too many promises, or changing them frequently, raises uncertainty in the people to whom the promises are made. Making and keeping a promise, and keeping it consistently, can be a powerful source of competitive advantage.¹

Companies can say whatever they want the buying public to believe about their organization, but it’s what they do that will be broadcast, announced, discussed, and judged in the forum of public opinion known as the Internet. Today, consumers are empowered to gather their own information and to form their ownopinions and beliefs about your company and its products or services. Yet, many larger organizations remain in denial—unaware that what they think the buying public believes about them isn’t at all what the buying public actually believes.

Want to know what your real brand is? It’s whatever word your client uses to complete the following sentence:

“Oh, [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] … that’s the person/company who _____________________.”

What would your clients say?

I once sold for a company with an over-zealous telemarketing team. A common response I heard from homeowners after I identified myself was, “Oh … you’re the company who’s constantly calling me and won’t leave me alone.”

Remember how I said that a brand can also be a symbol of disgrace or infamy?

They say marketing is a lot like trying to read the label from inside of the bottle. It’s difficult to know what our clients truly find valuable about doing business with us, and most companies seem afraid to do the one thing it takes to find out. The owners of a small restaurant in Cherryvale, Kansas, always thought their restaurant was unique because it was “the nicest restaurant in town.” But, by surveying their customers, they discovered otherwise:

We were surprised to learn that, instead of being the “nicest” restaurant in our small town, it was known as the “birthday” and “anniversary” place. Why? Because it was the nicest place in town. So now we market it that way, always collecting data from our customers as to when their birthdays and anniversaries are, and sending them cards for a free piece of pie or box of candy when they dine here for their occasion.

As I said earlier, your brand is closely associated with the value you provide to your customers. By simplyasking their customers, the owners of this small-town restaurant discovered where their value truly lie—and were able to adjust their marketing message to match it. Determining what your customer values and then delivering on that value is what true branding is all about … regardless of whether it’s a professional or a personal brand.


Self-promotion: Do You Need a New Approach?

By  | August 2, 2011 | Web Pro Business

Recently, a freelancing friend of mine found himself out of work. He’d been working on contract with one major client, and that contract was cut off. When I spoke to him, he wasn’t sure where to look for work.

He’d spent months out of work, trying online freelance marketplaces, and mailing lists for projects. He didn’t want to get a full-time job, and wasn’t sure where else to look. I told him he should update his website and contact his past clients, but he wasn’t keen. His past clients had moved on, he said. He was really bad at email.

I said I’d help him, and we started work on his site. Days after he published it, he had a call from a multinational tech company to ask about the kinds of project he was interested in. Last week, we finally emailed his past clients. Within 12 hours, he had a string of jobs lined up.

I’m not exaggerating here. It really was that easy.

How much sooner could he have landed work if he’d been willing to try what were, to him, less appealing promotional avenues?

And what about you? Are you missing out on great projects because certain types of promotion don’t appeal to you?

Beyond your comfort zone

Many freelancers go out on their own because they want more varied work, more experimental projects, and more thrills.

But when it comes to promotion, the lower the risk of embarrassment or discomfort, the better. Or so it seems for many of us.

There will always be promotional methods that you loathe the thought of. But what about those that are just a bit difficult? Find a way to overcome your discomfort and, like my friend, you might tap into a whole new pool of opportunities.

To start, make a list of all the promotional methods you don’t hate — but don’t use. Then choose one or two, and do what it takes to make them happen.

Put some time aside in your calendar to work out how you’ll put that method into practice. If you’re not sure where to start, do what my friend did and ask friends or contacts in the industry for their advice. Once you have a plan, again schedule some time to implement it.

The power of experimentation

Call this an experiment if you like. You don’t have to commit yourself to the idea, or its success. You can simply test it out and see how it works.

That may sound silly, but many freelancers I know avoid certain promotions because they don’t want to be “the kind of freelancer who…” The kind of freelancer who’s good at networking, for example. The kind of freelancer who does public speaking. The kind of freelancer who beats their own drum through social media. The kind of freelancer who hassles past clients with spammy emails.

Fine, don’t be that kind of freelancer. Just run a small experiment and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, you can forget about it. If it does, great. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat it in future if you don’t want to. Although I have the feeling that if it does work, you’ll be more willing to use it again the next time you need work.

Have you ever stepped outside your promotional comfort zone? Did it work for you? Let us know in the comments.


We’ve all done it. We rush right to the computer. We don’t even think, we just blindly move shapes around hoping to come up with something creative. We do eventually, but what if that first “warm-up” period could be faster. What if we could get right to the good designs? You can.


Sketching will always be faster than using a computer. Even if you have a tablet, it’s still easier and faster to sketch out your thoughts instead of moving shapes on a computer. David Airey illustrates that by showing that you can switch between styles very easily. He make square B’s, organic b’s, geometrical b’s and everything in-between.


Original Creative

If you are on a computer you are tempted to peruse your favorite inspiration outlets. This is fine provided the timing is right but, you are starting something new and it’s not the time to look. It’s the time to think. Looking at the crucial ideation stage will make you regurgitate previous designs that someone else has already thought through. Marc Hemeon sketches concepts that would’ve taken him a while to achieve on a computer. The best part is he experiments with different marks, swirls, and type BEFORE hitting the computer.


Rapid Thinking

The beautiful thing about pencil & paper (or pen) or whatever you medium you choose is that it gives you the distinct ability to jump around from one idea to the next. The best apart about this is: rapid exploration. On a computer you have to spend 10 minutes connecting a few letters that could’ve taken you a few seconds on paper. This is vital because you can play out “the bad ideas” that cloud your creative judgement and then you get into the real groundbreaking creative. Alex Cornell sketches out the movement of a penguin. This movement is easily captured on paper. Through his sketches he notices the most important parts of the figure are its wings, beak and eyes.



Sketching also gives you the ability to be creative anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Paula Scher from Pentagram designed the Citi logo on a napkin in a board meeting. We as creative beings are not always sure when we will be inspired so carrying a sketchbook or having access to a napkin is always good idea. Creatives have also been known to have a sketchbook in every room. It’s a good practice that sometimes comes in handy.


Rough Mock-up

Many illustrators sketch out a general shape and then take it into photoshop or illustrator to color it or sometimes finish drawing. This gives you the added benefit of using a sketch but also the clean lines (if you choose) of a digital version. Soft Facade shows how the designs were thought out before being finalized into beautiful icons.



Do you sketch or do you just go straight into the design. Has this changed your thoughts on sketching or are you still going to do it the way you did it before?

Posted by Chad Engle in Fuel Your Creativity, Graphic Designers, Tips/Tricks