Ah, the freelance life. Working from a beach for five hours a week, money flowing in, right? Not exactly. Yes, freelancing has a lot of benefits: flexibility, freedom, self-management. But freelancers are roll-up-your-sleeves, do-it-all types, because freelancing means running your own business. And like any other business, it’s not just creative work, but also bookkeeping, client acquisition, and our topic of the day (drum roll please): branding.
Plenty of freelancers do themselves a disservice by failing to build an effective brand. Can you be successful without branding? Of course. But if you want clients knocking on your door, if you want to pick and choose your projects, personal branding can help take your freelance game to the next level. Here’s how.
- It sets you apart
According to Consultancy.uk, the UK freelance workforce is 2 million strong and expected to keep growing. But because this work is often remote, freelancers compete for jobs with people all over the world. The U.S. freelance market, for example, has an additional 56.7 million workers (part and full time), says Upwork.
That’s a lot of competition, so freelancers need a way to stand out from the crowd. Enter personal branding. Establishing a consistent brand through your name/title, website, writing voice, logo, etc. introduces clients to you and your work. The better a client feels like they know you, the more likely they’ll be to hire you. So don’t call yourself a “freelance writer;” say you’re a “content storyteller for B2B companies.” Don’t use a generic avatar; get a nice headshot. Things like this will separate you from the nebulous cloud of non-branded freelancers out there.
- It gives you an authentic personality
Everyone has a personality, including companies, but personalities don’t always translate online. Branding is an intentional way to craft your image on the Internet. Think of it as your first impression, a way to “meet” clients without physically seeing them. What type of personality do you want to convey? You can use language, colours and images to show what you’re all about.
For example, if you incorporate bright colours and candid photos of yourself into every part of your Internet presence, potential clients will see someone who’s fun, energetic and easygoing. Things like this show you’re a real person, not some mysterious entity sitting behind a screen.
And if you want to geek out about colour palettes like I did, check out Coolors.co and Colormind.io. They’re great (and totally free) branding tools.
- It highlights your skills
A carefully-crafted brand can work like a résumé. Are you a web designer? Showcase your style on your own website. A writer? Use your landing page and blog to demonstrate your writing voice. A photographer? Feature your photos on personal social channels. You get the idea. Think of your web presence as an extension of your portfolio.
- It attracts the clients you want
If you want to attract birds, you put out seed, not sand. Likewise, the branding you put online will attract a certain type of client. Looking to work on a particular type of project? Promote skills and past work that relate. Or, if you’re aiming for a specific niche, use language and imagery that display your expertise and appeal to professionals in that area. This way, you’ll be more attractive to the clients you want while filtering out the ones you don’t.
Say you love fashion and want to work with more apparel companies. Maybe you’ve had your eye on a particular company that does print on demand in Europe. Show your expertise by infusing your website with language about relevant trends like direct to garment printing. Share articles and posts on social media about clothing design and T-shirt fulfilment. When that company ends up seeing your content, they’ll know you mean business.
- It improves your searchability
Google’s crawlers determine who gets to be top dog on the search results, boosting visibility and, in the process, business. Using consistent brand language throughout your Internet presence enhances your SEO and will help you appear in the right search results.
Use Google’s Keyword Planner to choose specific but commonly-searched terms. Pick ones that describe your niche and the work you do, then include them in your website copy, headers, bio, and anywhere else you talk about your business. Backlinko has a great guide on how to get the most out of Google’s Keyword services.
That was the “why,” now here’s the “how.”
Assess your brand personality
It starts with a name. As a freelancer, you have two options: use a company name or your own. Unsure which is best? Here’s an article to help you decide. As a one-person operation, it’s often more authentic and easy to simply brand yourself. But personal branding requires some introspection. Begin by asking yourself a few questions:
How would you describe yourself?
What are your core values?
How do you want clients to see you?
Write down your answers. You’ve essentially created a brand identity. Now, how can you convey your list through brand elements like colours, imagery, logos and voice? You already have your personality; it’s just a matter of revealing it to clients.
Quick tip: if you have a fairly common name, or if you plan on expanding in the future, consider using a company name instead. Ask the same questions to generate a personality profile for your company.
Decide what kind of clients and projects you want
Think about the clients and projects you’ve really loved. What made them so enjoyable? Create a profile of your perfect client. Decide what they’re like, what pain points they have, and what they want from a freelancer. Ideally, their wants and needs will align with your skills and personality.
Then, consider how you can mould your brand to attract them. Would a tech startup be drawn to informal writing and bright colours? Would a simple, blue logo or a headshot in business attire look more professional to an accounting firm? Would a clothing company want to see the work you did for online T-shirt stores? These are the types of questions you should ask after you’ve created your ideal client profile.
Build out your web presence
It’s time to put your plan into action. Here are some essentials for your freelance brand:
- Bio: Here’s where you tell your story, show your skills and explain why you’re the best at what you do. Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up. Write one full bio of 200-300 words (think: “about me” page) where you name drop previous clients, hammer home your skills, and show some personality. Then distil that down to around 100 words for a more digestible version. Finally, do it in 1-2 sentences for social media. Revise, revise, revise to infuse that brand personality from earlier. Now you’ve got a dynamic bio you can use just about anywhere.
- Logo: A good logo markets your professionalism and shows a client you’re serious. Your logo is often the first thing a client sees, so it shouldn’t be cheap or poorly-designed. Rather, it should be easily recognizable and show your brand personality. You can use it on your website, invoices, email signature, wherever a client might see it. For quality logos, hire a fellow freelancer or, to save money, use a logo generation site like Hatchful or Logojoy.
- Website: Not a portfolio page, but a full site. This is where photos, colours, logo, bios, etc. will come together to help clients get to know you, learn about your services and admire your work. We recommend purchasing a domain name. Website builders like WordPress and Squarespace offer inexpensive web hosting, but Bluehost is another good option.
- Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. aren’t just good for sharing your thoughts, but they’re also great networking platforms too. Follow other freelancers or potential clients and look for opportunities to engage them. Share articles and content relevant to your niche. It’s another way to show your expertise and fortify your brand voice.
For some practical advice on developing your freelance brand, check out this guide on Hubstaff.
Alright, dear freelancer. You’ve survived the crash course on branding. Now go forth into the wild west of freelance work and practice what you’ve learned. Or, if you’ve already started, keep doing what you’re doing. See you out there.