Just do it. Have it your way. Got milk. Eat fresh.
They’re some of the most famous and recognizable brand taglines. All it takes is a few words to conjure up an entire understanding of the attached brand—the company’s products, aesthetic, and overall personality.
But you? You aren’t a pair of sneakers or a sandwich. You’re a person, not a product. And that makes the idea of cultivating a “brand” for yourself seem…well, a little weird.
What exactly is a personal brand?
You do have a brand, though. “Everyone has a brand, whether or not they put intention to it,” explains Praise Santos McKenna, Founder and Brand Coach with ComePlum.
Your personal brand is essentially your reputation. It’s how you want to be perceived by other people. What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to think of when they hear your name?
You have some control over that—provided you’re thoughtful and intentional about the brand you create. And that’s important to do as a side hustler or solopreneur. Your personal brand helps you make a name for yourself, establish credibility, and grow your business.
How does social media fit into your personal brand?
So what goes into a positive personal brand? To put it simply, absolutely everything. Everything you do — the relationships you maintain with your clients, the work you produce, and the way you conduct yourself — plays a role in your brand. It all contributes to your overall image and reputation.
But in today’s digital age, it’s hard to overlook the role of social media. It’s just one medium for connection, but an undeniably crucial one.
Research shows that the majority of people look up a business’ online presence before doing anything else. And, in a poll I ran on X, 54.9% of respondents said that social media plays an important role in their personal branding efforts.
What are the benefits of using social media for personal branding?
I get it — posting on social media (especially when you’re trying to be intentional and strategic about it) can feel like being the new kid in a high school cafeteria where everybody already knows each other. But it’s worth summoning your courage for the following benefits:
- Accessibility: It’s one of the most readily available and unrestricted methods to build your brand. There aren’t prerequisites like invitations, certifications, or required expertise. You can just start posting.
- Popularity: Love it or hate it, people are on social media. According to Pew Research Center, 72% of the public uses some type of social media. That makes it one of the most powerful outlets for getting in front of a lot of people.
- Cost: You don’t need a big budget (or really, any budget) to use social media for personal branding. Unless you want to do paid ads or access other premium features, you can post content for free. It’s every solopreneur’s favorite “f-word.”
- Credibility: An active social media presence gives other people an easy way to learn more about you and your business. And research shows that, when they see recent and relevant content on your accounts, it increases their sense of trust almost immediately.
All those reasons inspired Liz Heflin, a freelance writer who pivoted to offering business coaching for other writers, to start regularly posting on LinkedIn almost two years ago. “I knew it was the easiest, most cost-effective way to build an audience and to get my offerings out in front of people,” she says.
The plan behind your brand: 4 steps to lay the groundwork
When you’ve finally accepted the fact that you need to put a little more planning and meaning into your social presence, you find yourself in front of the next hurdle: How do you get started?
Sure, you could just start posting and see what works. There’s nothing wrong with some trial and error. But if you want to be more strategic from the jump, here’s how to build a solid foundation.
1. Understand your brand
Your social media presence is supposed to support your overall brand. To do that well, you need to understand the ins and outs of the reputation you’re trying to reinforce.
“There are two questions someone needs to answer when it comes to personal brand platform development: What do I want people to know about me and what do I have to say to the world?” shares Jonathan Jacobs, Principal with J2 Consulting and a senior marketing executive.
This can feel daunting, but Praise recommends asking yourself the following questions to get some clarity:
• What milestones in my life have brought me joy?
• What ones have made me angry?
• What do I do that creates advocates?
• What do I do that creates enemies?
• What is something about my business that I will not give up?
Jot down your answers, as well as some adjectives you want people to think of when they hear your name. Maybe you’re sarcastic and relatable. Or helpful and encouraging. Or direct and no-nonsense.
Spend some time thinking about this and you’ll have a much easier time with the next steps. “Find your voice, find your values, proudly champion them, and you’ll attract the friends, co-workers, and clients you want to surround yourself with,” Jonathan adds.
2. Understand your goals
Answer this question: Why are you posting on social media as part of your personal brand? If your answer is something like, “Because I feel like I have to…” it’s time to dig a little deeper. “Get clear on your ‘why’ behind social media,” Praise advises. “Is it to educate? Entertain? Inspire? Build an audience? Increase profits?”
“I knew I had to get clear about what my goals were. Was I looking for new client work or was I aiming to build an audience for my resources and coaching?"
Knowing what you’re trying to achieve will guide you as you start creating, and it’s a step that Liz took when she started posting. “I knew I had to get clear about what my goals were,” she says. “Was I looking for new client work or was I aiming to build an audience for my resources and coaching?"
She decided on the latter, which informed her content. What she creates to support fellow freelance writers is understandably quite different from what she would’ve created to attract new writing clients.
3. Understand your audience
When you’re intentional about your personal brand, it’s not just about you—it’s about your target audience. If you want your posts to have any sort of impact and traction, you need to know who your audience is, where they spend their time, and what they want from you.
You don’t necessarily need to do extensive research here, as a lot of this will hinge on your personal branding goals and your type of business.
For example, if your aim is to attract more clients to your web development business, you might opt for sharing your work samples and thought leadership content on LinkedIn. But if you’re a photographer who wants to get your presets and templates in front of other photographers, you’ll find more of your ideal audience on image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
In short, put yourself in the shoes of your target audience and think about where they’d look for the type of content you plan to share.
4. Understand your limitations
It’s tempting to dream big, but your social strategy is only impactful if you stick with it. That’s why it’s worth thinking about your own limitations—your time, knowledge, and even desire—when hashing out your plans.
“Think about what content you’re skilled at creating and find the platform that best suits those,” Jonathan shares.
In Liz's case, she knew that she wasn’t up for creating a lot of image or video-based content, which immediately ruled out platforms like TikTok and Instagram. However, those might appeal to you.
Put simply, it’s not enough to think about the type of content that your audience would really love. You also need to confirm it’s something you can realistically create and sustain.
Posting and publishing: Using social media to elevate your personal brand
With a good sense of what you’re trying to do, why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for, you’re ready to get to the good stuff: dusting off (or creating) your profiles and sharing content. Don’t panic quite yet — we’ll walk you through it step by step.
1. Choose your platform(s)
One big mistake that side hustlers and solopreneurs make is assuming that an “active social presence” means they need to show up everywhere. “Never try to be doing everything, everywhere all at once,” Jonathan advises. “Nobody can sustain that.”
The above steps probably already clued you in on what platforms are the right fit for you and your goals. But now it’s time to make your decision and choose one—yes, only one—platform to start with.
“I recommend starting by getting really familiar with one social media medium that your target audience is on, engage on it, listen to what the norms are, and then dive into that one medium first,” Praise says.
2. Optimize your profiles
Before you start posting on your chosen platform, it’s smart to knock the cobwebs off of your profile (or set one up, if you don’t already have one).
Optimizing your profile will differ depending on what platform you’re using. A solid bio on LinkedIn will look a lot different (not to mention longer) than a bio on Instagram, as just one example.
But in general, here are some best practices to keep in mind as you work to make your profile a solid match with your brand:
- Use a profile photo that clearly shows your face. Even if you’re using the account for business purposes, people want to know they’re connecting with another human.
- Write a headline or bio that explicitly states what you do. Different platforms will have different character limits, but your goal is to help people understand who you are and what you do in as simple of terms as possible.
- Create a helpful header image. Many platforms — like Facebook, LinkedIn, and X — allow you to upload a custom cover image that appears at the top of the profile. That can be a great place to provide more context about what you do and implement some of your other brand elements (like logos and colors).
- Clean through your account. If you haven’t touched it since college, it’s worth combing through the pages or people you’re following to weed through them. Following people who are closely related to your industry will fill your feed with content that you can reshare (or, at the very least, provide some inspiration).
Liz’s LinkedIn profile is a great example to reference, with a friendly photo, a straightforward headline, and a cover photo that includes a call to action.
3. Decide what to post
Here comes the part you’ve been dreading: creating your first post. If you’ve tried it before, it likely involved a lot of staring at that blinking text cursor just willing something brilliant to appear.
One of the best ways to beat your empty brain is to think about your audience first. “Instead of starting with the blank canvas of ‘What would be interesting to post?’ I try to think about the questions most clients or colleagues ask me about my work,” Jonathan says. “If it’s a question they’re asking, it’s probably a question other people are asking.”
Liz put that exact strategy to work when crafting her LinkedIn content. “My audience was new or relatively new freelance writers, so I just thought about all the questions I had when I was starting out in that position,” she says. “What did I want to know about then? What would have been valuable to me? What would have helped me avoid some of the potholes I fell in? Then I wrote posts about that.”
“Instead of starting with the blank canvas of ‘What would be interesting to post?’ I try to think about the questions most clients or colleagues ask me about my work,” Jonathan says. “If it’s a question they’re asking, it’s probably a question other people are asking.”
That should inspire enough content to get you started. But in the long run, Praise recommends picking three to four relevant topic areas that you can talk about regularly. That keeps your content fresh but also focused. For Liz, that means posting a steady mix of educational, self-promotional, and funny or relatable content.
And as you get started, remember that you can’t just post once or twice and watch the magic happen. Consistency matters everywhere—but especially on social media. “Challenge yourself to post every day for 100 days to simply build the discipline and then iterate and adjust from there,” Praise says.
You might find it helpful to create a schedule for yourself to make the process more approachable. Here’s a simple example:
4. Use existing resources
If you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed, here’s some good news: You don’t always need to create content yourself. If you took the time to clean through who you were following and fill your feed with relevant people and brands, you can also re-post their content.
This helps you maintain an active presence, without having to start from scratch every time. Freelance writer Kaitlyn Arford’s X account is a solid example of this strategy. She’s always reposting encouraging reminders, resources, and job opportunities for other freelancers.
5. Respond and engage
We’ve talked a lot about what you’ll post. But “social” is the operative word in social media, which means you need to be prepared to engage and not just broadcast. This includes:
- “Liking” and commenting on other people’s content in your feed (especially stuff that’s relevant to your own business)
- Responding to comments on your content
Engaging is another way to maintain an active presence without constantly having to create fresh content yourself. Plus, it helps you reinforce your brand and use social media for relationship-building rather than pure promotion.
Be forewarned that notifications can quickly get away from you, so set aside some time each day (even 15 minutes can work wonders) to comb through recent updates and engage accordingly. Liz says she dedicates about an hour each weekday to engagement, but it’s well worth it. “If you’re willing to put in that effort, the ROI is there,” she says.
Build your personal brand (without the “ick” factor)
If you’ve previously shied away from any intentional personal branding, I don’t blame you. It feels intimidating—as if you need to figure out how to package your personality into something marketable and consumable.
But as it turns out, personal branding on social media doesn’t need to be quite so intimidating (or icky). If you approach it with the right attitude and a high degree of authenticity, your “brand” is simply a reflection of who you are as a person, not an illusion.
“Nobody is a brand, they’re just themselves,” Jonathan says. “Stop trying to think of yourself as two parts of a whole. You’re just one whole: you.”