Rethinking my online identity and personal brand

Published by Nela Dunato on in Branding, Personal, Thoughts

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…

Rethinking my online identity and personal brand

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 looked cheap, so I treated my site with a proper paid hosting and the domain name

Some of my earliest web sites
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, 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 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 or 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.


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

9 responses to “Rethinking my online identity and personal brand”

  1. What a great post, so well written and insightful! I’ve always wondered why you had so many separate websites and was impressed by the fact that you were able to maintain all of them. Well, now I know. Although I’m not a client, I love that everything is in one place. It’s so much easier this way, and frankly, I find it hard to believe that people around you were/are not aware of your many skills. I’ve always perceived you as Jack of all trades and admired your talents, so reading about the awkwardness of co-workers learning about your “other” website is, well, awkward! But it’s understandable as well, because I’ve never bragged about what I do in my spare time either. Well, not unless someone asks [and no one does]. :)

  2. Thank you Marija!
    I had to approve your comment first and add you to the “trusted users” list, sorry for the wait :)
    Yeah I know it sounds weird, but there exists a strange sub-species of humans who do NOT google the names of their colleagues and relatives to see what they’re up to, so my artistic misdeeds went unnoticed for a long time… I’m sure you know how it feels to have a “secret identity”.
    I’m glad you like it this way too. InObscuro will remain active, but it will only feature freebies. It will be better this way, since most people didn’t come to InObscuro for my art anyway…

  3. See that picture up there of the girl with the heart and the bat? That’s the first time I visited your site. I can’t believe it was that long ago. :)

    I’ll update your link here next time I’m in my FTP (this weekend latest).

    I use a pseudonym for my writing and I’m not really happy with not being able to combine my work life and school life but I was passed up for a job once because the principal saw it as a liability, even though there is nothing wrong with my writing (she didn’t even ask what I wrote). I think that is completely disrespectful and presumptuous but I was out of work for a year so I’m being cautious. Maybe one day…

    I’m glad you’re taking the risk. I hope it pays off :)

  4. Haha yeah that was ages ago.. I can’t believe it either, but it’s true :)

    I thought of you as I was writing this because I read your explanation on why you chose a pseudonym. So terrible that it even popped up as a possible problem, let alone not getting the job because of it…
    Thanks, I hope so too!

  5. Guys at work helped me debug the form error, and now you should not have any problem submitting a comment :)
    Sorry for the inconvenience!

  6. Thank you Nela and Nela’s guys at work! :)
    Heather, I can’t believe that a creative endeavour would be considered a liability, especially at a place that should value creative skills above all. I sometimes include hobbies in my CV and sometimes not, depending on what position I am applying for. Lately hobbies have rarely come up at job interviews, but whenever they did in the past, it was a plus.

  7. Great advice!

    I definitely struggle with finding time to do my own personal projects. Having professional/internship/freelance /start-up experience can definitely open doors. To have a successful career, you have to work with others. And you’re right, you definitely lose your “identity” because you are so caught up with working under someone else’s “identity”.

    Before my current portfolio site, I also ran a web design/development resource blog a couple of years ago. There was sorta able to experiment with my creativity. I wasn’t really going anywhere when it came to “networking”. So I chose to drop the site and focus on gaining experience. I don’t regret it, but I wish I had tried to balance both.

  8. Thanks Julia! :)
    I love working in my team because I get to learn so much I otherwise wouldn’t. And they’re super supportive of my personal projects too. But juggling all that is very challenging..
    What was your resource site called?
    To me, having a resource site enabled me to get my first jobs, so it definitely paid off investing time in that project. But as soon as I got a regular job, I didn’t have time to create new resources any more. At some point you have to make a choice…

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