• Advice

Define your freelance brand in one simple exercise

When we begin freelancing (or when we’re looking to more clearly categorize our work, or retool our careers), the thought of “defining your freelance brand” can be daunting.

How can you stand out from the crowd - and find the clients who really want to find you? How can you outline your strengths in a few pithy phrases?

The good news is that you can start to QUICKLY define your freelance brand with just a couple of simple exercises… and they’re practically painless.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Ready? This step won’t take more than ten minutes, I promise.

Take out a sheet of paper and write down five things you’ve accomplished professionally that you’re proud of. These can be big things (“Started own business”, “Built IT systems for huge client”, “Got degree from competitive school”) or relatively small things. Don’t think too hard about it or edit too much; just scribble ‘em down.

Next, write down 5 things you feel you’re good at in life – areas wherein you honestly believe you stand out from the pack. These needn’t be professional attributes!

Maybe you are indeed the best designer around. But if that’s not what comes up in your mind, maybe you can concede that you make the world’s best egg sandwiches. Maybe you’re an awesome mom. Maybe you’re an indefatigable runner. Again, don’t think too hard about it! Just come up with 5, and write them down.

Finally, write down 5 POSITIVE adjectives that describe you. Are you kind, collaborative, energetic? Creative, independent, level-headed?

Don’t fixate on making these adjectives “professional”: don’t write down Team Player unless you genuinely feel that’s one of your best personal attributes. Just focus, for now, on coming up with 5 adjectives.

Step 2: Ask

Now, look over your lists. Do you see any commonalities? Are you noticing that certain positive qualities come up over and over again: conscientiousness? Energy? Independent thinking?

I asked you not to focus on purely professional attributes because many people can describe themselves better in life than in business; we tend to freeze up when asked to think in “resume” language. Allowing yourself to write with more freedom can help you find valuable clues to fundamental truths about you, as an entrepreneur – which says something about your probable strengths.

If you feel like you can’t pinpoint any commonalities, don’t despair. Many of us struggle to describe ourselves. There’s another way to find these common threads!

If you’ve been freelancing for a while (and if you feel comfortable asking), pick 3-5 clients with whom you have a good relationship, and send them a brief email. Explain that you are working on defining your brand for marketing purposes, and ask if they could describe your work in three adjectives. This is a very small ask – almost anyone can come up with 3 words – and clients are extremely unlikely to object.

If 3-5 clients give 3 words each, you’ll have between 9-15 words. Compare THOSE words to the lists you’ve compiled. Do certain attributes and qualities keep popping up again and again?

If you really don’t feel comfortable asking clients (or if you haven’t yet built up a freelance portfolio), ask 5 friends to describe you in 3 words each. Again, look for commonalities! If 4 out of 5 friends all describe you as “energetic”, odds are you are… energetic. Compare their words with your lists.

Step 3: Simplify

Without much effort, you now have a BUNCH of language that can help you define what, exactly, makes you stand out. The best freelance branding draws upon our fundamental truths: it’s not very fruitful to depict yourself as a stodgy traditionalist if you’re a free-thinking experimenter, or vice-versa. Look at the commonalities in both your own descriptions of yourself, and others’ descriptions. Then, ask yourself how that applies to your freelance work (and life).

Are you an energetic, innovative freelance designer? A conscientious, collaborative communications expert? A leader in tough spots?

With enough information, a portrait will slowly emerge… and that’s what you’ll want to communicate to potential clients. By focusing on the truth of your personal and professional attributes – rather than fixating on what you think potential clients “want” to hear – you can create branding that reflects what’s uniquely wonderful about YOU….

And without putting in much effort at all!

Kate Shea Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.