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Why would you spend $5 on a coffee at Starbucks when you could make yourself a cup for under a dollar at home? Why would your brother buy Nikes over Sketchers? Why would your friend choose Coke instead of Pepsi? Why would your client choose to work with you over the thousands of other freelancers around the world? It’s not just the end product. While other players in a market can easily copy a product, a brand is always one-of-a-kind.

Branding your business is one of the most essential - and overlooked - ways to stand apart from your competition and draw the right people to you. Ready to learn how to build a brand online and start landing your perfect clients? Let’s start at the beginning.

What is branding?

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as the name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.

But that’s dense. A brand is more than a recognizable name and logo that distinguishes you in an oversaturated market. Ultimately, it’s the idea people have in mind when they’re thinking about you. It’s what evokes emotion from your audience.

So it’s no wonder why, according to a Nielson survey, 59% of consumers prefer to buy new products from brands familiar to them. Just like you, your business should have a name, a style, a way of communicating, and a lasting impression on others that make up its identity and determines how it’s perceived.

Why is branding important for my business?

Branding is the essence of your reputation online. And you need it now more than ever. Thanks to the rise of websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Gigster, you’re competing with thousands of others who offer similar services like never before. When done correctly, branding works to help you find clients that are a good fit for your values, services, and personality.

How do I build a brand?

Branding not only helps you stand out in a sea of freelancers, but it also helps potential clients learn meaningful information about your business before they ever reach out to schedule an initial call. Here’s what you’ll need first.

Get to know your target audience and your competitors

Odds are, your target audience is working with someone right now. But that someone isn’t you yet. That’s where a little research and creativity can make all the difference. Take time to explore relevant social media accounts and pages that your target audience engages with regularly. If you’re feeling bold, you can take this a step further by actually asking your dream clients about their biggest struggles and what kind of help they need.

It’s also useful to search keywords and phrases your clients might search to see what - and who - comes up. Take a close look at what your competition is doing right and wrong. This can inform what your brand needs to focus on and how you can separate yourself from others in your niche.

Build a strong foundation

Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to start building from the ground up. Determine five words or emotions you’d like associated with your brand. Do you want clients to see your brand as innovative? Creative? Reliable? Effective? Professional? Approachable? Caring? Make sure these feature in your foundation: your business name, logo (this will inform colors and fonts), and slogan. For example, since I market small businesses and wellness practitioners, my tagline is “Helping you help others.”

From here, your foundation will begin to inform the rest of your brand. It should be consistent throughout your print, signage, website, advertising, content marketing, social media, and even your customer service.

Humanize your online presence

Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. People value authenticity. It’s vital that you talk and write like yourself to personalize your presence. Brainstorm ways to personalize everything you do in your business, from your services to the messaging on your website. It’s important to learn your customers’ names, interests, and goals, and then tailor each interaction around those.

Appreciate Your clients

On a similar note, going above and beyond the general “we appreciate your business” email is a great way to brand yourself. While many businesses have a rewards program to encourage repeat business, it’s more powerful to give something personal to show you care like a thoughtful letter or a local gift basket. Unexpected appreciation might be the biggest brand differentiator today - and it never hurts to show a client your gratitude.

Protect your brand

Your business will evolve over time, so you’ll want to make sure that your brand grows with it. In the words of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room.” Make sure you keep up on your online reputation by responding to reviews, answering questions from your audience, and giving them free content that provides some of the answers they’re looking for.

Branding is a long-term and ever-evolving project that requires a little research, a dash of confidence, and a meaningful idea that your dream clients need and only you can provide. What’s yours?

Cassandra Miasnikov is the founder of Selene Marketing in Bend, Oregon. Her mission is to help small businesses thrive with clean websites, content marketing management, and brand strategy. She lives with her Savannah cat and a healthy abundance of fantasy novels. To learn more, please visit www.selenemarketing.com.