Lea Alcantara is a web designer who runs her own business at Lealea Design. She was listed as one of the 50 best female web designers in the world. Her article series on got a lot of recognition from web designers world-wide. She also gives occasional talks on branding.
Lea, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi, everyone! I’m Lea, the creative principal to Lealea Design where I craft digital experiences for clients, big and small. Additionally, I host the ExpressionEngine podcast, teach interface design at my local university, and do the occasional conference talk about personal branding.
When people hear the word “brand”, they often think about big companies like Coca-Cola and Apple, which are corporate brands. You’re talking about something different: personal brands. What is a personal brand?
A personal brand is essentially the perception you project to others. It’s a summary of all you say, touch, and do.
Why do you think that it’s so important for freelance web designers to develop their own personal brands? What difference does it make?
A freelancer’s livelihood is based on their personal brand, their reputation — business is about building relationships and people want relationships with human beings. Having a personal brand helps you communicate to others clearly what you’re about and that in turn, helps attract the right clients.
The first part of your method is pretending to be an amnesiac and trying to figure out who you are. There are two steps in this: defining who you think you are and then asking others to reveal who they think you are. Can you explain how to do that and why it’s important?
In my article, the Art of Self-Branding, I go through a word association exercise: write down three adjectives, the first three adjectives you would associate with yourself. Next, do an informal survey of the people in your life — personal, professional, casual — and ask them to associate adjectives with you as well. Ask them to be honest, good and bad. When you’re complete, put the data into a table that ranks them in terms of relationship and years known.
Once done, you can weigh the responses based on those types of relationships and how people perceive you depending on how intimately they know you. It’s so important to do this because there’s so many different types of personas we project to people depending on our relationship with them. It’s a way to see what’s common among everyone no matter how long or well they know you, what’s different, and also a gauge to see how your own perception of self matches along with others. It’s also a wake-up call in case there are some flags you need to address.
The second part of your method is about dealing with the information that you’ve gathered through your self-discovery and research. You say that once you’ve “regained your memory”, it’s time to “Recycle, reduce, recover, reuse”. Can you explain how to do that and why it’s important?
Our entire lives we’ve been building our personal brand. The environmentalist analogy is simply trying to see how you can reflect on all the choices you’ve made in say, your wardrobe or your home decor or your past design projects. It’s important to use that since it’s what you’ve been building to establish your identity in a natural way. Then, you can compare that to your adjective table and see how to align these items to create a design system for yourself.
The third part of your method is all about honesty. What do you mean by honesty and why do you place such a big emphasis on it? Can you explain how to be honest when it comes to branding and why it’s important?
I put big emphasis on it because if you try to stray from your real values and personality, then you will come off to everyone as awkward and fake. People can spot someone “trying too hard” a mile away.
Also, when you’re really honest about your goals and values, then you’re able to really focus on the right type of clients and work, which will pay off in the long run. We don’t want every client under the sun; we want the right clients who give us fulfilling work and pay us well.
You emphasize a lot that when it comes to branding, it’s extremely important to be consistent. What do you mean by consistency and why it’s so important?
This all harkens back to honesty, as well. Consistency is delivering, day-to-day, the quality of work and professionalism that is expected of you (and then some). If you’re all over the place, it shows a lack of focus, and a lot of clients will be put off and worried about reliability. It comes off dishonest.
Lea, would you be able to recommend great resources on personal branding that would be valuable for web designers who would like to gain deeper understanding of this subject?
I’d encourage everyone to visit my one-page site:
– it has links to tutorials and articles on the subject of branding.
I also wrote a recent article at .net magazine that talks about it a bit more, too.
Last, but not least, if you could only give one piece of advice to a web designer who wants to create a powerful personal brand, what would it be?
That a personal brand isn’t built-in a vacuum. If a personal brand is built on the perception of others, it’s really a team effort of building relationships with family, friends, colleagues, clients, employers, and peers.
You need them to help discover your personal brand. You need them to help promote your personal brand. There’s a lot you can do to help communicate your brand, but in the end, be as genuine, helpful, and kind to others… the rest will follow.