Bekka Palmer

On building a personal brand

Bekka Palmer

In 1637, Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”


Well, it’s 2015.


What you put online is who you are.


This is me! I am a freelance photographer. 


And a wannabe surfer (this is me falling off a surfboard). I’m a rock climber and I LOVE ice cream. Adam asked me here today because I have built a following of over 9m on Pinterest, and I live in Brooklyn. I’m here to talk about building community for a personal brand and why I think Brooklyn has been an integral part of that for me.


(Here we go!)


It seems pretty obvious, but don’t be afraid to be yourself.


Meet Jessi Arrington. She is the most unabashedly herself person I know. Her favorite color is rainbow, and she’s not afraid to show it through her personal style and in the design work she does.


I’ll show you a few more photos of Jessi, because she lives in a way that is authentic to her. Living her most authentic self has brought her success in her design career.


Jessi designs experiences. Her clients include Etsy, Ted, Comedy Hack day and a cool conference called Brooklyn Beta.


She throws the best parties of anyone I know. This particular photo was for Tina’s birthday. Tina’s birthday wish was to have a swiss appenzeller attend her party, and Jessi made it happen.


Here’s why you need to be yourself. Fear is for jerks, and if you are afraid to be yourself, people will see right through you. 

I can talk to you a lot about fear. Every great thing you do will be in the face of fear. So feel it, and keep moving.

For example, there is only one thing that scares me more than public speaking…


… that would be sharks. I have a debilitating fear of sharks. I’ve read all of the stats, and I know shark attacks are pretty rare, but this is a fear that haunts me in my sleep. But, do you know what one of my favorite activities is? Surfing. So every morning that I surf, I have to suck it up, and go anyway, despite this tiny voice in my head that tells me I’m going to lose a limb. Because if I didn’t go I would regret that 100x more than maybe, possibly losing a limb.

When I was asked to speak here today the first thing I thought was, “No way, that’s absolutely terrifying.”

And then I remembered: fear is for jerks.

So I said, yes, because I’m not a jerk.


You can use things like Google Analytics, or other tracking software to tell you a lot about your website / tweets / instagram.

You can learn about what kind of content gets the most hits, what is your most popular instagram, etc. etc.



Here’s some charts and graphs and stuff that will tell you what’s popular.

But, just because something is popular doesn’t make it good.

Like The Bachelor. It’s a super popular TV show, but is it good? Nope.

Sometimes you just have to do what your heart tells you to do, even if it means you don’t get any likes or clicks.

And doing that, that thing that your heart says is good, this is what will make you stand out.


There is this website, and I’m not even going to tell you what it is, because I consider it the bowels of the internet.

People go on it and say really mean things about internet personalities. Like really really really mean things, about people they don’t even know.

I have a client who is incredibly kind and generous, and she’s always on time, and she pays her bills on time and is just all around lovely.

I couldn’t think of something bad to say about her if I tried. And on this awful website, there are 769 pages of people saying mean things about her.

It’s easy to be judgmental and hide online and say means things about other people.

It’s also easy to have knee-jerk reactions when someone says mean things about you online.

What’s difficult, is letting that go, and treating everyone with kindness, even if they don’t do the same to you.

Kill them with kindness.

Here’s a game you get to play every time you see a rude comment on the internet: you get to make up a story about why that person is so mean,

Here’s a story I made up:

Let’s say “Sarah” wrote a rude tweet about your latest blog post.

Here’s the thing, Sarah, probably doesn’t have a problem with you at all. She has to have some level of respect for you, otherwise why would she read your blog?

Sarah, is having a really bad day. She hates her job, but not only does she hate it, this morning, she got fired today from a job she hates, and her boyfriend broke up with her.

So what does Sarah need? She needs a tiny bit of kindness


Ooze your brand.


This is Jen Gotch.

She lives, breathes, and bleeds her brand.

She is a little bit of a crazy person, but I’m pretty sure if she had a paper-cut or something, she would bleed either confetti or champagne.

She has this great Instagram following on her personal account, and it translates so perfectly to her business which is…


I have a friend who was out to dinner once, and he said, I heard this incredibly loud woman across the room. And I looked over, and she just looked like She looked like the living, breathing, image of that company. And it turns out, it was Jen.

So, if you want to have your name associated with your business. You need to ooze your brand.


Embrace the weird parts of yourself.


Meet Adam JK.

He’s got some weird stuff going on in his brain.

And he writes it all down and puts it out there for everyone to see.

His tumblr and instagram are just quips from his brain. And it’s weird. And it’s cool.


Don’t know what makes you weird?

Call your mom. She’ll tell you. Ask your husband. Better yet, ask your ex.

There is someone in your life will be willing to tell you what makes you weird.

And then own it, and put it out there.

Accept the weirdness in others

The other thing with being weird, is that you have to be willing to accept and embrace it in others.

And this is where I think Brooklyn plays an important role in my life.


Brooklyn is the most accepting place I have ever lived.

I see many of you are wearing heels, I physically can’t wear heels. I used to, and then I moved to Brooklyn, and started wearing sneakers. And guess what? People thought it was cool.

I showed up to photograph a black tie wedding in these Nikes, which I will admit, I think are pretty cool. But traditionally a wedding photographer dresses just as nice as the guests.

And I wore them, and I was worried that someone would come up to me and tell me that they didn’t think I was dressed nice enough.

AND GUESS WHAT? I showed up at the bride’s house where she was getting ready and she looked at my shoes and said, “You know what? I might just wear my Nikes, too.”


In Brooklyn, there is something for everyone.

There is a shuffleboard club, like retirement-style shuffleboard. On Saturday nights there is a line around the block of 20 and 30 somethings (like hipster-types) waiting to play a game of shuffleboard.

You might think of Brooklyn as a pretty urban place, where people drink coffee and whiskey and talk about their beards.

But it is so much more. One of the best communities I have found there is a group of rock climbers. There’s a rock climbing gym, and when you are there and working hard, it feels like every other person there is on your team. Strangers will encourage you and help you, and then suddenly there are no more strangers there.


Here’s the problem with building a personal brand. It’s that sometimes you will feel like a narcissist, and it doesn’t feel good.

So what can you do about that?


What you can do about it is care for something (anything) more than you care about yourself. Maybe what you care about is being on time every single day to pick up your kids from school? Maybe what you care about is being the best boss you can be or maybe you have the time to go to Africa to volunteer with Ebola patients for 3 months a year?


Whatever you care about doesn’t have to be a big thing.

I care a lot about my plants and about women being fairly represented in the photography community

One of my favorite hobbies is to go on Surfer Magazine’s instagram account and leave comments asking why they never use female photographers.

You don’t have to make this public, but something deep in your soul will die if your biggest goal in life is making your personal brand bigger. Or have a million followers on Instagram. 


Define what success means to you before you start this journey.

Success to me is never having a boss again, wearing my pajamas all day at least 1 day a week, taking time out to travel.

If success to you is 1m Instagram followers, it will never be enough.


Jessi Arrington / workshoplovesyou
Jen Gotch
Adam JK