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You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Be careful what you post on social media.

Don’t want anyone finding snarky photos from way back when, right?

Actually, social media is the most powerful tool freelancers can use to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

As serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Social media is the state of the Internet.” In other words, it’s how people consume content today.

But, unlike other popular platforms through which people consume content, like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, virtually anyone can leverage social media (and the Internet at large) to reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time -- a concept formally known as personal branding.

A personal brand is like a 3-D resumé or portfolio: Whereas a traditional resumé or portfolio tells gatekeepers what you’ve done and can do, a personal brand brings these things to life. It provides depth to your personality, skills and capabilities, all of which are relatively challenging to convey in a resumé or portfolio.

Here are four ways to build a personal brand that will separate you from the pack and help you land opportunities you desire:

Refine your why statement.

Most people define themselves by their “how” (skills and capabilities) and “what” (past experience), but your “why” -- why you do what you do and how you do it -- is the most effective way to express yourself.

According to bestselling author Simon Sinek, a why statement is the “purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.” To keep it simple, fill in the blanks: I want __________ (your contribution), so that __________ (your impact).

Define your audience.

In other words, who in the heck will help you land opportunities you desire?

First, identify these gatekeepers, and then figure out what inspires them to make decisions that will affect you. Why do they seek certain candidates for certain positions? How do they define success? What are their career-related interests, passions and attitudes?

Hint: This will take some extensive research, conversations and observational analysis.

Leverage relevant platforms.

After you’ve learned enough about the psychographics of your gatekeepers, it’s time to identify the platforms on which they consume content. Email and LinkedIn are typically safe bets, and potentially Twitter and Facebook as well. If the gatekeepers are young startup founders, however, Instagram and Snapchat may better suffice. Either way, let research be your guide.

As you’re identifying the relevant platforms, it’s imperative to take into account the unique user experience that defines each one. In other words, why do people use these platforms, how do they use them, and what do they expect from them?

These answers, combined with your "why" statement, will dictate the formats of content you create and share, as well as the topics and perspectives through which you’ll present it.

Be original, and get personal.

Sharing unoriginal content -- content from other people and sources -- is a common mistake among people who want to develop a personal brand. Aggregating content here and there won’t kill you, but the strongest personal brands are built on the backs of original content: unique perspectives about relevant topics, conveyed through the right formats of content on the right platforms.

Another common mistake is an overly professional approach. Certainly, professionalism is a must, but it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself when you only present your professional attributes and experiences. (At the end of the day, there are many people who have professional attributes and experiences similar to yours.)

To truly differentiate yourself, find a healthy balance between creating and sharing original content that portrays interesting aspects of your personal and professional lives, resulting in an authentic and multifaceted personal brand.

Josh Hoffman runs Epic Freelancing to help freelancers maximize their financial success, creative freedom and lifestyle design, and build a freelance life they love.


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