EDIT: I since wrote a blog post on How to brand yourself or your business on a budget so if you're looking for advice on this topic, I suggest you go read that.
This post is more of a personal story of how I created my personal brand through trial and error. If you want to hear that, continue reading...
I've had an online presence since around 2002. I made my oldest personal website while I was still in high school, and it featured a few of my drawings and comics. Soon I jumped on the bandwagon with other teenage girls creating free resources for newbies, and I started making wallpapers, web templates, avatars and banners, Photoshop brushes, tutorials etc. After a few years I figured free webhosts and the domain nelchee.tk looked cheap, so I treated my site with a proper paid hosting and the domain name InObscuro.com.
Some of my earliest web sites. We all have to start somewhere...
When I was in college people started approaching me with web design job offers, and so my design career began (read more about that story here). Until then, my approach was to keep everything under one umbrella — my drawings, Photoshop brushes, web site designs, tutorials... But, I figured that it didn’t look very professional — so I made a separate domain for my portfolio, ChatteNoire.com. It was a pain to pick the name out, because at the time using my real name seemed too vain. I wanted an identity that was looking like a real person, not a company (so SomeName Studio was out of the question).
I posted only my commercial or published work on this site and that was my "official" portfolio, as opposed to InObscuro.com which was personal and experimental.
When I added my sketchblog and my social network profiles to this mix, things got pretty difficult to manage. I ended up listing up to 5 URLs on all my social profiles because each of them offered something different, and targeted a different segment of visitors. I didn’t know whether to list InObscuro.com or ChatteNoire.com as my web site address on profiles that allowed only one. As these issues in maintaining my online image showed up, some other things in life started shifting as well.
I felt it was time to do something about this mess.
My two domains only illustrated what was evident in my life as well. I was leading a double life—being a proper designer with a day job, and in my free time I was as an independent artist with illustration aspirations.
Most people at work didn't know what I did in my spare time. Most guys at college had no idea, either. People who knew me all my life didn’t know anything about it, until my interview was featured in a local newspaper, huge photo of my face across the page and all that.
I made no effort to hide it, but I suppose it just went under the radar because I didn’t brag about it. I was a terrible marketer, because I never bothered to get my art or my crafts into a casual conversation with people I don’t know well. Sometimes it got really awkward when one person in the room found my other website and started talking about it, and suddenly I was under the spotlight, and the subject of my dark art popped up as well. No matter how many times I’ve had this conversation, it was always uncomfortable.
The other thing was, my art took the backseat. I always pushed my artwork back because of other "more urgent" matters, and it didn’t even get featured on my official portfolio. I kept thinking about myself as "an artist", yet I produced no new art for months, sometimes years. My drawing skill stagnated, and I couldn’t even gather enough paintings for a proper solo exhibition. I wasn’t working on my illustration portfolio, which made my chances of landing illustration jobs very weak.
Ditching the niche
Every decent marketing professional is going to tell you that in order to succeed in business, you have to have a niche. You must have a unique service proposition (USP) that will differentiate you from your competition. You must have that one thing that will make your work stand out from all the others and attract not just any client, but your ideal client. You should not, under any circumstances, try to offer many different services and appeal to every person under the Sun, because that will just make you look mediocre.
Being a Jack of all trades, I was obviously failing at this, but what’s more, I was also trying to mask it, separating my work into two websites that had different content. It didn’t work for me, or my potential clients. In trying to make everyone happy, I didn't make anyone happy.
After having an epiphany about my life and business, I've realized there is no two of me. There is no artist Nela and designer Nela. There is no corporate Nela and independent Nela. There is only one, unique Nela Dunato—and since no one else in the entire online world shares my name, it was about time I reclaimed it!
That’s my story of creating this web site, embracing the multi-facetedness of my persona and actually using it as a USP. I moved all my artwork, illustration, design and crafts here (both personal and commercial), and we’ll see in time if this strategy pays off. If someone doesn’t like my art and doesn’t want to hire me because of it, or they think I can’t do all of this good enough because a Jack of all trades is a master of none, well I say screw that, I don’t need this client anyway.
What I am offering now is all my resources, all that I am here to do in this lifetime—no holding back. I want to work with people who understand me and accept me the way I am, and I will allow my website to speak louder than my words alone could.
What can you learn from my example?
If you are facing any issues with your business, think about the possible ways in which your business is out of sync with your personality.
- Do you feel like you’re leading a double life?
- Are you constantly running into the wrong kind of clients who don’t resonate with you, and you have to work hard to accommodate them?
- Perhaps you’re not passionate enough about your work and are "saving" your energy and creativity for your free time?
- Or are you spending all your creative energy on work, and have little left for your personal projects?
- Are you hiding your personal creative endeavors from your colleagues and clients, unintentionally or on purpose?
- Are you using a different nickname or pseudonym for your art, writing, music etc.?
Maybe it’s time to rethink your personal and online strategy. Do your colleagues know who you really are? Do your clients know it, or do you fear they would not hire you if they knew? There’s no need to wear a nametag with all your skills, hobbies and preferences listed on it, but perhaps if you let some of that personal you seep into your work life, it could change things a bit. And maybe other people around you will be more inclined to give you a glimpse into their secret life.
Of course, there are some situations where keeping your creative identity separate might be reasonable (you may be a school teacher who writes erotic prose in their spare time). I'm not saying it works for everyone under every circumstance. But for most of us, it shouldn't be so difficult to merge our personal and professional selves.
Now if you want to learn what it takes to create a good brand, read my article How to brand yourself or your business on a budget.