Take your work to the next level with personal branding
You think you know branding but do you brand yourself as an independent worker?
Branding is a subject most people know a little bit about and anyone seeking more has the tools at their fingertips to learn about the art. Essentially, it is all about calling out features that distinguish a product or service from the crowd.
Thinking of companies that do it well, the top of the list usually includes folks like Apple, Nike and Starbucks.
If you’ve ever worked as an employee for a company whose purpose, mission or brand you really believed in and made going to work more meaningful, you know about the power of a brand.
But as a freelancer, are you also aware of the relevance of branding for yourself? For those of us who aren’t yet household names, building our brand story also has the power to build our business and connect us with the work in which we’re most interested.
Freelancers should resist the urge to shrink away from branding
Regardless of the type of freelancing you’re doing or would like to do—whether writing, providing customer service or driving for Uber—branding will help you reach your professional goals.
People who haven’t previously considered personal branding may be a little uncomfortable with the thought.
Yet, as this Boise-based writer explains, freelancers should be open-minded about branding: “Almost every time I mention the word ‘brand’ to a freelancer or author, I get a grimace in reply. No one wants to think of themselves as a brand. Well, almost no one. Except for authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and James Patterson maybe. They are brands. When you open up a Stephen King novel, you know what to expect, the same way that when you order a Starbucks latte or buy a Pepsi. You know exactly what you’re in for.”
He continues, “the issue is that we often approach freelancing and other endeavors with a mindset of scarcity: there is certainly only a limited amount of freelance work out there, right? And if I am not all things to all people, I might miss an opportunity.”
Instead, think like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and James Patterson: They had a story to tell and told it, regardless of the answer to the question “is there room for another story to be told.” Because, actually, the universe has enough room for you and whatever it is you bring.
We freelancers must call out our unique combination of experience, skills, interests and personality that makes us a perfect fit for the work we’re seeking. "You’re really selling yourself, which means finding the unique value that you offer and your specific niche," said Caitlin Pearce, the executive director of the Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for freelancers.
“That can be a challenge when you’re first getting started, especially if you’re still exploring what talents you have to offer,” Pearce said
Branding distinguishes you from the crowd
Using a personal branding approach elevates your own perception of what you’re doing as a solopreneur and gives you a guiding star.
It’s actually easier than taking a passive approach. “You know, when people used to say they were freelancing, it was sort of a euphemism for I’m unemployed right now, Pearce said. “And that’s really changed. Freelancing’s become more mainstream, and more people are realizing that there’s more than one way to work.”
With roughly 57 million Americans freelancing, you’ll need to distinguish yourself if you are expecting to have financial stability as an independent worker.
You start by answering the question of “what do I want to be known for?” Your response should come down to what you bring as a freelancer that makes you the best person for the work you love to do.
When you know the answer to that key question, your job as a freelancer—finding work you love and that you deliver great results for—gets easier. You have a mission for yourself and something to believe in. If you’d still like more detail about why you should bother with branding, see what this London-based marketing consultant has to say.
My top tips for personal branding
1. One of the best places to start is by figuring out “your story.” To do this, you need to write a bio about yourself that shares a bit of who you are as it relates to what you do as a freelancer. The first time you write this, you’ll go a bit long. That’s OK. Just know that what you put out into the online world should end up being right around 250 words. This blog gives a lot of great direction on writing a bio, however, it recommends a longer length. Trust me when I say a shorter bio is going to serve the vast majority of people better.
Keep in mind your purpose in sharing this story: Share a little about yourself, let your personality come through a bit and highlight what it is you bring as a freelancer that makes you the best choice for your clients. You need brag without coming off as full of yourself. One way to do that is to back-up your claims with specific examples of your accomplishments as they relate to the work you want. This blog gives great step-by-step suggestions for that.
2. It’s not really about a logo. If the nature of your work as a freelancer begs for a logo because you’re a graphic designer, you make a product, you know within a short time you’ll have brick and mortar along with other physical trappings of a regular company, then by all means, dole out the cash for a logo. But most freelancers are providing a service and probably don’t need an elaborate logo. And you can check that expense off your list.
Instead, once you’ve answered the question of what you want to be known for, make sure that’s reflected in all the ways you present yourself: in person, on your website and, most importantly, in the work that you do. This article from the Harvard Business Review goes over what is important in branding and most of the facets it mentions translate into personal branding.
3. Cultivate your online persona. This quick-to-read column has good tips, particularly that you should spend a little time being introspective. “Your road to building a strong online persona should start by knowing who you are. Self-awareness is key, it will inform all decisions. The greatest challenge people face is deciding what to focus on and what to share. A good place to start is your career achievements.”
Know what others are saying about you. What people say about you—whether online or by word-of-mouth—becomes your brand. Although you do your best to deliver excellent work with superior service, at the end of the day, the people you come into contact with will have their own opinion about you and often share it with others. If you don’t want any surprises, ask for feedback from clients, make it known that you are open to constructive criticism and consider setting up a Google alert for your name.
Finally, the very best branding advice: Nose to the grindstone
The best advice I could give you about branding is: Do your work. And do your best to do great work. This post drives home the concept but I’m here to tell you: Whatever gig you’re doing, whether you’re managing AirBnBs, helping customers, writing marketing blogs, assembling Ikea shelves or delivering take-out—do it like nothing else matters and your customer at hand is the most important person to you. Because at the moment you’re doing the work, it is the most important thing you could be doing and they are the most important person in your life.
Work like that and you will deliver great work, great customer experience and you’ll be one of the world’s great brands. And that’s where momentum, purpose and abundance come from.