8 tips on how to build your professional brand

Monica Mihai

Digital Marketing Manager

Association of University Administrators


In a digital world, where your LinkedIn connections can help you get your dream job or your blog on Medium can make your ideas go viral, the next level of recruitment is represented by the professional brand.  It’s a simple and beautiful concept, because when your entire career can be an advertisement for what you do,  you don’t have to work so hard to create content.

The content is you.

Whether you are searching for a new position or trying on a freelancer hat, your marketing plan becomes documenting your career path and achievements, as opposed to creating a narrative from scratch. Traditionally, marketing and recruitment used to be two separate entities, when CVs, cover letters and word of mouth were the only ways to navigate an industry and establish your career, but the advent of technology means that you can always market yourself to your audience with ease.

When your whole life can become part of your marketing strategy, that also means there’s less traditional marketing for you to do.

Think of some of the most influential thought leaders in higher education: Nicola Dandridge, Mary Curnock Cook, Ant Bagshaw… they all have a consistent brand defined by a singular style of engagement with their audience. Mary is outspoken, original, at times controversial, while Ant comes across as a policy wunderkind who isn’t afraid of a little self deprecation (look no further than his Twitter banner).

But this personalised approach can only be achieved with a strategy and some boundaries. Your brand will allow you to become the star, but you need to be consistent with your digital identity and the content you choose to create and disseminate.

Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

1. Know your audience

Long before you pick a font, design a logo or write a single word, there’s ONE thing you need to get clear about: your audience. All of those things are going to be designed to attract your specific audience to you.

The language and design will be completely different depending on who you’re trying to reach. Perhaps your expertise is related to student recruitment, which might allow you to adopt a friendlier approach. If you’re looking to branch out into consultancy, chances are you are a senior manager looking to help others like you, in which case your best bet would be a more formal tone that can showcase your expertise and professionalism better.

Your audience isn’t random – you actually create it.  So if you haven’t already, please take some time right now to think about who you want to work with and for in your business. This one little exercise will always pay off big.

2. Craft a core message

Knowing your why is the most powerful component of your professional journey. Why did you choose higher education as your industry? It could be that you are passionate about widening access to HE for underprivileged students, interested in the unique and complex organisational processes that go on in universities or are simply using it as a stepping stone until you figure out where your professional self truly belongs.

Self reflection is an important step in establishing your professional identity. For example, as a digital marketer for the Association of University Administrators, my mission statement could be summed up as:

I currently work for the AUA as a digital marketer. My ambition is to empower administrators in higher education to become their best selves: inspired, motivated and always interested in self-improvement.

I strive to make my work thoughtful and creative, as we try to help our audience pursue professional paths that bring them success and fulfillment in the HE sector.

Your statement should be concise and unambiguous, as your audience has to face thousands of messages every day and you will want yours to stand out.

3. Tell your brand story

As a marketer, I hear the word “storytelling” ad nauseam. In 2017, it was one of the top buzzwords in the industry, but as much as I dislike it, I have to admit one thing: stories make you relatable. In order for people to want to work with you, they have to relate, which is why your audience will want to know your path: where did you come from? how did you end up here?

Everyone has an original career story: no two professional paths are the same. Don’t be afraid to mention past failures, as they are the very foundation of professional success. Make sure to highlight all the lessons you’ve learned along the way and how they have turned you into a better practitioner.

4. Be consistent with your visuals

Having a polished professional brand means consistency across the board is essential and at the core of this is your visual identity, both online and analog. Your profile photo on LinkedIn is just as important as the stationery you use for professional purposes. A unified theme will reinforce your message, help your audience identify you and make your content recognisable regardless of context.

For example, if you are starting out as a freelance consultant, you will want to set up a banner on your social profiles with the logo and name of your business and invest in stationery that is personalised to your brand.

If you are looking to accede to a more senior level, you might want to polish your LinkedIn profile with a high quality photo, include examples of current projects you are working on, invest in monogrammed stationery and get in the habit of sending thank you notes and handwritten invitations to network, as they are far more memorable than emails or texts.

Elements to consider:

  • logo
  • profile picture/avatar
  • cover images/background images
  • brand colors
  • clothing/hairstyle
  • photo style (ie. lots of white, similar colors, same filters etc.)
  • stationery

5. Find a digital home

The variety and versatility of online platforms means that you have absolute freedom in terms of choosing your digital home. You might wish to rely solely on LinkedIn, as it offers you the possibility to write articles and participate in discussions within your industry (as an example, look no further than Oleg Vishnepolsky – love him or hate him, you have to admit he is actively influencing cultural conversation). Another option that allows you to do this is Medium.

You can have a home base where examples of your work can “live” – be it a blog or a professional development platform, which allows you to have a content repository that you can disseminate your messages from. The important thing is to do your research and choose an option that feels right for where you’re currently at in your professional journey.

6. Publish consistently

The more dependable you are with your content, the more your audience will trust you, and the key to building a great network and reputation is by achieving that trust. You will be sought out in the industry only after your audience knows it can trust you with their time. An important aspect to being a thought leader is priming your audience to your messages and having a schedule.

Use a social media scheduler like Hootsuite or Buffer for Facebook or Twitter and Later or Flume for Instagram. These are useful tools to ensure your message gets out there, even when you are busy with other things.

7. Perform a self-audit

Creating a consistent image means that some of the content you’ve posted might not fit in so well with where you’re currently at professionally. In other words, yes, those things that you posted three years ago online MIGHT just come back to haunt you!

It is worth removing blog or social media posts that no longer support your professional message, as you never know how potential associates might stumble across your digital footprint, and first impressions are everything! Take a little time to audit your presence and make sure that everything is on point.

8. Showcase your expertise

All your audience knows about you is what you allow them to see. Of course, you know you’re trustworthy, professional and an expert in your field – but do your potential recruiters/partners/colleagues know this?

Make sure you keep a record of all your achievements and projects that you’ve successfully fulfilled and reference that in your posts. The more you digitally engage and advertise your accomplishments, the more your audience will trust you.

There is no time like the present, so if you haven’t started building your professional brand, today is the perfect day to get started. Start claiming your online voice today and watch your network expand.