The secret of success: self-branding

When I speak to senior students at art schools, there is one major thing I try to impress upon them: to freelance is to run a small business, and a freelance design business has all the needs and headaches of running a bakery, pizza parlor, or crack house — although a crack house basically only needs a steady supply of product, and doesn’t need advertising, bookkeeping, furniture, and their collection methods are a bit different than any other business.

Usually, this is when several students run to the president of the school, in tears, to demand their tuition back because no one ever told them it would be so hard to be a designer. Welcome to the reality of business!

Part of that business is the same thing a competent designer will have to know to sell their services when a client with a new business wants a logo to start their road to success. There are many discussions on a logo vs. a brand. I can assuredly write that the two are intertwined but still two different things.

When you start your freelance business, you will need both.


Where to start? 

A logo is, quite simply, your signature; your name; the symbol by which people will identify you at first, or second sight. If you were a sweater, it would be your label, and embroidered logo. Your logo design, of course, should reflect your brand. 

A brand is who you are as a person, or company. Are you fun, and frivolous? Are you service-oriented with a thousand-year history of service? If you were a sweater, your brand would be how you feel when being worn. Stiff, and scratchy, or warm and soft? Mine would be easy to rip off my body! 

So, you really need to consider who you are, and who you want others to think you are. When deciding, it’s best to be truthful with yourself, and your branding. Of course, having the name, “Whiney, Paranoid Design” may not be a winner when clients are weighing you against “No Baggage Design.”


What they don’t tell you about branding 

In all of the articles I’ve read on branding, no one ever touches upon the mystical part, if you will, of pushing your brand. It’s not so much a secret, nor is it frowned upon, it’s just that so many people aren’t creative, and some people can’t carry off their own brand. Like the TV evangelist who preaches against sin, and is discovered with numerous prostitutes in a Motel 6, you need to reflect the brand faithfully, as if it’s your first nature… which it should be, anyway, or you will lose brand respect. 

Throughout my life, I’ve marveled at some people with very out loud brand. A famous cartoonist I knew, wore tweed sport coats over a T-shirt, with white cotton pants, and navy blue deck shoes and no socks. Every day. In the wet of the spring, in the sweaty heat of summer, the chilly winds of fall, and the ice and snow of winter. Always the same outfit and no socks. Everyone knew him coming down the street. 

I’ve met a lady who wears nothing but red with red lipstick, and a red hat. It’s been many years, and I don’t remember her business, but I would know her in a moment if I saw her, and want to know what she has been up to.

Still, outfits and quirky accessories are pretty tame. A famous illustrator I knew many years ago, always had a band-aid on his face. Same spot, every day. People discussed if he had a melanoma, or a hole, or diminutive twin hidden on purpose. Becoming so familiar, it became his personal brand.

I’ve known plenty of accidental brands over the years. The most you can hope for is that the brand is flattering, or makes a great story at a cocktail party.


Then there are those who create a lifestyle around a brand; usually, it’s fine artists, and fashion moguls that live their brand 24/7. It’s not just what they do, it’s also the people they know, and hang around, the places they are seen, and the number of photos they get in the society, or business page in the local newspaper.

Hunter S. Thompson had a lifestyle brand — insanity with deliberate drug-fueled freak outs to punctuate his subject.

Andy Warhol was at all the best parties, gallery openings, exclusive night clubs, etc. Warhol was as much a part of his brand as was his actual creative work. Some say his personal brand was a bigger part. 

This is networking to the extreme. Granted, connecting via networking is a huge part of business. If you decide to burn it up with a personal brand that is at all the right places, then be prepared to be lonely, and without real friends as you are on, as mentioned, 24/7, being a character. There’s nothing wrong with it — it’s just that keeping it up is a major effort, and burnout is common among most branding social climbers. 


How far does branding go? 

Sometimes we need to evolve our lives, and our brand goes with us. Skulls and snakes are replaced by babies and kittens in personal logos, freelancers grow their businesses into design firms, and sometimes your brand just isn’t working.

The largest corporations do it (like the recent Yahoo!™ logo change, still awaiting the new branding to catch up), so, there’s no reason you can’t change what feels old, no longer you, or something that just hasn’t been working, like a logo with skulls, and snakes, AND babies, and kittens! 

Do you have an odd brand? Are you still trying to find what makes you, you? Let us know all about it in the comments.

Images ©GL Stock Images

  • Mariam

    Hi! Thanks for the article, really interesting! I am fresh in the business, and my brand is an owl, I simply like these animals. They represent the values I want me to be known from, and they are just too cute! :) I am currently in a progress of redesign my owl logo, and this article helped a lot!

    Thx, Mariam

    • Speider Schneider

      How wise of you! ;-)

      • Malaika Rubin

        Exactly, Owls are “wise”… he should defiantly use that on his advertising ;). Good one Speider!

      • Mariam

        Thank you both, this is a good idea (btw, I am a she, not he :) )

  • Geoffrey Gordon

    Yep the sad truth is many talented people out there fail in running their own business because they ” DON’T KNOW HOW TO MARKET ! ” :(

    • Speider Schneider

      Art schools are not known for teaching students self-promotion… or many other business methods they will need upon graduation.

  • designcouch

    Good stuff as always. Thanks, Speider!

    • Speider Schneider

      Thanks DC! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Tim

    “I’ve met a lady who wears nothing but red with red lipstick, and a red hat. It’s been many years, and I don’t remember her business, but I would know her in a moment if I saw her”
    It would be interesting if there were 5 women dressed like this, could you still pick her out? I wonder?

    • Speider Schneider

      I have a great mind for recognizing faces, but I get your point.

  • Mindy Adamson

    Love this article! I’m known for wearing pink a lot (not even intentionally) and I have a simple logo with of course hot pink. :-)

    • Speider Schneider

      Do people call you “Pinky?” That would be the ultimate branding!

      • Mindy Adamson

        Hmm, I never thought about it…interesting idea! :-)

  • bgbs

    I think personal branding is overrated. More attention should be allocated towards a strong portfolio rather than a strong brand. Your brand is essentially the style of your work. I’m not against a personal logo, cause you still need that to place on your invoices, business cards…etc. But I don’t believe you need to go overboard with your personal branding. Who cares if you have strong personal branding but a crappy portfolio.

    Success in freelance business comes from referrals (at least the majority of success), not as much from marketing yourself. That is because word-of-mouth is much stronger, and much vocal than anything else. If you provide awesome design and service, you will be pretty successful.

    • Tim

      I think you are confusing style and branding. Your branding defines who you/your company is and how other people will recognize it. If I see someone wearing shoes, I don’t know what kind of shoes those are until I see a logo on them.
      Your portfolio can be composed of many different pieces that look completely different.
      As far as branding, if your business card looks different that your brochures, which looks different than your website, which looks different than the graphics on the side of the van your company uses to haul stuff around, you won’t look like a very professional company.

  • WebCraft

    I agree. Marketing is the single most important aspect of every business. I have just recently started paying more attention to branding myself. Have been creating successful brands for clients over the years…now its my turn :)

  • Henrique Lobo (Kico)

    Interesting, I never thought of branding like the way I dress or look, just as the logo looks.
    Great read!

  • Malaika Rubin

    Great article, and a lot of great points from fellow readers! While I’m a pro at successfully branding others, I can’t say so much about branding myself. You’ve defiantly made me rethink my game plan and I’ve decided to invest more energy into evolving my brand. Well I can say, that I have a good name “Mpressme”, and my standards of quality in design and marketing continue to embody that. Thx again!

  • Henrique Lobo (Kico)

    Great shoes!

  • William Forrest

    Your personal brand becomes your company’s identity and in many ways synonymous with your reputation. Later on, your personal brand will build notions or ideas that pop up as someone hears your name. Always use your brand name on your topic or niche as a way to gain recognition and ranking on Google. Create a page on your site that will help your brand to be recognised.

    • Speider Schneider

      Now if I could just get people from mispronouncing my name as “Speed-er Schnee-der.”

  • Nikhil Malhotra

    For me branding is everything.It creates precense of a product.What matters the most is consistency.

  • Tis’

    Good article ! Thank you Speider Schneider !
    My problem is brand naming. When you’re an artist, how to choose the good pseudonym from a marketing point of view ? If it’s too short it will be bad and if it’s too long also. I heard for example that it was better to have a name with two syllables (Dali, Hergé, Warhol etc.) People remember you easier. Moreover the choice of name has an impact on your position in search engines. Well. I find all this very difficult.

  • Nikhil Malhotra

    Very true!!

  • Bernard

    Great article as I am still trying to figure myself out

  • Kara Chan

    Hey there! I really enjoyed your article, made me understand more about the whole self-branding process.
    Well, I’m in high school and I’m planning to teach some 8th graders (trough some project in my city) about self branding, even tho I don’t know that much myself, this really helped me to get a better view, so thank you!
    Also, wanted to ask if you have any good ideas of self-branding exercises I could do with those kids?