Personal branding for heritage professionals in 5 easy steps
Tips and full exercise to make your own business card
What do you know about personal branding?
Have you ever felt that you got a really good degree, but now you need to start a private practice and don’t even know where to start because business skills were not included in your courses?
Have I got the article for you.
Let’s talk about personal branding and selling yourself and your business as a professional. Here’s a real-life, step-by-step “easy” exercise to define your personal brand by making your own business card. I say “easy” because the steps are straightforward, but it’s not easy to look at yourself and know what you have to offer. The more you do it, the better you will get.
Why a business card?
A simple way to go about this is to think about your business card.
What is your business card supposed to do for you if you work in heritage?
As you may know, I am currently a job seeker in Ontario, Canada. To be more exact, I WILL be a job seeker as soon as I get a work permit... which may take, unfortunately, most of this year to get. Still, can't let little details like these stop us, can we?
I was recently asked for a business card only to realise I didn’t have one.
Not as in, “Oh I left them at home”, but as in, “Oh… I literally haven’t had any made.”
So here is what I hope is some good advice to all you lucky job seekers and/or recent graduates who are currently legally allowed to get a job in museums!
Your business card can be considered just a formality or a thing you give out because that's what you do, but don't forget it is also an opportunity.
So I decided I needed a business card - and I decided to make it myself.
A step-by-step personal branding exercise
After having spent some years doing social media and learning some basics of design, I know that a meaningful design should not come out of thin air, so I decided to go through the process, and here it is for you as well!
Option 1 - Go generic
You can go to a website and pick a random design that looks like it fits your field or choose a logo you like, or you can hire a designer to help you out if you can afford it. It will look nice. You’ll pick colours you like and a font that looks nice. It will be relatively easy. Pick a design, fill in your info, print, done. It will be a card you can dish out to anyone who asks for it. They might remark that it’s a nice card. It will probably go in a box or drawer and live with all the other cards that person has ever received - or worse, get recycled.
Option 2 - Go bespoke
I believe you’ll get much more value if you take some time to sit down and think about your personality, skills and goals first. You are much less likely to end up with something that looks ordinary that way. Once you decide to have a more active hand in your design, you can go all the way or you can bring in a designer or software to help you after a certain point - but the most important thing is that you will have covered your branding basics - I will show you how below.
The graphic design process
The actual full process for graphic design includes, among others, steps like briefs, moodboards, market research, thumbnailing (quick sketches), concept developments, visual explorations, feedback, and revisions.
You will be making your own brief, in a way. Presumably, you already know your market because this is your field. If you’re entering a new field, it will be worth doing a bit of research.
I have separated the process into 5 basic steps or questions to get you where you need to be. Answer these questions, and I guarantee you will have more clarity about what you’re doing, where you want to go and what kind of work you want to do.
Once you’re ready to actually start designing, you can let your creativity flow and/or bring a designer in to help you with visuals. They will be able to do a much better job for you because you’ve already done the legwork.
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STEP 1. Who are you and what do you want to say?
At this point in my career as a recent arrival and jobseeker, a business card design has to express 2 main things
Who/How I am
What I could do for you
What about you? What vibe do you want to give through your card? Have you given any thought to your identity as a professional? Do you want to make someone feel you are straightforward? Or do you want them to be intrigued? Do you know who you are?
Once you know who you are or who you want to be, you will be closer to figuring out how to express that to someone else.
STEP 2. Are there any specific skills you’d want to highlight?
Whether you work in heritage or are going into a completely different field, the particular job you are seeking will probably have some specific set of skills employers look for. Is there any way you can make these particular skills shine through your card?
Are you a registrar? A conservator? A preparator? An archivist? A curator? A mount-maker? Something else entirely? The way your card looks should, ideally, not be interchangeable between these jobs. You have a cool job. You have special skills for that job. Can you show that? Your job description says they want a creative or innovative thinker. Prove it.
If you are or have ever been a job seeker in your field, you will know what is generally expected. What kind of requests show up in the job descriptions you go for? How do you fit those qualities?
Think of your personal branding as an exercise similar to a job interview. Find your strengths and personality and then design your professional brand around them. Have fun! Unless, you know, you decide that you’re not a fun person or something - in which case you do you, boo.
STEP 3. What do you want your recipient to think when they receive your card?
My personal goal for the next year is to get a job. This is probably also your goal if you are a recent graduate or about to graduate soon or looking to switch jobs/careers.
Essentially, your business card is your proverbial foot in the door of someone’s work brain. So, how do you get your foot in? Make an impression!
STEP 4. What is your card supposed to accomplish?
STEP 5. Personal branding
Remember that when it comes to design, colour and typeface (font) matter. Comic Sans does not make you feel the same as Times New Roman or Verdana. Yellow is not the same as black.
So who are you? Do you want to look serious or fun? Maybe in-between? Do you want to look dependable and solid or spontaneous and flexible? Would you rather go for a modern look or a classical style?
Use mine as an example
Personally, my favourite colour is purple. I just like purple. It’s me. It can be both elegant and playful. It has archaeological and historical ties as an important dye.
I paid a good friend of mine with a whimsical personal style to draw my icon a few years ago because I have a fun side to my personality that I like to bring to my work. (And I love working with her and supporting her art.)
I use yellow and white as highlights on my online branding for contrast because they are positive, bright colours.
The lines in my icon are not strictly drawn or perfect because I believe in flexibility, and I don’t expect perfection.
This last step is where you can easily bring in a designer to help you turn your personal insights into something visual. There is no one better than yourself to know what you need, and there’s nothing wrong if you can’t go and make your own logos - I didn’t! A designer will be grateful if you come to them this prepared.
You have reached the end of the process. If you have successfully answered the questions in steps 1-5, you now have a personal brand (and maybe a business card too)! It’s yours and no one else’s. And remember it’s not set in stone.
The final design (for now)
I know you would never put my business card in a final work photo of an object, but it might be just good enough for a quick emergency snap. Perhaps just good enough to keep in your wallet at all times? That's probably already more useful than everyone else's card you may have received and that's all I need for my current purposes.
I felt a scale added a specific message to this card beyond what I already showed above:
I am fun and flexible - but I understand the value of precision (important as a conservator!).
And after a painful process of printing these things, it also says I follow through until I get a good final result. And I recognise when I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns too. More on that below.
The printing process
Fast forward to about a week after ordering the cards for the first time. They were not quite there.
After a bunch of emails with Customer Support, they came again... even more wrong than before - don’t ask me why, I really don’t know.
After an even longer thread of emails to Customer Support, they finally came out right! There’s the tiniest smidgeon of a mm that’s not quite accurate, but it’s good enough for a quick snap/measure. You’re not supposed to be using this to update object database records!
I am finally happy with the service I received from the printers, but wow it was a painful process to get to the final result and I 100% acknowledge that printing an accurate scale was ambitious to begin with. What can I say, that’s also part of who I am.
So make sure you are ready to be patient and follow through to get the card you really want.
Tips if you want to make your own card
Based on my personal experience of this whole process, here are some tips:
Get your homework done before printing anything. Answer the basic questions of who you are, what you offer, what your goals are and who will be receiving your card.
Choose your colours and fonts based on the above.
It’s not a perfect process and your goals might change over time, so maybe don’t order 100 cards off the bat. Yes, I know it’s cheaper per card, but I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t have old cards lying around they never used.
If you have a finicky design, talk to Customer Support before you send anything off to print. It might save you a lot of trouble. If you have a local printer with a person you can talk to, consider that instead of an online printing service.
I used an online printing service (MOO Canada) because I was recommended it. In spite of technical mistakes, Customer Service was very polite and followed through. They did all the reprinting until I was satisfied for no extra cost. Make sure you know this will be the case with whomever you go with because it might actually take more than one try - and you don’t want to keep paying for it.
I hope you liked this exercise on figuring out your personal branding and creating your own business card! Let me know in the comments if you will go make your own now, I’d love to see what you come up with. I hope that this article will help bring you clarity if you have felt lost or confused in your professional goals.
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Next time you can tell them, “You’re late, friend. I already know everything.”