As we charge forward in an ever-changing and increasingly interconnected online corporate environment, people are turning to self-branding as a means of elevating their business prospects.

According to the 2017 Sensis Social Media Report, almost 79 per cent of people now use social media. For businesses with a social presence, LinkedIn was found to be the second most popular platform (behind Facebook), used by 82 per cent of large businesses.

So how does a professional master the art of developing and leveraging their personal brand? When it comes to achieving a leading edge in the digital world, African-born, Perth-based headshot and portrait specialist and the face behind Lightbent Images & Photography Bruno Kongawoin believes appearance is everything.

“You put your unique value proposition and your online brand to the world first and foremost through your headshot,” he said.

“Developing a visual brand helps people recognise you as a professional who is knowledgeable, confident and approachable. It also shows your commitment to doing business in an organised way.”

Speaking to Leader, Mr Kongawoin said finding a photographer who could deliver you a winning headshot was key.

“Everyone with an online presence will benefit from having a well-crafted brand that is informative, identifiable, recognisable and relatable,” he said.

“It is a vital part of our identity and it is how we represent ourselves online. We need to show we care about our appearance. If people don’t make the effort to project a positive first impression, they may be seen as unprofessional.”

Mr Kongawoin’s deep fascination with the human face grew while living in Jakarta. Walking through the streets and in the kampongs of the city, he gave himself 15-minute challenges to photograph anything and render it meaningful to the viewer.

A former Olympic basketballer for the Central African Republic, Mr Kongawoin knows what it takes to be the best.

“Your online brand is an active force that can either propel you forward or hold you back,” he said.

“You are already putting money into your image content, so invest in being in front of the camera and not someone unrelated to your business.”

According to research by LinkedIn, having a profile picture made a profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others.

With today's interactions and communications largely based online, more professionals are building relationships and doing business without actually meeting each other in person.

Mr Kongawoin said a perceived level of expertise was just as important as actually being an expert.

“When clients research you – and they will do so via online forums – you need to be perceived as the authority,” he said.

“The biggest no-nos I have seen are the extraction of oneself out of family vacation, wedding, party or selfie photos taken by a friend or colleague. Some professionals have attempted to have a professional headshot done against red brick walls or similar, or with cluttered and busy environments in the background.

“Avoid using stock imagery even though it can be very well crafted. These images can be used by anyone who subscribes to the stock site, so don’t be one of the many individuals using the same photos to represent your brand.”

If appearance is so important, can wearing a tailored suit, fine watch or stylish shoes equate to a sense of authority?

“While these are items of clothing, your personal brand is something you put out, such as the way you present yourself, the way you speak and the way you conduct business – none of these traits should be neglected,” Mr Kongawoin said.

“I have encountered many professionals who dread being in front of the camera because they believe they are not photogenic or don’t possess a visual appeal.

“I’d like to reassure anyone who didn't like any of their previous photos that it was not their fault. Being photogenic is a learnt behaviour, not a birth right.”

Sandra Argese is a Journalist at The West Australian Newspapers and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.