Marketing Tips

Building a Strong Personal Brand as a Service Provider (and Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur)

January 16, 2024



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I'm Kara - the voice behind some of the brands you know and love (I know because I love them too!). I'm results-driven and ambitious, just like YOU.

Meet Kara

Sarah Beau is a branding photographer based in Calgary in Canada. She’s fabulous. She did my own branding photography a few years ago and over the past few years, I have become a loyal member of her “cult following” on Instagram. She has such an engaged community of the best people, and I’ve really been able to see not only how she’s grown her personal brand, but also how she’s been able to use that personal brand to leverage new opportunities and embrace the multi-passionate entrepreneur that she is. Make sure you listen to this interview all the way through because what she’s doing now is really, really cool and I can’t wait to bring all of her expertise to you today!

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Meet Sarah Beau: The multi-passionate branding photographer who is an EXPERT at building a strong personal brand as a service-based business

Sarah Beau is a Brand Photographer who helps small businesses create quality content to elevate the look and feel of their brand to attract their dream clients. She’s also multi passionate so owning another business is just *Entrepreneur Math*. At Derp Dog Studios she’s found a way to make money meeting *I mean photographing* everyone’s dogs.

Sarah Beau is a personal brand photographer and multi-passionate entrepreneur

Do you think that a service provider has to have a personal brand element? And can you speak to what you should do if there are parts of your personal life you don’t feel comfortable sharing (like for me – it’s my toddler!)?

First, I don’t think a service provider has to have a personal brand, but I also think the word personal brand has been so misconstrued because there’s so many people oversharing on social media that people think that it’s either “overshare and tell everyone about my life” or “I share nothing about my life”, and there really is a sweet spot in the middle.

I think that having a personal brand is really helpful if you ever want to pivot, it’s super helpful with the trust factor you want to build, and it’s super helpful for building a “cult following”, for lack of a better term. So yes, I think a personal brand is important and can be really helpful when you’re first starting your business and leveraging that for wherever you choose to go. But I also think that personal brand doesn’t mean sharing your life from 24 hours a day all day. You get to pick and choose what you want to share.

The important thing is that your audience feels like they’re getting to know you, not that they DO know you. It’s only feeling.

I’ve heard “personal branding” advice where you kind of “pick personal brand content buckets” and share about them – is that what you do?

I consciously have chosen buckets to NOT share. So for example, my relationship with my partner is off limits. I might share tidbits, but I always put a bear emoji over his face and I also always ask when it’s not just my life that I’m sharing online. I make sure I’m conscious of somebody who doesn’t have social media and doesn’t love the social media world.

On top of that, when sharing something that IS my story to share, sometimes I go to share it and I re-listen to the story and I hear it back and I think, maybe not, and I just delete it. So it’s just about always taking a conscious little decision of “is this worthy of sharing” and “what’s the point of sharing it” for the lack of a better term?

When deciding to infuse more personal elements into your brand, start by just asking yourself, “what’s off limits?”. Sharing your face and talking to the camera does not mean you need to be telling people about your life. It just allows them to feel like you are talking to them – which builds trust with them.

You have the engagement most people DREAM about (every question box on Instagram gets a million responses). How do you do it?

Yes, I would say that consistency is probably the only thing that’s helped me on that. And also just engaging back with people. Sometimes you answer a question and then it goes nowhere if you reply to something and they never come back to it. That’s where I feel most people are like, “oh, they’re never going to share that, so why would I bother answering or telling you anything for the question you’re asking?”

marketing on Instagram to grow your personal brand

You’re a branding photographer with a personal brand. How do you suggest we bring out those personal elements in our photos?

So bringing a personal side into your brand starts with, “what do you even want to share about your business?” But for me, for example, a lot of it is pictures, but on that same note, it’s the copy and how you’re choosing to pair that message with the photos you choose. It all works together – the copy, how you use your photos, how you pair it with your overall brand messaging is a huge thing as to deciding how to bring personal side into it.

I used to do a lot of where I’d show my face so that people would know I’m approachable, but the messaging that I’m then sharing is also about myself. When I’m sharing a picture of myself, I’m not talking about how your photos could convert your product or convert your services. If I’m sharing a photo of myself, I’m talking about myself and/or sharing about what it’s like to work with me.

So easy ways to incorporate your personal brand into your photos: if you’ve got a dog, those are always double tap and share, what does your day-to-day routine look like? what kind of interests or hobbies are you into? Do you want to share those kinds of things?

Just finding a way to figure out who you are at your core, because I feel like most of us don’t really know who we are outside of our business. It’s a tough one to dive into.

How can we better prepare for our branding sessions? And how do you help people better prepare as a branding photographer?

I love brainstorming. Brainstorming is so fun for me. I would have 3000 businesses if I could take the brainstorming into actually executing it, honestly, because it’s fun for me and it’s also fun to be inside of someone else’s business and see it through a different scope.

But – the questionnaire is a huge one. So if somebody is half-assing their brand questionnaire, brainstorming is very hard for me to come up with ideas for them. Actually taking a minute to go through those questions rather than answering yes/no helps a lot. I need to pull your personality and figure out who you are provide for in order for me to accurately brainstorm.

It’s like we just said, find a way to figure out who you are at your core because more of us don’t know! Once you figure out what you want to share, it gets a lot easier. If you’re not committed to the process in which the photographer is telling you that they’ve had success with, then they probably won’t have success brainstorming ideas for you and making your brand photography session feel like you and feel like the message that you were trying to convey.

What do you think is the BIGGEST mistake people make when they hire a branding photographer?

Thinking that they can just start the branding photoshoot next week. I feel like people all of a sudden are like, “I’m rebranding”, or “I’m starting business”, and “I’m going to do it all”. And they think that they just need to book the session for next week, when really there’s so much prep and so much decision making happening before your session that not planning ahead.

Then, I think where people mess up is that they go with the cheaper option because they are available next week, and then they don’t have images that are on brand for them because there wasn’t a lot of thought process put into what those images should look like other than a few headshots.

K: I feel the same way when people hire me for website copy, sometimes they have spent months finding a website designer and then they’re like, “do you have time this week to write website copy?” And I’m like, “do you have time to tell me literally every single thing about your business, the direction, the messaging, etc?” Can we make this work? I do offer VIP days, so it’s like, yeah, I can write website copy in a day, however, it doesn’t mean I can do it tomorrow. I map everything out. I do keyword research. There’s so much to it BEFORE they day.

So it works, but it works for only specific clientele, and I feel like the people who are shooting this a lot are not brand photographers, they are lifestyle photographers, who just picked up a job doing it because they’re a good photographer. So I think for me, when I see it and I see it done well, it’s because the messaging and the vibe and energy of the person who is behind that service-based business, it makes sense that if I met them out in public, the edgier side of them that they are showing IS them. So it works for them.

But when we try to copy and paste something that we just like aesthetically onto our own brand, the messaging and everything leads to so many red flags. If I show up to a call and you had all this edgy branding and then in real life that’s not you, it feels fraudulent and the person’s going to have mixed messages about you.

So I think it works and it works really well in that it has a very masculine, empowering energy to it, but I just the copying and pasting it onto brands without thinking, “is this even who I am at my core” or do I just like it aesthetically? Because you can like something aesthetically and it not be you. I love the images. I think they’re cool. I think they’re trendy and I aesthetically enjoy looking at them, but I would never put it on my own branding because that’s not how I’m showing up to my clients forward facing. It’s not me.

casual branding photos

Yeah and even in saying that, if you’re somebody who doesn’t want a very personable brand and you’re not having to show up like I would in-person as a service provider and instead you really are just a face behind a screen, I think it can work well for whoever you want to attract and the type of client you want to attract. But if you are someone who’s going to be showing up in person quite a bit and that is not you, it’s going to feel very inauthentic and probably raise some red flags.

I also think brand photographers have a responsibility that when a client comes to you with something trendy and says, “I want this”, they have a responsibility to question, “why do you want that?” We can all like stuff, but it’s not always for us.

Circling back to the beginning – how do you stay so consistent on social media to build a strong personal brand?

I feel like it’s a learned habit now in my life over the idea that it is a conscious thing that I do anymore. I always try to ensure that my story hasn’t “run out” in 24 hours, whether that is reposting a reel because I don’t want to show up that day or reposting something that I saw on my feed that I liked, or actually showing up and talking to the camera. I haven’t posted on my feed in forever so I feel like staying consistent on stories is the only reason I don’t have to revive my account from the dead!

I still have a very engaged audience in my inbox and from stories, because I’ve managed to just keep that part consistent in that I’m still sharing, but I’m not asking you to go like my posts. We will see when I start posting again how that bears for me, because I feel like everyone’s complaining about the algorithm, and I really don’t know anything about it because I haven’t been posting to my feed. I’ve just been posting to stories. But yeah, consistency was a habit that I formed in the beginning, and now it’s like I don’t even think about it anymore.

I feel like most of the Instagram advice right now is, “to grow post in your feed, to sell share in your stories”, if you don’t post in your feed, do you feel like you still get most of your clients from Instagram?

My SEO and my blogging is probably the number one reason that I was able to ghost my entire social media this past year and still have a great year (K: I didn’t expect Sarah to say this! I wrote blog posts for Sarah a couple of years ago but they still rank really well on Google which I’m so happy about!).

Keeping that in mind though, I also have a good website. So SEO is one thing, but if people then go to your site and it’s trash, they’re not going to pick you. So having a good website and having the SEO that I do thanks to you is where most of my clients come from. However, I also think that most of them will find me on Google, confirm I’m real on Instagram, and that they still like me on Instagram. So I do think Instagram is still very important because I think that is a very millennial way to confirm if someone’s real and approved by the world.

using Instagram as a business owner and millennial personal brand

We talked about your personal brand helping you pivot and embrace your multi-passionate self, can you share more about your dog photography business, Derp Dog Studios?

I’ve always wanted to do dog photography. I actually met one of Seth Casteel who does those underwater dog portraits, which are just goofy, silly portraits of dogs diving underwater. I loved what he was doing and was very inspired by it. But we’re in Canada in the snow, and there’s no pools, so I can’t do that. Then with the studio, not many studios allowed dogs.

At the time I had a dog that did not love other dogs, she was perfect, but she didn’t love other dogs, so I couldn’t do it in my home studio either. Then with Jinx passing, it kind of opened up the door for me to kind of test it out and see if dog photography is as fun as it looks. It’s 10 times more fun than it looks.

Now it’s turned into it’s own business where I get to work with shelters to help get their dogs adopted and take photos of older dogs in honor of Jinx so people can keep those memories. The business really has just exploded and I recently published a book which has been incredibly exciting too. I decided to start it in September, made a few phone calls, asked people if I could use the photos of their dogs, and the rest is history.

Links Mentioned:

Follow Sarah Beau on Instagram (and hire her to be your Calgary branding photographer)

Check out Sarah Beau’s website with more information about branding photos and building a personal brand

Follow Derp Dog Studios: Sarah’s passion project (and third thriving business thanks to her personal brand)

Learn more about working with our marketing agency here

Follow me on Instagram

Let’s be friends on Goodreads

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I'm Kara - the voice behind some of the brands you know and love (I know because I love them too!). I'm results-driven and ambitious, just like YOU.

Meet Kara