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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tulej

Visibility: why it matters and how to make it work for you

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

We all know we should be more visible when it comes to our work. And yet, most of us struggle with it to some degree. After all, who on earth are we to plaster our faces over the internet?

It's easy to forget some of the deeper reasons for bothering about our visibility. Being visible gives you power. To advocate for others, to share important ideas, to advance your cause. Not to mention growing your business and your career and making a good living.

This post is all about why visibility is important, why so many of us find it hard, and some practical tips to boost your own visibility using photos of yourself (professional or good ole selfies).

Rotterdam photographer Sarah Tulej talking about why visibility matters
Talking about visibility, visibly! Photo: Eduardo Carvaco

Being visible can take many forms

This article is based on a talk I gave at Rotterdam Creative Mornings (that's me in action above) and draws from my free guide - 13 gamechanging ways to use brand photography to grow your business.

If you'd prefer to watch the 15 minute video version, click here to see me in action at the incredible Laurenskerk in Rotterdam.

And, to get 'meta' for a moment - me giving that talk at Creative Mornings was very much aimed at increasing my visibility within Rotterdam's creative community. I have since given the same talk to other local places where my ideal clients hang out, like co-working spaces and small business networks.

While I love to connect with people IRL this post is all about online visibility that you can make happen from the comfort of your sofa.

Want to skip straight to the tips? Click here.

Visibility in service of what?

I don't really like using the word 'visibility.' Why?

Because we live in a world saturated with image-obsessed media.

My Instagram regularly serves me before and after shots of the Kardashians' faces (and, obviously, I am riveted by it). But that's NOT the kind of visibility we need.

Quite the opposite.

The question I always ask is ' visibility in the service of what'?

When it comes to the people I work with - social changemakers, designers, sustainability consultants, coaches - they all have a message to share and people that they need to connect with to be able to do their work.

For people, like you and me, that work for themselves and want to make a positive impact, being visible opens the door to:

- making (more) money

- growing an audience

- advancing your cause

- advocating for others

- and on and on...

As Brene Brown herself puts it:

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be really seen.”

White woman with brown hair in black dress facilitating a meeting at a whiteboard with brighly coloured post-it notes
Facilitator and learning consultant, Ellie Westgarth Flynn

Why can visibility feel icky?

"Talking about yourself and your work will increase your network, help you clarify your thoughts and your ideas, and help you progress." But, "a reluctance to talk about ourselves and our work is common among women in every sector and at every level" according to confidence-building organisation, Upfront.

Women and marginalised people in particular often struggle to confidently be visible - whether that be pressing publish on a blog post or putting our face alongside our work. Now, there are a tonne of reasons why this is, which I'll save for another post. But many of them are linked to patriarchal ideas about what being visible and confident "should" look like. And an internalised belief about who has the "right" to be visible.

This can lead us to hold back from taking up more space.

Have you ever found yourself thinking the following?

"I think that hard work should speak for itself."

"Getting noticed just feels like showing off - and that's not for me."

"The whole idea of 'marketing myself' feels naff and self-centered."

This is understandable, partly because of the way we've been conditioned, and partly because learning to talk about ourselves and our work (aka marketing) is something we don't get taught. Especially in today's fast-evolving media landscape where the goal posts keep moving.

However, it means that brilliant people, with important ideas to share and services to offer are not getting the attention they need to have the impact they want.

Black woman with short grey hair in a fuschia pink top in front of a weeping willow tree
Mediator Yolanda Jansen

Visibility as a feminist power move

Showing who you are, alongside your work is a powerful way to establish a relationship with your audience. You become recognisable and memorable; people begin to feel that they know you a bit - which is the first step in people becoming a potential client.

But, even more importantly, we need people from all backgrounds to be visible for sake of their ideas and their work. And not - as is so prevalent in mainstream media - being visible for our 'lifestyle.'

As feminist marketing consultant, Kelly Diels writes, "nope, you do not have to turn yourself into an uberfeminine brand character, or leverage privilege, or publish platitudes in order to be effective [on social media]."

"Being visible as you are (rather than how our culture demands you be) is a feminist power move."

What she's getting at, and what I truly believe - is that being visible as our real selves, reshapes our culture. There is a vast swathe of people (some of whom I get to work with) who are remaking our world into a more just and life-giving place.

I believe that if they and their work are visible, this will help to bring such a world into being that much faster. Because, as civil and children's rights activist Marian Wright Edelman said , "you can't be what you can't see."

We can and we must use our visibility for good. This is not a vanity project.

To quote Kelly Diels again, "we are all culture makers and that we can use our culture making power deliberately, to create new realities for ourselves and our world."

Reframing the purpose of visibility

Ok, that got a bit lofty. But I truly believe it. Coming back to earth for a sec, here are a few helpful ways to reframe the idea of being visible:

  1. Talking about yourself and your work regularly will increase your network, help you clarify your ideas and attract potential clients

  2. There may be plenty of other people that do what you do but the world is big enough for all of us. And there are plenty of things that aren't being talked about that need to be brought to light.

  3. Being visible ISN'T just showing off! Your experiences will benefit others - we need more role models from diverse backgrounds creating work that has real social value.

  4. Sharing the every day journey you are on, not just the shiny achievements is both interesting to others and hopefully takes the pressure off showing up regularly.

So, how do you actually do it? This is where great photography (including on your phone) really comes into its own.

Practical tips on how to get visible

I'm going to share five ways you can use photos of yourself to boost your visibility. But, if that's simply not enough you can head straight to my free guide which has a whopping 12 tips for you.

Otherwise, grab a pen and jot down these simple but effective visibility tricks you can use, some of them time and time again...

1. Introduce yourself on the regular

Why does it work?

It’s a great idea to regularly introduce yourself on social media - who you are, what it is you offer and some personal titbits.

You’d be surprised how many times people need to be reminded of this before it starts to sink in, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re overdoing it (you’re not).

How can you implement it?

This is a great thing to do when you first get your brand photos. Stick a photo on your socials with a quick intro and some fun facts about you.

You’ll get a tonne of love from friends and family - useful reassurance if you happen to be feeling nervous about sharing your images for the first time.

2. Mix it up

Why does it work?

It is totally ok, great even, to sprinkle in phone photos, selfies and even memes amongst your professional brand photos. No one cares if you have the perfect ‘grid.’

It’s more important to show up regularly in people’s worlds, so you’re top of mind next time they need to buy a gift / find a coach / hire a web designer.

How can you implement it?

This is a great thing to do when you first get your brand photos. Stick a photo on your socials with a quick intro and some fun facts about you.

Easy! Sprinkle those brand photos through your socials (and yes, even on LinkedIn), and definitely don’t get hung up about it all looking perfect.

3. Break out of the 'about' page

Why does it work?

A lot of websites have just one photo of the person in question, if at all.

But this is the 2020s, baby, and we are all about the photos! (And the videos, gifs, reels…the list goes on).

Particularly if you work in a competitive field - be it design, consulting or catering - having a faceless website is a missed opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

How can you implement it?

Be brave and put your photos in different places on your website and socials. So that when people are in your online world, they get to know, like and trust you much quicker.

You can put multiple photos on your home page, contact page, about page, blog, FAQs - go wild!

4. Show us your work space

Why does it work?

We’re all a bit nosey and LOVE to see behind the scenes of your business. So show us where you work!

Showing yourself in your every day environment is a really effective way to help people to build a picture of who you are.

How can you implement it?

It doesn’t need to be super stylish or fancy - it could simply be your kitchen table.

People want to feel connection when they’re noodling around on the internet, so show us what your desk looks like, what you're reading, how many used coffee mugs you have produced that day...

5. Nail your media toolkit

Why does it work?

Having a media toolkit is essential to be able to talk to credibly talk to media, event organisers, brand partners, sponsorship or collaborators.

Your brand images are one of the most important elements of this toolkit, along with a strong biography.

How can you implement it?

When it comes to promoting what you do, you can gather your brand images for:

  • Being a guest panellist at a conference

  • Award entries

  • Guest posts

  • Podcast promotion

  • Pitches & proposals

Save your photos and biog in a folder so they’re easy to access and keep them up to date!

Fancy another 7 tips? Head here to download my full guide.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it

Who doesn't love a challenge? I'm a big believer in putting learning into action ASAP, and so I have a small challenge for you...

Since you've got this far - I invite you to follow tip 1 and introduce yourself online, with a photo and a few interesting (or amusing) titbits about yourself. If you do I would LOVE it if you could tag me (@tulejphoto on Instagram, Sarah Tulej on LinkedIn). I promise at least one person will like it! (me)

So, I hope that's given you some inspiration on why and how to get more visible. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

Let's stay together

As ever, if you're curious about getting your own brand photos done, drop me a message here. I offer something for everyone, from low cost headshot taster sessions to full personal branding shoots.

And if you're not quite ready, but would like to stay in touch, let's be email pals! I write every week or so about small business life, confidence and visibility, with a dash of intersectional feminism and humour for good measure.

Click here to subscribe and get my free visibility guide to boot.

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