When someone visits your website, sees your business card, or follows you on social media, they are perceiving a lot about you and your business beyond your name and what you literally say.
This ephemeral, “intangible sum of a product’s attributes” is your brand. And whether you cultivate it or not, you have one -- and it’s one of the most important factors in your success.
It’s time to be intentional about your branding. So take a step back, deeply consider who you are and what you do, and follow this guide to begin the process of cultivating an effective personal brand for yourself:
Set the Groundwork
1. First, think about what makes you you
We all have our own style, as well as specific qualities that make us memorable. What about you is unquestionably your own?
It might be your attitude, your approach to your work...maybe you even have a personal catchphrase that people tend to remember you by. It might be helpful to ask a friend or loved one this question – they can often see us better than we see ourselves. Take note of key unique qualities, and then bring it deeper and ask, what sets you apart from everyone else in your industry? What skills and vision do you have that others don’t? Try to pick the most important attribute and write it in a sentence.
In the end, whatever that “thing” is, embrace it. That’s the thing that’s going to get you hired. You must believe in the things you already are – and don’t compare yourself to other people whose attributes give them a “better brand.”
2. Next, consider what about you or your work process muddles that core brand
It’s important to think about the way that you want to be perceived in order to establish whether the way you’re currently being perceived is working towards your business goals. There are going to be a lot of things unique to you that maybe shouldn’t be incorporated as an element of your personal brand.
Think about your work process, from the time the client meets you at a networking event or emails you, to the end of the project. Think about all of the times you make contact with prospective and current clients -- the touch-points. Write them down! Every time you interact, you are building your client’s conception of your brand. Can you provide a clear argument for why that touch-point agrees with the brand statement you developed in #1? Which touch-points work, and which don’t? Get honest.
The Many Faces of Your Brand
As stated above, every interaction you have with clients conveys your brand. But there are some key areas that you should focus on, listed below.
All of these things, from posting regularly to your social media platforms and blog, to taking time out to attend networking events, will help you personally come to a deeper understanding of yourself and your brand. Just as you’ll change over time, your brand will too, and that will all be a part of the story told by your brand.
3. Talk the talk
One of the inevitabilities of the freelance life is networking -- lots and lots of networking. This comes more naturally to some, but for those who find networking awkward, going through the process of defining your professional brand should ease the process. As long as you’re able to clearly articulate that one sentence brand message -- who you are and the services that you’re selling and why, you’ll be fine.
Come up with a simple pitch that summarizes your brand in 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This “elevator pitch” should feel concise, professional and genuine. When the conversation ends and you hand them your business card, it should feel more like you just made a new friend than that you just made a sale (To learn more about how to write a pitch, read here).
Speaking of a business card, you’re going to need one of those if you want to be a successful networker (which you do, of course). Be sure not to overlook the importance of a good business card design. Sure, it’s a simple piece of paper meant to provide potential clients and allies with your name, title, and contact information...but there’s far more to it than that. Your business card, just like your personal brand, should reflect that special quality that is unquestionably yours.
4. Social Media
If you’re not on social media, we recommend it. If you are, chances are you can spend a few minutes cleaning up your online presence.
Keep in mind, we’re talking about “social” media, not “private” media. The content that you share is going to work for or against you, so make sure that it does the former. If you’re a graphic designer, but you only post photos of food to Instagram and rants about your favorite sports team on Facebook, you aren’t doing your personal brand any favors. Remember: this is a touch-point, an important one that gets in front of your former clients’ faces when they may be looking for someone like you again, so is that post conveying what you want it to convey? Also, some clients may try to find you on social media before considering you for a gig.
Your personal brand and online presence should be appropriate, uncomplain-y, consistent but not repetitive/boring, and relevant to the story that you’re presenting to the world. Get all the specifics about that here.
5. Your blog
We believe that most freelancers would benefit from a personal blog. Even if you only write in it once a week, a blog can serve as the centerpiece for your online presence. It’s a place for you to post updates, articulate a mission statement, present your proudest work, and (most importantly) allow people a simple place to find you online.
If you’ve been freelancing for long enough, chances are you’re aware of the niche leaders in your industry. Use your blog as an opportunity to network by asking influential freelancers in your field to write guest blog posts for you. Assuming your blog posts are high quality (and why wouldn’t they be?), you might even get asked to guest on someone else’s blog. If you’re presented with an opportunity like this be sure to provide a detailed bio, as well as a link to your blog and social media sites.
6. What about side projects and other businesses?
Many freelancers maintain separate websites, social media presences, etc. for different businesses. While this is more time consuming, it does help present your clients with a consistent, “I am an expert in this specific thing” message.
But side projects and passions can also help our brand – especially if they enact one of the key components in your brand statement, like “I’m creative” or “I push my own boundaries.” It doesn’t have to be something you intend to sell (though you could), and it doesn’t need to be included in your portfolio (you could do that too). This is all very vague, and you need to figure it out for yourself, but just know that a quiet little tab on your website, or an occasional social media post about your passion can add depth to your brand.
Plus, devoting a bit of your time each week to a passion project will lead you to a deeper understanding of who you are, and give you more insight into your personal brand in the long-term.
Freelancers, what is the most important tip you have for crafting your personal brand?