Your personal brand as a professional photographer is more than just who you are. It’s the entire experience you create for your clients — from your social media channels to delivering photos. It’s what you become known for.
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Essentially, personal branding creates the impression of you in the mind of your current and target customers. Strong personal brands are unique and stand out from the crowd. Your brand is what makes clients want to work with you, and it sets expectations for what that experience will be like. When clients have good experiences, they’re more likely to refer you to other business. In fact, 84% of business buying processes begin with a referral.
And as a photographer, you already know the impact strong visuals have. But your personal brand is beyond your photos and your logo. It’s who you are as a service provider.
So, how do you create a personal brand that suits you and your target clients? We chatted with three personal branding experts to learn more about the value, how to build your personal brand and how to leverage it to grow your business.
Why Your Personal Brand Is Important for Success
Not having a personal brand is nearly impossible today. “It’s important for anyone to establish a good personal brand because of the proliferation of digital media,” says Mel Carson, founder and principal strategist of Delightful Communications. “Your personal brand is out there whether you own it or not.”
“Social media has leveled the playing field,” says personal branding expert Jane Anderson. “People are now far more aware of the concept of tribes, and that people who are going to buy from you are those who know you.” Sharing your personal brand is a representation of you professionally and personally, as it offers the chance for you to build relationships and connect with your audience on an authentic level.
Having a strong personal brand that resonates with people can of course help your business in many ways, too. You can gain more industry recognition, better contacts in your network, more attractive leads and clients and possibly a better job if you’re looking to go in-house.
A quick LinkedIn search for “professional photographer” yields more than 45,000 results. That’s a big crowd, and your personal brand is essential for your business to stand out. “A brand is important to distinguish yourself in the market and attract the types of clients you want to work with,” says design, brand and creative consultant Brianna Brailey.
“It’s also a way to communicate with your targeted clientele,” she continues. “For example, a wedding photographer is going to have a different audience than a photojournalist, and their brands need to speak to those they are trying to reach.”
How to Build Your Personal Brand
Understanding the value of your personal brand is one thing, but actually building it is another — and it extends past visuals. “People get caught up in the logo,” Carson says. “It’s beyond the look and feel of your website, social media and images.”
Here’s what to consider:
Determine Your Why
Talk to any branding expert, and they’ll likely point you in the same direction: define your why. “Start off with an exercise around the vision and mission for your personal brand and how you want to be perceived,” Carson says. “What is your legacy? How do you want the world to be impacted by your art and your craft?”
Anderson agrees. “Your brand really comes as a result of the values that you have and what you’re known for.”
If that’s too big picture, start smaller. Describe yourself, what your professional goals are and how you want customers to feel after working and interacting with you. Write it all down, type a note in your smartphone, or create a document online. Seeing your thoughts manifested into words will make it more tangible and can help you get rolling.
Your personal brand is as much about knowing who you are and also about who you’re not.— Jane Anderson, personal branding expert”
She has another exercise you can try: “I recommend people hang out or meet with someone who you don’t particularly like and/or you wouldn’t normally hang out with. It allows you to get really clear about who are, because there are aspects of that person you don’t like, and that helps you be clear about who you’re not.”
Understand Your Competition
Carson suggests taking a look at the competition for inspiration. “Then think of how you can differentiate your brand,” he says. “Think about the experience people are going to have with you and your brand.”
Brailey echoes that sentiment. “Think about what separates you from other photographers in your area,” she says. “Is it something about your work? The way you run your business? You as a person?”
Start a spreadsheet with a list of five top competitors. Write down some adjectives about their personal brand, as you perceive it from their website, social media and any other channels. Take screenshots and record links of examples. Note things you like and don’t like. Then look at all of your findings together to identify consistencies that you might want to apply to your own personal brand.
Focus on Your Strengths
Not every photographer does every type of photography, and your area of expertise should be clear in your personal brand. Identifying and leveraging your strengths in your branding will create a more authentic and relatable brand identity.
“Be clear about what type of photographer you are,” Anderson says. Communicate this identity to your audience to associate your personal brand with your area of expertise, be it aerial photography, fashion photography or something in between.
“Set parameters about the type of work you do and want to do,” Brailey says. “It’s good to be specific. You may think of yourself as an event photographer, for example, but are there certain kinds of events you want to photograph? Are you a wedding photographer who only does small weddings? A product photographer who specializes in a particular type of product?”
Niching down doesn’t mean you’re putting boundaries or a ceiling on your success. “Narrowing your focus can lead to more and better business, as people will perceive you as a specialist,” says Brailey.
Know Your Audience
Your personal brand will render no results if it doesn’t mesh with the audience you’re targeting. “Think about who you want to contact you,” Brailey says. She suggests running through a set of questions:
- What kinds of phrases would make my ideal client think I’m a good hire?
- What kind of work is my ideal client in the market for?
- What aesthetic is my ideal client drawn to?
- Thinking about the best client I ever had, what made them so great?
- Where is my ideal client located?
- How old is my ideal client?
- What does my ideal client do for a living?
- What is my ideal client’s personality like?
“Demonstrate the value and experience that you would give to your target audience,” says Carson. “Step into their shoes and consider their motivations, and work backwards from there.” Vetting is okay, and you’ll eventually find yourself attracting the right clients.
Bring Your Personal Brand to Life
After you’ve established your personal brand, it’s time to bring it to life. “Think about the communication channels and how you sell yourself to make your personal brand work,” says Anderson. “It’s all very well and good to brand yourself, but you can’t sell a secret.”
When communicating your personal brand, consider the following:
Website: Showcase the work that represents your niche and use language that is consistent with your brand identity. “I recommend purchasing your domain name under ‘YourName.com,’” says Anderson. “It’s really important to be able to make sure that you have your own identity and are not another generic brand.”
- Social media: Potential clients will likely find you online, and they’ll see your public social posts. Your social media represents your brand, whether you use it professionally or not. “It’s crucial to make sure that what you have on social media isn’t just talking about you, your work and your experience,” says Carson.
- Logo: Although your personal brand extends beyond your logo, it is one of the first and most distinguishable thing potential clients have to associate with your personal brand. The look and feel should match the adjectives you’ve applied to your personal brand.
- Email: Your email communications with clients are part of the experience of working with you. Remaining professional is key, of course, but so is remaining consistent with other interactions clients have with your personal brand, both online and in person.
- Phone: If you have an assistant or staff members, train them on your personal brand identity so they can bring that to life, too.
Look at North Carolina-based professional photographer Lindley Battle, for example. She specializes in weddings, portraits and branding photography. Regardless of her client, she maintains a consistent look and feel across her social media channels and her website, and the calligraphic logo reflects the style of her work.
It takes five to seven impressions for a potential client to remember your brand. And this extends to all aspects of your brand. If your personal brand is represented consistently across different channels and customer touch points, it will resonate more strongly with your audience. This of course means logo and colors, but the non-visual aspects of your brand, too.
“Whether that be the language you use when talking about yourself, the work you’re doing or what articles you choose to share with your followers, they should all relate back to some of those core tenets you’ve identified as being differentiators for your business,” Brailey says.
At the end of the day, the more your personal brand comes to life and the more interactions clients have with your personal brand, the more memorable and discoverable you become.