Branding is a basic marketing concept that refers to the way a company presents itself in its marketing materials. The key element of a brand is differentiation — calling attention to what sets that brand apart from its competitors.
In the past couple of decades, the idea of branding made the jump from “basic marketing concept” to popular vernacular through the vehicle of something we call “personal branding.” Personal branding is something that falls squarely in the “hot topic” zone these days, but for good reason: a consistent personal brand is a powerful business tool.
What is personal branding?
Your personal brand is the “you” that you present to the world: the sum total of who you are, what you stand for, how you communicate, what your values are, and which attributes you bring to the table. Your personal brand becomes the platform on which you build your marketing efforts, make decisions about your projects and clientele, and form your total business strategy. A strong personal brand serves as a guidepost; opportunities that line up with it get pursued and the ones that don’t get passed by.
Personal branding should be authentic to you. It may need to be a polished version of you, but your personal brand should still be you.
Who needs a personal brand?
Personal branding is something most often used in a professional setting, whether you work for yourself and you’re looking for clients, or you’re in a company and you want to move up the ranks. Basically, anyone trying to get hired, promoted, endorsed, or bought from needs a personal brand.
It goes beyond your reputation — it’s a demonstration of who you are, what you offer, and how you offer it.
Why should I care about my personal brand?
If you’re involved, to any degree, with anything that depends on what other people think of you, then you’ll benefit from a strong personal brand. This is even more relevant to web designers, who operate so consistently online, which is in many ways impersonal and even intimidating.
The real benefit to personal branding is that it gives people an idea of who you are and what you offer by using consistent messaging. The consistent is key, there. Your audience (namely, your clients) will benefit from knowing exactly what to expect from you. And if your brand is relatable and attractive to your target audience, it will go a long way in bringing the right kinds of people to you.
Ok, so what goes into my personal brand if it’s all online?
As a web designer, your brand lives almost entirely online. And when it comes to your online brand, every element of your “online presence” needs to fall under the same umbrella. And WordPress makes it easy to set up your hub for all things online-branding.
1. Your website
This probably goes without saying, but the most significant element of your online brand, especially as a web designer, is your website.
First, pick a URL that’s consistent with your branding. This is often a business name or, if you’re a freelancer, your name.
Then, as you think about the design, come up with something that stays consistent with the message you want your brand to send. For example, if your online brand is slick and modern, your site should reflect that. If innovation is a big part of your brand, your website can’t be stale. Find a WordPress theme that fits well with what you want your personal brand to communicate. Fonts and color schemes play a big role in your online brand, as do your logo and the site design itself. Be sure your headshot and bio fit with everything else.
2. Your copy
Copy — the words you use on your site — plays a critical role in your online brand. Your copy should work together with the site design to send a clear message about who you are and what you offer as a designer. This goes beyond the headlines and paragraphs — every word, from the nav bar to the footer, plays a role in building your online brand.
One potential pitfall to avoid as you start drafting your copy (or working with a copywriter) is the inclination to make it about you. While your online branding is about you, your web design and copy really need to focus on your clients and the problems you solve for them. While this is true for every page on your site, it’s particularly true for your About page. Potential clients aren’t actually interested in your life story and the names of your pets; what they want to know is how you can help them. Make your About page copy, and all the rest of your copy, about that.
3. Your portfolio
You absolutely need to include a portfolio in your online branding. Your portfolio is where you demonstrate your abilities as a designer, your design aesthetic, the types of projects you do, and even the types of clients you take on. Having a portfolio lends you credibility, demonstrating your work history (and the fact that you have a work history). Prospective clients can browse your portfolio to see whether or not your designs match up with their criteria for a designer. Use a plugin like Portfolio Gallery, Waving Portfolio, or Nimble Portfolio to set up a portfolio, or code your dream portfolio from scratch.
No matter the style of your portfolio, the samples you collect and the way you present them need to be reflective of your range and talent as a designer. Not only should the portfolio elements themselves support your online brand, but the portfolio layout should, as well.
4. Your blog
WordPress makes it incredibly easy to keep a blog on your website, and blogging can be a very effective way of communicating your personal brand. Posts can address important topics and industry developments, showcasing your expertise and validating you as a current, relevant designer. You can also use your blog to do case studies on your own designs, making it a more in-depth portfolio in a way.
Blogging goes a long way in sharing your professional voice because your blog posts are written by you, conveying your thoughts and values however you choose to present them. For that reason, if you decide to include a blog in your online brand, be sure the blogging tone you use matches the overall professional image you’re portraying. Focus on the kinds of things your ideal clients will find interesting, and write in the kind of style that would resonate with them strongly. Don’t write a buttoned-up blog that’s all about the latest industry tech if you’re billing yourself as the go-to designer for homeschool moms, and don’t write chit-chatty posts riddled with emojis if you’re trying to attract the CMOs of mid-level corporations.
5. Your social proof
Another way of saying “social proof” is “testimonials and reviews.” It’s smart branding to include positive testimonials and comments that validate you as a designer. If you can find a way to present these testimonials in a way that supports your online brand at the same time, even better. Plugins make it easy to incorporate testimonials into any design, whether you want testimonials to appear in a slider, widget, or ad hoc with shortcode. Popular plugins include Easy Testimonials, Testimonial Rotator, and Testimonials Widget.
Be careful how you present your testimonials. Sometimes, well-meant comments about you and your work can actually send the wrong message about you. For example, when I was first starting out as a copywriter, I would take on projects and turn them around fairly quickly, because I had the time to do it. One client wrote a glowing testimonial about how fast my turnaround time was. As my docket began to fill up, I removed that testimonial because I didn’t want to attract people who wanted me to do rush jobs all the time.
It’s a good idea to make the content on your site easy to share, especially if you want to make your blog an effective marketing tool. The more your content gets shared, the greater your online presence is and the more likely you are to capture the attention of your next client. Many social sharing plugins are notorious for slowing sites down, but one highly recommended social sharing plugin that doesn’t is Floating Social Bar.
7. Your social media
If your website is your hub, your social media accounts are your satellites. Social media gets all kinds of hype these days. Whether or not you buy into the idea that you need to be active across half a dozen social media channels, you need to keep a few things in mind if you’re participating on any of them at all.
Decide whether you want to have separate accounts for your personal and professional selves. There’s no right or wrong way to go. That said, if you decide to have one Facebook account, one Twitter account, etc., then be aware that potential clients will look for you there, and what’s visible to the public needs to be something that builds your brand, not detracts from it.
Connect your social accounts to your WordPress site to corral all of your social media outlets (and make it easier for your site visitors, i.e. potential clients, to engage with you more deeply). Three highly recommended plugins for social media integration are Floating Social Media Icon, Simple Social Icons, and Social Media Feather.
Any and all social media accounts you promote on your website need to have consistent branding. This may mean coordinating header images across all platforms, similar color schemes, and even matching handles/usernames when possible. At the very least, though, the style of communication needs to be consistent. Fast-paced social media like Twitter tend to be more casual, especially when in conversation with other users. But be sure that no matter what you’re saying, it’s not in complete contrast to how you present yourself on your website. Potential clients might find the dissonance jarring, if not off-putting, and that’s not exactly laying good groundwork to land the gig.
Final thoughts on using WordPress to build your online brand
These days, pretty much everyone needs a personal brand, and the go-to way to build and support one is with a website. WordPress is an ideal tool because of its stability, its ease of use, and the strength of its robust collection of themes and plugins that fill in the gaps for designers who aren’t coding sites from scratch. With as many options as WordPress offers, it’s possible to create exactly what you envision for your online brand, whether or not you’re able to code it yourself.