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How to Brand Yourself With a Creative Portfolio in the Most Badass Way Possible: Six Moves Worth Stealing

Personal branding is how you represent yourself and your work to the world. Whether you’re a freelance writer or a creative professional, your personal branding serves as that first impression to potential clients. Think of it as your best opportunity to wow people and to encourage them to learn more about you.

 

Ho hum is no way to go through life. Ordering vanilla, blending in, playing it safe. That may be a good recipe for success if you’re a banker or meter maid, but if you’re going out for a creative job in marketing or any creative discipline, your job is to STAND OUT. And not just by using all caps. By making an impression. By making people feel something — laughter, exhilaration, motivated to do something. If your goal is to land work, you gotta know when to shake it up and how to create something memorable.

Call it your brand. How you represent yourself to the world. These are digital times fueled by chaotic distraction, so it takes extra effort to make an impact. If you’re looking for a creative gig, your online portfolio is the obvious place. There are a lot of things to accomplish with a portfolio: strong samples, recent clips, high-profile brands, a holistic snapshot into who you are, what you do. But there are so many portfolios out there. I recently asked talent recruiter, Serena Wolf, about the most important thing a portfolio should accomplish in the first 10 seconds, and she said a “unique presence” and “a brand for yourself.” Essentially, a first impression that screams “do not ignore” to the people who can keep you gainfully employed. It’s your job to reward curious eyeballs by doing something that leaves an impression. You call yourself “a creative” so… be creative.

I’ve worn many creative hats in my career as a copywriter, creative director, and managing editor. I’ve spent thousands of hours pondering how to think different when it comes to selling big brands. And if you’re looking for a job and putting together a portfolio, that’s how you need to start thinking of yourself: as a brand.

But where to start? Branding badasses are needles in haystacks. Unicorns. The exception, not the rule. Along those lines, here are some on-point branding moves that made an impact on me — and that you might consider — as you produce a portfolio that defines your brand for the world.

Time to get inspired…

Showing off your best moves with your creative portfolio

Badass move #1: Showing, not telling

Let’s face it: We don’t have a lot of time to read in 2018. I may be here in physical form, but I’m actually listening to a podcast, peeking at a push notification and responding to a client email in my head. Other than that, I’m all yours! In this regard, I appreciate Tony D’Orio’s website for what it is: a visually captivating representation of a photographer’s work splayed out for the world to see in engaging, eye-catching ways.

It’s got a range of styles (modern to vintage), national brands, humor and overall, just breeds a sense that this photographer knows what’s up. Another nice twist in the realm of branding and self-promotion? The “Create a PDF” function that lets you download photos from his website, which arrive in your download folder as a branded business card essentially.

Clever, cool, clicky.

(Sorry, photographer pun.)

 

Badass move #2:  Calling yourself by four names

If you write ads, you’re a copywriter. Take photos? Photographer. But if you’re a dandypunk, there might be four ways to describe yourself: Multimedia performance artist, digital light poet, director of art and movement, an imagineer in exile. All descriptive monikers for the former Cirque du Soleil performer, who’s wonderfully weird website sets a storybook tone for his body of work.

What you call yourself title-wise matters and is likely one of the first things someone reviewing your portfolio will want to know. In this regard, a dandypunk is offering up a glimpse into his various talents as part of the website’s whimsical journey. From the illustrated top navigation that takes you to the work to the abstract creativity swirling around the artist’s “Ego” section, a dandypunk is creating an online presence that’s inline with the poeticism of what he does, which by the way, is seriously cool.

Something to consider when you match words to pictures.

Badass move #3:  Thinking of your portfolio itself as a work sample

One of the cooler online portfolios I’ve come across actually comes from across the pond from French-born graphic designer, Julie Bonnemoy. Based on how she set up her site alone, I’d want to work with her. I love how the narrative plays out from the floating welcome screen image to the other sections as you scroll down the page. Especially dig how the client credits lay out, big to small, as you move down the page.

Bonnemoy’s site inspires in its poetic reveal and gives a hint at the artist’s sensibility — worth noting whether you’re designing an original site or a portfolio on ClearVoice. Whichever it is, think creatively about how you tell your story. If you can give the viewer a strong sense of who you are before they get to the work samples, that’s called a branding win.


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Badass move #4:  Writing insightful descriptions that tell a story

When it comes to upping your portfolio game, it’s one thing to show samples, but it’s another to put them in the proper context of when and how they were created, in case-study fashion. It’s something I’m a big believer in, to help the viewer understand the when, where and with who a portfolio piece was created.

This is where copywriter Gari Cruze shines. I love how many of the pieces on his site are shown alongside thoughtful descriptions that break down the inspiration for his work, the client challenge, the solution and how the creative was executed. He also gives success metrics for the campaign (where applicable). Never a bad idea.

Flaunt ’em if you got ’em.

Badass move #5:  Having fun with Easter eggs (if the site lets you)

When you’re a graphic designer, there’s an extra onus on you to do things that catch the eye. Take Max Kaplan’s website/portfolio for example. Not only does the oversized type suck you in and deliver his elevator pitch straight to your eyeballs, but there are a couple of interactive Easter eggs on his site that speak to his creative sensibility… and ultimately, his brand.

For instance, the cursor changes into a black light of sorts revealing things such as his head shot when you scroll over the upper left corner of the page. Also, when you scroll over areas of the page that link off, the blacklight turns red, revealing areas where you can click to view samples. A nice personal touch that speaks volumes into how Max thinks, and the artist/DJ/podcaster behind this site.

Badass move #6:  Using social in creative ways

I’m a fan of freelance copywriter Rich Siegel. Never met the guy, barely know him other than being connected to him on LinkedIn. But what I do know is that he’s 44 years old and likes to be “exorbitantly paid” — because that’s what his LinkedIn bio tells me. He stood out to me one day on LinkedIn as someone who’s unafraid of promoting his own brand in disruptive fashion by cleverly putting “ads” for his freelance business into the news feed that go, well, against the grain. Here’s a recent one:

Clever and bound to stand out in between the multitude of shared articles about VR and Gary V. posts.

Siegel also has a blog he frequently promotes that reinforces his outspoken nature, and his brand. According to a recent entry, he wrote, “For one thing, and I know this is hard to believe, this blog has produced more assignments and job referrals than 6 years on Working Not Working and 10 years on Linkedin. Turns out that brutal honesty and a throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude makes for a winning recipe.”

Siegel has a portfolio as well, but it’s his social chutzpah and desire to be authentic to who he is that do most of his heavy lifting. The message? Be who you are, connect sharply with an audience and potential clients will see how you can connect with theirs.

 

Feeling inspired? Head to CV Portfolio and put your work samples on display for the world to see now. Go ahead, we’ll wait.


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Gregg Rosenzweig

About Gregg

Gregg Rosenzweig is a Los Angeles-based writer and former Managing Editor who’s spent his career producing creative content for American mass consumption. When he’s not writing articles, working on branded content pieces, or concepting commercials, he can be found doing fun things such as losing a game of H-O-R-S-E to NBA legend Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.

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