#68: Yes, You Need to Build a Personal Brand, with Hilary Sutton

Today’s guest is Hilary Sutton. Hilary is the CEO of HSL Digital, a content marketing consultancy. She is a keynote speaker and writer who has contributed to HuffPost, the Washington Post and USA Today. The author of several eBooks and courses, Hilary also hosts the popular Hustle & Grace Podcast where she explores cultivating a flourishing career and life.

Hilary began her career as an actress performing in theaters up and down the East Coast, then transitioned to academics, serving as professor of communications, social media and journalism at Southern New Hampshire University. She has also held digital marketing roles at SpotCo, Pursuant and McKinley Marketing Partners. Hilary lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and daughter.

The pandemic affected Hilary when her primary client lost some of their clients, furloughed employees and cut her hours dramatically. But new clients popped up, keeping her income stable. That showed her the importance of always building your personal brand and always connecting with people.

“I have personally found a lot of power and control in being freelancer who works in the digital landscape because that is always going to be there, even if you’re in a pandemic.”

Online communities are powerful, but meeting people in person at conferences and other events has solidified relationships and lead to new clients and new projects.

Hilary defines personal branding as a combination of two things: the content that already exists about you (if someone Googles your name) and what people think of when they think of you.

Everyone has a personal brand, whether you want it or not. There is information out there already telling a story about you. Shouldn’t you take control of that?

A personal brand is not self-promoting. Reframe it to think of it as you telling people how you can help them. If you don’t tell people how you can help them, they won’t know that you can help them.

You don’t have to focus on personal branding 24/7. While you should be consistent with your branding and timing, it is OK to take breaks from branding and social media. We need to prioritize mental health and “building space” in our lives so we don’t experience burnout.

In summer 2019, for the first time in years, Hilary took a one-month break from social media, which was a healthy break and reminder of who is important in her real life. She gained clarity on the friendships and relationships of her inner circle. She also increased her productivity.

The break quieted the social media noise. She says it was healthy to be bored, observe the world around her and be present, especially with her young daughter.

Personal branding started for Hilary when she was a theater actress. She wanted to build a marketing writing career and inform people about the services she offered. She started by launching a blog to share her expertise. She also began to build her personal brand on LinkedIn. Having two websites—one for acting, one for content marketing—was critical to make it very clear what she did for two different audiences.

Consider these three questions things when building—or rebuilding—an intentional personal brand:

  1. What do you do in your business?
  2. Who do you serve in your business? (Get clear on who your target audience is.)
  3. What do you want people to think about when they think about you?

Next, consider how to concretely build that personal brand: build a website, have photos of yourself taken that reflect your brand. Also, claim your name or business name on multiple social media channels. Even if you don’t have a social media plan for all of those platforms now, claim the name and add your contact info, because those sites will rank high in Google when people search your name. In fact, Pinterest is more of a search engine than a social media platform and that can help your rankings.

For more ideas, take Hilary’s 31-day personal brand challenge.

As you build your intentional personal brand, remember to always keep your target audience in mind. And be aware that anything you say online—even if you think it’s via a private message—can be made public.

Hilary created a three-module course to teach you the building blocks of developing a personal brand, available on her website. Hilary’s course: 3 Steps to Start Building a Personal Brand

Hilary also has a podcast, Hustle & Grace, where she interviews high-performing creatives and talks about how to cultivate a flourishing career and a flourishing life.

Biz Bite: Take inventory of your social media presence and Google results


Hilary’s course: 3 Steps to Start Building a Personal Brand

Hilary’s 31-day personal brand challenge

HSL Digital


Hilary on Twitter

Hilary on LinkedIn

Hilary on Instagram

Hustle & Grace Podcast

Hustle & Grace Podcast episode with Dan Pink

Episode #55 of Deliberate Freelancer: How to Use Pinterest to Grow Your Business, with Julia Bocchese

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is listen-on-apple-podcasts-badge-300x77.jpg

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is android.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stitcher_Listen_Badge_Big.png
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Spotify_Logo_RGB_Green.png

Comments 2

  1. Great episode! The conversation around taking a social media break really struck home for me today. It’s my first day staying off Facebook and Twitter and already my brain is clearer. I’ll go back eventually, but it’s nice to have this quiet period, too. I’m going to check out Hilary’s 31-day challenge as well.

    1. Post

      Excellent! Those social media breaks are so necessary. I haven’t gone a full month like Hilary, but I probably should! Thanks for listening. I’m glad you liked the episode.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *