Ben Eli on crafting a professional profile with buckets of personality

Date
Written by
Ben Eli

Continuing to explore our theme of personal branding, Ben Eli, a graphic designer at Lazy Oaf, reflects on defining a professional narrative while staying true to your creative interests and personal values. Ben charts the highs and lows of profile-building and the opportunities for connection through storytelling, as well as sharing tips for emerging creatives looking to gain more visibility in the industry.

How do you feel about the term ‘personal branding’?

I think it’s a term that means so many different things to different people, so it’s not the most helpful term. When I was studying I approached it through a lens of “what is your own logo?” but I think it should go way beyond that. Rather than spending hours crafting a personal logo, I would much rather use my time to distil my personal values, define what drives me as a creative person, and think about the way I want to talk about myself and my work online. I think that has more power to connect you to people and help them understand what you already do, what you want to do more of, and why they might want to work with you. It’s all about communication.

Rather than spending hours crafting a personal logo, I would much rather use my time to distil my personal values, define what drives me as a creative person, and think about the way I want to talk about myself and my work online.
Ben Eli, Graphic Designer at Lazy Oaf

What approach do you take to self-promotion? How often do you do it? What tools do you use?

Like most people, I use Instagram to share experiments, personal projects and snippets of work which I think is always a great thing to do. It’s just important to not get caught up in the social numbers game and put too much pressure on yourself. I actually also really like sharing work on LinkedIn too. This is because over the years I've been able to connect with creatives and leaders who I really admire, and by sharing my work there too it means it might get in front of those people that one day I'd love to work for or collaborate with. It’s also allowed me to get some valuable feedback and find new mentors – so I definitely recommend it to other designers, even if it’s not the most glamorous of social platforms. I’m very loose in terms of how often I post. I would definitely like to do it more, but I like it to feel more natural and not create work purely for the purpose of posting it on socials. I think this helps me not to get caught up in the pressure of it. We’re all busy enough these days with jobs and responsibilities, so for me, daily posting won’t work. I just make sure it’s often enough to stay engaged with people.

What opportunities has self-promotion unlocked in your own career?

I think my favourite thing is that by sharing work – specifically personal work around themes that I care about most like LGBTQ+ culture and pop culture – I have been able to connect with other designers from these communities too. It’s great to feel like you’re also building yourself a small community through your work. I’ve also been lucky enough to have my work featured in online publications I've admired since the days of being a student – such as It’s Nice That, Creative Lives In Progress and Creative Boom – which I never expected, but if I hadn’t been sharing my work online, this wouldn’t have come about. It also meant I was able to connect with really great writers and creatives like Harry Bennett who was one of the first people to ask to feature my work.

What’s working for me is leaning into those things that made me feel uncomfortable at first.
Ben Eli, Graphic Designer at Lazy Oaf

What challenges or barriers have you encountered in building your personal or professional profile?

When I first moved to London and entered the industry, I didn’t know anybody and had no connections. I wasn’t able to do multiple unpaid internships, or study in London, so it felt a lot like starting from square one. I found that going to events and listening to talks online was a great way to find out about other creatives in the industry and get opportunities to ask questions. Over the past few years I've been lucky enough to connect with some great mentors too which helped a lot.

Imposter syndrome is always a big one for me, and for many others I'm sure! Building your own profile, website or other online presence is always going to be one of the hardest tasks as a creative. It’s so easy to be critical when it’s your own project with no hard deadline. What’s working for me is leaning into those things that made me feel uncomfortable at first. To start with, I felt nervous to create and share work around LGBTQ+ themes, or pop culture and music that seemed ‘lower brow’ compared to others’ work. But over time, I realised that my work will be so much more authentic if I feel passionate about its themes. LGBTQ+ issues and history wasn’t something that felt very prevalent or talked about in the creative industry, so it also meant it was often a new topic of discussion to bring up with collaborators, and in interviews and reviews – which helped me show my passion for creating work that centres around stories and communities.

I’ve always tried to find the balance between keeping things ‘professional’ and making sure I inject fun and personality into my profile, especially my website. When I started thinking about my personal brand, I thought about the values and attitude I wanted to bring through, and I knew I didn’t want it to be too slick and serious.
Ben Eli, Graphic Designer at Lazy Oaf

I’ve always tried to find the balance between keeping things ‘professional’ and making sure I inject fun and personality into my profile, especially my website. When I started thinking about my personal brand, I thought about the values and attitude I wanted to bring through, and I knew I didn’t want it to be too slick and serious. This often led to a lot of self doubt, as I was comparing myself to other amazing designers who were coming at it from a completely different angle. So it’s important to remember that we’re all in our own lane, doing our own thing.

Any advice for emerging talent looking to gain visibility in the creative industries?

It’s quite surprising how many emerging creatives I've spoken to who don’t have a website or social presence, and in my opinion that’s something that should be a high priority in this day and age. Unfortunately, if you’re not online, how will potential employers or collaborators know you or your work exists? I’d definitely say don’t mull over things too much in the beginning. Just start! That’s the best way to get things moving. The beauty of personal brands and projects is that they can be ever-evolving as you change. There will never be a better time than now.

The beauty of personal brands and projects is that they can be ever-evolving as you change. There will never be a better time than now.
Ben Eli, Graphic Designer at Lazy Oaf

Definitely reach out to creatives you admire, start building connections! If you’re looking for portfolio feedback, mentoring, introductions or just a conversation, definitely send that message and ask! It can be quite nerve-racking, but if you’re polite and respect people’s time, they’re usually more than happy to help you.

I would also say, whilst you’re looking to gain industry experience, personal projects can be a great way to flesh out your portfolio. This is a great chance to show people who you are, what your passions are, and what you can do. I’ve always found in job interviews and portfolio reviews, the personal work section of my portfolio results in a really passionate conversation because the interviewer can tell this is work that really drives me, so they want to learn more and ask questions.


On our radar

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

Thinking about Linking: Alec Dudson shows you the ropes on excelling at creatively linking and navigating around the LinkedIn ring for Intern.

Build your personal brand online: Creative Review hands you the tools and foundations needed to cement how you present yourself online.

How to build a creative portfolio: D&AD explains how to bring your best work and personality forward.

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