As we continue through this month’s theme of marketing yourself and your business, I’d like to spend some time discussing a topic that doesn’t get enough attention in the e-Learning freelance world: building a personal branding kit.
In my early days freelancing as an e-Learning Designer, I did what most people do: I created self-marketing materials as I needed them. I had my portfolio put together, but beyond that, I didn’t spend a lot of time creating any other materials unless they were immediately necessary. I wrote cover letters on the fly; I got professional head-shots taken when I had a customer or opportunity that required one; and so on. This approach often left me scrambling at the last minute to create assets, and as a result, at any given time I had a host of materials that were useful in one instance, but together, didn’t add up to a cohesive brand.
That’s when I learned about the value of personal branding kits.
What is a Personal Branding Kit?
The short version: A personal branding kit is a set of self-marketing materials that you create that present your value as a freelancer through consistent messaging and a unified look and feel. Your branding kit is the manifestation of your brand; each item in your kit should in some way reflect what you and your business stand for, and the feelings you want to inspire in others.
But before we get into the specific items you should consider including in your own branding kit, it’s important to first define the cornerstones of your brand.
What Goes into My Brand?
Your brand is a combination of the things you stand for and the feelings you want to inspire when people think of you. For example, consider late-night TV host Jimmy Fallon: Through his actions, personal style, and comedic style, Fallon has established a strong brand of “wacky, fun guy who likes to laugh and play games.” Each weeknight, he appears in a dapper suit, a carefully “messed up” haircut, and a near constant giggle as he goads his guests into playing games with him, ranging from drinking games to old favorites like “Password.” He jokes around with fans on Twitter, he constantly breaks into laughter during his own sketches, and he generally plays the role of a friendly goofball—because that’s his brand. While it may seem like these things are “just his personality,” the truth is that he has worked hard at building his brand, and he works hard to maintain it.
As a freelance e-Learning Designer, you need to come up with your own brand, and make sure that brand comes out through all of your self-marketing materials and your practices in general. Your brand is unique and personal to you, so I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what the fundamentals of your brand truly are. If you’re not sure where to start, write down some adjectives that you want to be associated with your freelance business. Once you’ve come up with several, decide which are the three or four most important ones. (If you’ve been following this series, you may recall the post about knowing your core values, which is how you define how you see yourself; creating your brand, in contrast, is about defining how you want others to see you.)
When I went through this exercise, I quickly realized that I wanted to be perceived as a helpful mentor to my peers, and ever since that discovery, I have strived to make sure that comes through whenever possible. I’m passionate about helping others in the Learning & Development industry, so I make that a central part of my brand through my blog posts, tweets, and even posts I write in e-Learning forums.
The other side of personal branding is a consistent look and feel. A strong brand has a consistent color scheme, voice, and even font that all support the perceived value of things like tweets, blog posts, and so on. Apple is the king of the look-and-feel side of branding: Every email they send, product they create, and store they build utilizes the same mostly white color scheme, non-serif font, and smooth finishes to support how their “simple” brand is perceived. Their website has minimal text, and their computers, phones, and tablets all share the same minimalist aesthetic.
So as you’re building your brand, think about the values that you want your name to inspire in others, as well as the look and feel that you want to use in all of your self-marketing materials. There are no “wrong answers” to these decisions—so long as your brand reflects you and is used consistently.
Why Bother Creating a Branding Kit?
Having a branding kit isn’t just about making the self-marketing process easier—although it will do that—it’s also about attracting new clients. In her blog post, “Five Benefits of Personal Branding,” Michelle Misiaszek discusses just how useful personal branding can be.
She talks about benefits such as:
- Your personal brand creates a sense of your individuality. This is critical in the e-Learning world, where standing out can be a challenge!
- Your personal brand communicates your opinions, values, and beliefs to others. This is something I think about a lot with my own brand—a big part of being a resource for others is focusing on helping, instead of being competitive. (For example, you’ll never see a post in this series about “How to get ahead by making your competition look bad,” because that doesn’t match my values and it would be an off-brand message.)
- Your personal brand allows you to take control of your identity. This is important: If you don’t work towards creating an intentional brand, then others, including your prospective clients, will create one in their heads for you, and you might not like the results.
- Your brand helps you attract new clients. As a freelancer, you can expect some potential clients to find you on their own, and it’s important to make sure that your brand is communicating the right things, and attracting the right types of clients—even in instances with people you’ve never met before.
- Your brand helps establish you as an expert in your field. Your brand is bigger than you are, because it’s partially based in feeling and impression. Without a brand, you’re just an individual, but with a brand, you’re an individual who inspires a specific feeling, or aligns with a concept. Before he was famous, Howard Stern was just a radio DJ; after building a brand, his name became synonymous with “risqué shock-jock,” granting him a larger-than-life persona as THE expert in the field. (Now, I’m not saying you should get on the radio and say outrageous things, but I am saying that by creating a personal brand for yourself, you’ll elevate how your expertise is perceived.)
What Do I Need to Know Before I Start Building My Branding Kit?
Once you’ve decided on the values you want to convey, you’ll need to decide on the visual elements of your brand. Before you start creating assets for your own branding kit, make sure you’ve selected:
- Your color scheme
- Your font
- Your terminology (what words, phrases, or slogans do you want to use consistently?)
- Any other stylistic elements (e.g., what hashtags do you expect to consistently use on Twitter?)
With all these things specified, you’re ready to start building your branding kit.
What Should I Put in My Personal Branding Kit?
Remember that your branding kit is the manifestation of your brand, so the short answer to “What should I put in my branding kit?” is, “Anything you could possibly need to provide a potential client.” But specifically, here are the core elements you can begin with.
- Your portfolio. I wrote earlier this month about the core elements of a strong e-Learning portfolio, but in short, your portfolio will be a central part of your branding kit, because the kind of work you post will speak volumes about your values.
- Business cards. Even in the digital age, business cards are a useful way to provide your contact information in a way that also represents your brand. I once knew a front-end web developer whose business card read, in large letters, “I am a responsive Web Developer,” followed by her name and email address. This was an extremely effective way to communicate both her ability to respond quickly to new clients as well as her ability to create responsive, mobile-friendly code.
- A short biography. While many clients won’t necessarily need a bio from you, including one on your LinkedIn profile is certainly a worthwhile activity—it provides your audience with the “Cliff’s Notes” version of your résumé. (I’ve found this article helpful when working on my own personal biography.)
- Your résumé. Speaking of résumés: I’ve always found it helpful to have at least three or four different versions of mine available at any given time. For some clients, I want to emphasize my technical background and familiarity with enterprise environments; for others, I prefer to focus on my creativity. While my job history is the same on both, my summaries and objectives vary depending on the audience I’m working with. (If you’re not sure about the best way to format your résumé, you may find this article helpful.)
- Drafts of cover letters. As is the case with résumés, it can be useful to have multiple versions of a cover letter. Think about the skills that have gotten you hired in the past—if you have multiple “hats you wear” professionally, there may be benefit in creating different cover letters that focus on each of them. (This article discusses some of the key elements in a strong cover letter.)
- Your social media profiles. Keep a list handy of the social media information you want to share with clients—just be sure that you’re comfortable with clients seeing everything that you’ve posted. If you’ve gone on political tirades on Twitter with your personal Twitter handle, make sure you’re providing a separate professional Twitter account to your clients! (Here is some extra information about creating a strong Twitter profile and an effective LinkedIn profile.)
- Email templates. Along with your various cover letters and résumés, it will be helpful to have a handful of email templates for the most common scenarios you encounter. For example, if you find yourself following up with prospective clients when you haven’t heard from them, having a templated email can save you quite a bit of time in the long run. One of my most useful templates is an email follow-up after I’ve pitched a project to a customer—thanking them for their time and reminding them of the value I can bring them.
- Your website URL and your email address. Whether you’ve chosen to build your brand with a separate business name or with your personal name (I wrote about this earlier in this series), it’s important that you have a URL that includes that name. Similarly, your email address domain (the part after the @ symbol) is an opportunity to further solidify your brand. Look at it this way: a freelancer with a branded URL and email address will almost certainly appear more professional than one with a generic, Geocities-style web address and a Gmail address!
- References. It’s not uncommon for new clients to ask to speak with former clients. After all, they want to hear from someone who has been in their position about what it’s like to work with you! Most important of all, it’s key that you check in with anyone you’re asking to vouch for you. Make sure you have their permission, and don’t hesitate to send them a thank-you note whenever they act as a reference for you. (Also: Don’t ask family members to be references for you. It can seem unprofessional, and most clients will wonder why you couldn’t provide a non-relative. If you’re just starting out in your freelance career, consider asking former colleagues or even instructors to speak on your behalf.)
Is This Really Worth It?
Setting up a branding kit may feel like a lot of work, but in my experience, the benefit of being prepared, and being able to create self-marketing materials when I’m not under pressure is invaluable. In fact, I wish I had started sooner!
Even after you create your own branding kit, you’ll need to keep everything updated, but doing so in increments is a lot easier than having to scramble to create new materials each time a potential client makes an unexpected request for information about you.
What other things would you want to put in your branding kit? Which assets have been most valuable to you personally, and why? I invite you to join my private Facebook group to share your insights, or tell the e-Learning community about your own successes and challenges on Twitter using the hashtag #eLearningBiz!
Editor’s note: This post is part of my ongoing 2017 series, “Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer,” a comprehensive look at the ins-and-outs of working independently in the Learning and Development industry. All of the previous posts in the series can be found here.