Clients nowadays have the largest smorgasborg of options to choose from when seeking out freelance creatives for their next project. In order to become a standout force in the freelance world and get noticed by potential clients, you (the freelancer) must establish a personal brand that vividly communicates your creative expertise.
Figuring out the best way to showcase your expertise is a creative process all its own and JD Gershbei, CEO of Owlish Communications, agrees that “an extraordinary personal brand is not achieved in cookbook fashion…there is no system of absolutes, no cookie-cutter methodology.”
While there is no one true path to success when it comes to personal branding, there are some tried and true approaches that can help you get started.
1. Brand with building personal relationships in mind.
When you’re initially planning how to present your services to potential clients, finding the proper equilibrium between professionalism and incorporating a more personal touch to your brand can be tough. Online marketing thought leader Neil Patel puts it aptly:
“Branding on a business-level is common, but today branding is becoming just as important on a personal level. After all, you might work for a business that works with other businesses, but it’s people working with people and that’s what makes business relationships valuable.”
As a freelancer, you already have a personality built-in so this puts you at a distinct advantage over companies who must first formulate a sense of identity through research and surveys. All YOU need to do is try and infuse your personality into your brand. If your audience recognizes and can relate to your personality then they will in turn identify and understand your brand. And people generally are more open to and have more confidence in brands they understand.
A unique personal brand that speaks directly to your desired clientele can be viewed as far more trustworthy compared to the scheming branding tactics one usually expects from major corporations. As Jayson Demers, founder and CEO of AudienceBloom points out on Inc.com, “audiences are used to seeing advertising everywhere and tend to believe corporations and organizations take actions and speak with only sales in mind.” Offering up your personality to your personal brand will make people more at ease, giving you a distinct advantage over larger businesses when it comes to fostering client comfort. “Personal branding allows you to establish a reputation and an identity while still maintaining a personal level of trust and interaction, usually through social media.”
2. Emphasize your unique strengths.
Branding is how your audience identifies your expertise among others. Personal branding shows how your unique capabilities and positive traits make you the best freelancer to deliver a client’s needs. Your mantra should be “understand and be your authentic self,” as suggested by co-founder of FE International Thomas Smale.
What makes you authentic? Try asking yourself these questions: How does your lived experience make you stand out among the crowd? How can you connect your passions and your profession? If you want to actively add a social activist component to your freelance brand—and by all means why not advocate for your favorite cause while you work?—think about how you can incorporate that into your branding in a way that’ll help you stand out. If your potential clients are passionate about the same things as you, this offers up a common ground which is the fastest way to create a connection.
3. Create a Unique Visual Identity.
Now that you’ve established your personal branding approach, we get to the exciting part of designing visuals that reinforce your brand. That means designing your logo, your website, your business card, and other visual media that communicate your unique strengths and personality–something that would remind others of you.
Human beings have always been drawn to attractive design, but in the 21st century the world is saturated with visual distractions that, though an eye-pleasing ensemble may be crucial, it is no longer enough to leave a lasting impression. Creatively infusing your personality into your design will set it apart from the rest. Be fearless, take risks. As Jacob Cass says, “weird works.”
Designing a visual identity seems daunting if your talents don’t lie in web design or Photoshop, but it’s a great opportunity to flex your resourcefulness on a budget. If you’re a great writer for example, consider reaching out to professionals in your network and see if they would be interested in doing a work trade—an amount of website copy or a feature article in exchange for a logo or card design. Each facet of creative freelancing has something to offer to another branch of the freelancer family tree.
After checking off your digital design, it’s time to think about the printed promotional media that would carry your personal brand’s design. Bear in mind, there’s no one-size-fits-all set of marketing collateral for freelancers. Though you can take tips from what works for others, their promotional media of choice might not necessarily work for you. Think about your target clientele and which print media would stick with them the most. And then of course, there’s the issue of cost. Business cards are a must, no doubt about that. But when it comes to the question of should you print promotional postcards and brochures, mugs, pens or stickers, then those are extras that require more consideration.
4. Publish content that reinforce your credibility.
Trust is crucial in every relationship, especially one that involves you and potential clients. What better way to earn that trust than to elaborate on your personal passion and expertise with content. Consumers trust personal messages more since, according to UpCity.com, “people are assumed to be less agenda driven by ulterior motives, and are more approachable and familiar than a faceless corporate logo”. Establishing a branded presence on freelancer-for-hire websites is a start, but the real key to securing the confidence of your client-base comes from creating compelling content on influencer websites. This means establishing yourself as an expert in something you love (and having something important to say about it!) on websites your target clientele recognizes.
If writing isn’t your strong suit, consider having a writer in your network put together something to accent your visuals and pitch it out. This is a win-win for everyone involved, as they get a clip for their portfolio and you get the attention of potential clients.
If you’ve done something particularly noteworthy, reach out to local media with a quick homemade press release and see if they are interested in covering your story. For creative freelancers interested in making a difference in the world, getting some local press from a newspaper, TV station, or alt weekly publication can boost your profile especially well while drawing attention to your pet cause.
5. Give away branded freebies that convey your personality.
One old school branding method that often gets overlooked by a lot of creative solopreneurs in our age is offering freebies. It shouldn’t though! People love free things and they are often more likely to pay money for something when they’ve got something they like for free already.
While this requires a bit of overhead to start, creating some cool branded knick-knack helps get the word out to places you may not have planned on reaching. Whether you’re printing branded notepads, drink koozies, tote bags, propeller hats, dog sweaters, or clever keychains, make sure they all possess a coherent visual identity–YOUR personal identity. Give them out to friends, clients, customers . . . anyone who will help spread the word.
6. Have a personal voice in social media.
Thought leadership is the fastest way to establish your personal brand in social media. Make sure that your messages and shared content all consistently align with your personal brand’s values, identity, and freelancing expertise.
7. Be positive and confident in yourself.
Above all, it’s most important to believe in yourself; believe in your brand. Your confidence in your abilities is always ultimately conveyed in how you deliver your work, what you say, and how you interact with your clients. The ability to stay confident and positive and move with purpose during stressful or sticky situations, from “paralysis to activation” as workplace wellbeing teacher Michelle McQuaid so brilliantly describes it, can make all the difference. “By cultivating a sense of rational optimism about your work, responding positively in stressful situations and providing support to others you can build a personal brand that we’re finding accounts for 75 percent of job success.” Instilling a genuine positivity and confidence in yourself in your daily life sets a solid foundation for a well-established personal brand.