Personal branding is fundamental. If you’re looking to start a business, grow a business, or work as an artist, your appearance is one of your strongest assets.
You cannot afford to ignore it.
There’s no need for 100,000 followers on Instagram. You just need to make sure that when someone does find you, they’ll think you’re a serious individual with positive momentum.
Appearance Is Everything (for First Impressions)
Branding is about heuristics. You see something, make a quick judgment about its value and potential, and take action accordingly.
The basic formula for a personal brand is:
- What do you care about (values)
- How do you come across (appearance)
We went over values previously.
Today, we’re digging into how to craft your appearance.
Appearance is Perception
Appearance is how other people perceive you. It’s what most people think of regarding your “personal brand.”
Your appearance shows up in a few areas:
- History and reputation
- Physical appearance
- Digital presence
Your attitude shows up in your eyes, your voice, your body language, and your speech patterns.
- Walking tall, slow, speaking simply, and looking directly at you has a commanding presence
- Someone who has energy, talks loudly, modulates the speed of their speech, and has a more expressive face has a storyteller kind of energy—like a salesman or influencer.
- Someone with a soft face, laid back posture, and speaks in lower tones has nurturing energy.
There are dozens more flavors you can have. Maybe hundreds.
To find the tone that fits you best, start with your values. Let’s say you’re a personal trainer and your values are “direct, encouraging, and challenging”. Right now, you’re an agreeable person so you’re really skilled as an encourager, but you’re not great at being direct and challenging.
You’re going to start being challenging before you feel like it. You have to be comfortable feeling “unnatural” with it first. Just like you are constantly updating your wardrobe as your body, age, and styles change, you should be tweaking your attitude to match the values you want to represent.
“Authenticity” Doesn’t Mean Never Changing
It’s not being fake. It’s living with a purpose.
You need to be able to look your clients in the eye and say “you are 30% of the way to your goal. You can 100% get there, but based on your current habits, it won’t happen. I believe in you, and if you increase your X exercise by Y times a week, I believe you can hit Z goal.”
If you’re agreeable, you don’t want to tell a client they’re overweight. If you want to grow (as a person, as a personal brand, as a business) you will need to.
The more you lean into the person you want to become, the more natural it will feel.
In the beginning, you might feel like you’re totally faking it. If you’ve been shy your entire life, and you want to be a public speaker, then get used to feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort is a gift.
History and Reputation
What are you known for? Even if you don’t want that to be your personal brand, you need to recognize your starting point.
For example, I used to work in marketing as a copywriter and social media manager. I shifted over to software development and coding.
Two very different areas. However, I have a very unique niche opportunity to become the go-to software developer who can speak to marketing needs. This can help when developing a website, designing emails, understanding adtech, influencing a product being developed for marketers, and more.
If you work for an NGO and you want to transition into management consulting, it’s probably not a bad idea to first focus on the industries most closely related to the country or need you were working around. Hopefully, since you were working in that area, you already have interest in it. Even if you don’t, it can get you in the doors in places that will then let you shift into different kinds of work.
When It’s Time to Change
Sometimes, you need to drastically change your reputation. Maybe you had a DUI/DWI in college and that’s what everyone knows you for.
Bad: Some people unwisely try to recover from this by oversharing to anyone around them about it as a form of penance, or going all the way and becoming a priest or something.
Okay: Often, you’ll see people move to a new city for a “fresh start.” Sometimes that’s necessary.
Best: The better solution is to change up whatever bad habits messed you up in the first place. If you always drink too much when you hang around a certain group of friends, get better friends. If you have a bad habit because of unresolved trauma, go get therapy no matter what it costs.
Essentially, if you have good history, build on it. If you have bad history, ruthlessly learn and free yourself from it.
If you have good history, talk about it. Maybe that’s just updating your LinkedIn page, or posting a photo of your weight loss on Instagram, or sharing a video you made via TikTok. The best way to build a good reputation is to start.
We live in a physical world. Because we are not mind and heart readers, the physical matters. This is reality.
If you are overweight, wear a lot of ill-fitting clothes (baggy, worn, or faded), or unhygienic, you will receive less respect.
“That’s not fair.” That’s life. The world judges on appearances, and everyone knows that intuitively. No one needs you to be a model, but if you’re not showing self-respect and self-awareness, then you earn less respect.
I’m not going to tell you what haircut and jacket to get, but here’s the rule of thumb: you should feel proud when you walk out the door in the morning. You should look in your closet and it should all “spark joy” as Marie Kondo says.
If you have no idea where to start, finding your most attractive friend and ask them what you should do. If that’s too embarrassing, you need to work on being more shameless.
Otherwise, find a personal stylist. My friend Thalia Castro-Vega does exactly this. I get no kickback from you hiring her. But if you do, tell her I sent you because she’ll like that.
As Kevin Samuels has said, a chef can make a great meal, but if they don’t know how to plate the food, no one wants to eat it.
You can be an absolute killer professionally, socially, physically, the whole nine yards. Yet if you don’t know how to artfully and tastefully demonstrate your value, none of that will benefit your personal brand.
If you’re a visual artist, you pretty much have to be on Instagram. You may also be on YouTube, TikTok, or something else. If you’re a writer, you need a blog, an email list, and probably a Twitter.
I know someone with thousands of followers on Twitter and Medium with just a few dozen posts on Medium and a lively Twitter account interacting with other people around Bitcoin. He’s not trying to live as an influencer or anything, he just is genuinely very interested in the topic. That’s the best way to do it.
Make Your Digital Presence the Thing You Care About
If you’re passionate about your work, or a topic of interest, then the core of your digital presence is making your work accessible to others. I totally understand not wanting to blast your work every day. It annoys me when people do that. But if you’re not ever talking about your passions, then where is your personality?
If you’re going to do something, give it effort. I have a Facebook that I never use (I haven’t posted in years, but I keep it so friends can send me a message if they need to). Unless you’re running an actual fan page, your brand doesn’t mean much on FB.
The only exception is if you have a lot of friends and you’re using them to seed your fan pages.
I have an Instagram and Twitter where I post thoughts and photos that I’m actually proud of. I’m not trying to get thousands of followers on there—but I want anything on there to represent me well—either aesthetically (via Insta) or mentally (Twitter). Or if it can’t be either of those, at least be entertaining.
LinkedIn is Terrible, but Still Incredibly Useful
I personally hate LinkedIn these days because it’s slowly turning into Facebook, which I stopped using. I don’t think LinkedIn is a great way to actually talk to serious people, but it is a decent way to build a general reputation in your industry. The thing LinkedIn has better than any other platform is reach. The ratio of consumers to creators on LinkedIn right now gives a huge advantage to creators. If you’re trying to get B2B clients for your business, starting writing LinkedIn articles ASAP. If people in your industry like it, it can travel far.
I wrote one simple post (not even an article) about my job search, and it ended up reaching 50,000+ people. I probably have around 1000 connections on LinkedIn, and not all of them liked my post, but plenty of friends of friends did which helped it travel far. Other than Reddit (anonymously) that’s the farthest any post of mine has yet to travel. So while I don’t enjoy the platform, it still is definitely worth mentioning.
There is so much more which could be said of personal branding, but these are the fundamentals. What part do you want to hear more about? Leave a comment so I can talk about what’s most helpful to you.
Wear what makes you feel confident, start talking like the person you want to become, and start building your reputation. Make your personal brand a craft, not an accident.