Sure You Gotta Logo, But What Is Your Personal Brand?

It’s a RANT today.

Recent discussions with photographers and models spurred this short rant today. I have been thinking about this for quite awhile, but events yesterday really set me off.

Brand, personal brand, is who you are. And what you do is who you are. It is the most important brand you can ever have in this business. It is essentially YOU presented to the world in every post, every email, every discourse, chat, forum comment and face to face you will ever have.

It is NOT your logo.
It is NOT your camera.
It is NOT your gear.
It is NOT how much you spend on marketing.
It is NOT how much you make. Or how little.

It’s YOU.

What kind of person do you want people to think you are? What kind of person, not what kind of photographer. The answer to that is probably going to be a roadmap to your personal brand.

Do you make yourself an asset to your clients, your friends and your family?
How do they perceive you when you are working or not working? Do they see you as someone who is an interest in them?

An asset is someone who is willing to help and go the extra mile. They are the ones who keep their promises, work hard to build trust, and deliver what they say they will deliver. And usually they deliver more than they promised to deliver. An asset is hard to find, and that rarity adds to your personal brand. An asset is a person that becomes a go-to person to solve problems. Because they deliver. And they are interested and focused on the person/company they are working with.

Be an asset in your personal brand.

How to check if you are an asset to your clients.
– Do you make promises that you don’t keep? Regularly?
– Do models wait forever to get their images after a TFP shoot?
– Do the people you photograph on the street actually get the images you promised?
– Do the proofs get delivered on time, in order, and ready to go?< - Do you find yourself trying to explain why something didn't happen when you said it would more than once a month?

Key to above. Yes answers are bad.

Are you truly ready to do what you are doing?
Being a professional photographer is really easy. There are no tests, no special licenses, no unions, and no entry point gatekeepers. You gotta camera, you gotta job.

But there are many people who enter the business simply because it is so easy from a standpoint of few entry barriers. That can be a good thing and, well, a bad thing. And really, so much of it is your personal brand that helps set the tenor of your business.

A professional can do what he/she does every time. Repeatable. Reliable. Perfect. Every single time. A photographer who is ready to move into the profession shouldn’t be asking about rates on Flickr forums. They shouldn’t be wondering if anyone has any ideas on what shots they should do when a band wants to hire them to do some PR shots. Gear should be ready to go, and clean, and powered up. Getting the ideas to flow should be a natural thing developed through shooting all the damn time.

Not delivering a job correctly says a lot about YOU as a person – your personal brand.

Being totally knowledgeable about what you do is extremely important. Are you ready?

– Do you know what an RFP is, and how to respond to one in a way that makes sense?
– Can you make the shots you want, whenever you want?
– Are you familiar with the usage rights / normal billing for the work you want to do?
– Do you have backup gear? Backups for your backups?
– Do you deliver the work you said you would, on time, and on budget?

Are you a compelling person to be around?
Do you inspire others to do better in their lives and work, or do you denigrate and gossip about others? Do people want to hear your opinion so they can be uplifted or do they simply love the dirt you dig?

I guess both are brands that work, cause damn there are a lot of muckrakers who ‘enjoy’ a brand as such. But I wonder if that would be my first choice, and of course it isn’t. So I don’t care which you choose, but do be aware that there are many ways to personally brand yourself. Arrogant and self-inflated can work for some, while helpful and compelling works for others.

I am not telling you what the best way to brand yourself is here, only that there are different ways to do it. I have seen some extremely arrogant and boorish photographers achieve great success… it was indeed part of their brand. And I have also seen those same personalities crash and burn due to not understanding the power and niche of such a brand. (Buddy Rich was a very difficult, and some would say terrible person to be around. But then, he did play the drums pretty good (heh) and was known for behind the scenes charity and great philanthropy.) Being a ‘brand’ in your attitudes and dealings with others is not a guarantee to success, but it is definitely a way for people to know who you are when making decisions on whether they want to work with you.

Are you who you say you are? Is there some consistency in your personal brand?
I was recently attacked personally for an opinion on Flash sites. The tweet was petty, childish and actually pretty stupid. His ‘brand’ is one who speaks of being “Christian like” and full of love and all that ‘goodness’ – ‘cept if you have an opinion that differs with his. Then, his REAL persona comes out in spades. There are photographers online who say they want to help other photographers, then when challenged, even politely and mildly by someone with a point, explode and become angry, vile and mean. That brand will outweigh the phony brand with those not wanting to be around that type of person. And it will build the brand by those who WANT to be around that type of angry, vile person. Not bad, just different.

When you take a look at your Personal Brand, be sure to consider that as a self-employed person, your every statement can carry some ramifications. And those can hurt some and help others, and being aware of that difference is very important. When you post something that may be offensive to some, be aware that they remember. If you want to be a consensus builder, build consensus. If you want to be helpful and an asset, be helpful and be an asset. All the time. Not just online, or on your blog, or an occasional tweet.

My twitter friend Trudy asked me about the ABS method (Always Be Selling) and I think this post is as close as I can get to answer it. As a professional, we are always ‘selling’ in some way – in what we do, say and show. Our Personal Brand, is, well, our best and strongest selling tool. It is the way people remember us, what they remember about the encounter, what they perceive as the value of the work and the relationship.

Changing your portfolio is way easier than changing your personal brand.

My suggestion is to take a bit of a personal branding audit.
– Ask 10 people who know you well to describe you in a paragraph.
– Ask them to describe your work and your business.
– Ask them what they would change about how you do what you do

Take a moment to evaluate what the last month has been like:
– Did you return every phone call as soon as you could?
– Did you get the proofs out when you said you would?
– Were you helpful to someone with a real question/problem?
– Did you have an altercation with someone over something that has happened before?
– Is there anything you can do to make this situation not happen again?
– Did you make and keep any promises? To others and yourself?
– Have you spent time perfecting your craft?

I could go on with more Personal Branding tips, but these are crucial. What you wear, your demeanor, your speech… all of that matters as well, but this short list makes you what you are.

Thanks for coming along on this little rant. Follow me on Twitter, and visit Learn to Light for information on our workshops.

Until it is off the front page, you can leave comments at the bottom here.

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  1. This is an amazingly informative article. It is also a huge wake up call for me. I am not a professional but am working toward that goal. For many of us wannabes…the issues you bring up in the article don’t even cross our minds. Thank you for your candid and down to earth approach. We appreciate you.

  2. This is a great post. Sometimes the concept of personal brand is suffocating to me, as I mentioned in a previous post on my blog, because I photograph a diverse group of people and some (differentiating by culture) simply view anything about myself as oversharing and “too much.” Some on the other hand love the intensely personal connection to the work. It really becomes a tricky balance for me.

    I like the ideas concerning getting input on if anything should change as far as branding goes.

    My other question is ABC (since you answered ABS). ABC = always be closing; how can more inquiries be turned into sales? Some of course inquire and won’t book based on rate or whatever and some really should not be booked at all if client & photographer don’t mesh. Not speaking of those. Speaking of the ones who are interested, are not dictated by rate, we have a nice conversation, and they contact me again, everything seems pleasant yet it never formulates into a hire or a session.

  3. Really excellent post and I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

    I think it’s very important to work on your personal brand, but mostly for yourself and not for others, because in doing so, you actually BECOME that person that everyone wants to listen to, follow and admire.

    Someone who’s “personal brand” is literally being themselves, but themselves as intelligent, interesting and informative people who sincerely care about the work they do and the things they are passionate about. Similarly, sharing that passion with others because they truly want to see the subject matter succeed, and not themselves.

    It’s the people who personify this description, I feel, that are able to have the most reliable and authentic personal brands.

    • Fantastic point, Emilia.

      I do believe that being authentic makes the Personal Brand so much easier, and it is wonderful for helping build your self as a better person.

  4. OK….so each time I read your articles I say, “wow very good”. This time though you hit it out of the ballpark.

    Personal branding is true in every business and all walks of life. I went from a job to a business and am learning that it is even more important today to keep up a strong positive personal brand. It’s not just your work but how you deliver. So many people make promises and never deliver.

    I REALLY like the idea of the personal branding audit. It is somewhat of a 360 review (used in large companies). I will be doing this right away as I always look for weaknesses and work to improve and remove those weaknesses.

    I am printing this one and keeping to review and follow.

  5. Excellent piece and right on target with all your points. I also was moved to discuss the issue of branding recently, in the Blackstar blog

  6. First time on this site and your post just blew me away. Excellent, insightful questions which I’m printing out to remind me to constantly think about my personal brand. Thank you.

  7. Brilliant! Rant appreciated.

  8. Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.

    – Proverbs 22:1

    • Thank ya buddy… hope all is well. You gonna have time to hang and shoot a bit when I am in Atlanta in June?

  9. I stumbled across your blog through photojack on twitter and it’s now 2 hours later and I just wanted to say thank you for the wealth of information you share, as I couldn’t stop reading!
    I’ve subscribed and I look forward to future posts.
    Thank you.

    • thanks Victoria. Appreciated.


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