You’ve made the decision: you’re going to go into freelance work and launch a small business. Or maybe you already have. You’ve gotten over the hump of figuring out the work you’ll do, and you’re ready to focus on the next stage on the hierarchy of needs. Zeroing in on your personal brand is the next step.
What is a personal brand?
Let’s start by defining what a “personal brand” is: it’s the reputation that comes with you and your services, both online and offline. When you communicate your personal brand online, it can and should convey the way that you and your business show up to the world through your products and resources. That brand should be consistent in the language and tone of the materials you provide, and it should demonstrate the way that you serve others.
Why do I need a personal brand?
In freelancing, the competition is steep. There are countless other people who can provide a similar service. Set yourself apart from them with a clearly defined image.
Branding can also serve to better attract target markets. If your image is clearly developed with a specific population in mind, they’ll be attracted to the content you’re generating uniquely for them.
Want to look more professional in your work?
Use Indy’s full set of freelance tools to make your proposals, contracts, invoices, and projects look and work more professional.
Steps for building your personal brand
You understand the basics, so now it’s time to take action and truly start developing and promoting your personal brand. Follow this roadmap of steps.
Defining your personal brand
To figure out what your personal brand is and define it clearly, start by asking yourself these questions:
- What is your niche? Zero in on exactly what your work entails. The more specific you can be, the better. For instance, maybe you’re a web developer who specializes in e-commerce sites or in sites for startups. When describing your work, be sure to frame it using action words — you’re in control!
- Who is your target audience? Again, specificity is important. Your business could cater to women, but if you’re able to narrow it down to women in the LA area, you’re going to be much more effective in your brand strategy.
- What makes your service unique? What sort of behaviors set you apart from your competition? Take stock of yourself and what you do well.
- What sort of impact can clients expect to see if they invest in your services? Will they increase sales? Create more visually appealing content? Emphasize the value you can bring to the customer.
In addition to answering those questions, you should also investigate your current personal brand. Yes, whether you know it or not, you likely already have a personal brand.
If you Google yourself, this will show you what you’re already known for and what first impression new clients will have. Search through the first two pages of content and see how many links directly route towards your content. Your aim is for at least three of the top five links to connect to your personal content.
If you’ve already had clients (even pro bono), now is a great time to reach out to them and ask them for a short, written description of their experience of your work or service. Tell them it’s to understand your personal brand, not as a reference, so they can give you honest feedback.
Build your site
Much of your personal branding will take place online, simply because that’s an efficient medium for reaching many people at one time. When potential clients first hear about you, though, they’ll Google you and there needs to be something for them to find.
Create a personal website that will become your “digital home.” It’s where you’ll direct everyone to in any digital marketing you produce to establish an online presence. When those potential clients arrive on your website, it needs to give them a strong sense of your personal brand. The writing voice, color scheme, fonts, visual elements, and every other aspect of the site should portray the same personality and brand.
As you cultivate a brand, it might be tempting to tell a white lie or paint the brand to be more attention-grabbing. However, if you build a brand based on dishonesty, you’ll come across as inauthentic to clients.
We live in the information age; if you’re not 100% able to support your arguments, you’ll quickly be found out. Clients will have a contrary experience to the promise you’ve put in place, and it will reflect in your reviews. Take honest stock of what you do well and what you’d like to deliver on, then work towards it.
Max out your online profiles
No one’s online presence should be limited to one website. Take advantage of directories as well as social media sites that let you create your business profile. On top of social media, this includes Yelp, Google My Business, and local directories in addition to industry-specific directories.
Include as much data as those sites will support. Upload a professional headshot, descriptions of your services, links to your site and social media profiles, contact information, and anything else the profile allows.
Create on-brand, valuable blog content
Blogging on your site is a terrific way to boost your online presence while developing that all-important brand. Publish a blog post every week or so about topics relating to your niche.
Consistency will play a large part in building customer trust. By producing content that your customers are reliably interested in, you’ll increase engagement and prompt customer action.
Be sure to measure your content’s success too. Use tools like Google Analytics to track which postings are getting the most attention from your following. If some content is having a higher resonance than others, work on replicating that effect going forward.
Get active on social media
You have a strong personal brand and you’re supporting it with authentic, consistent content. How do you spread the word? Social media!
Everything about social media is the building of a public persona. You can post relevant infographics, illustrate yourself as a thought leader, share relevant articles, and align yourself with curated connections.
Social media’s a great opportunity for connecting with potential clients, but it also serves in building a brand-driven network. Who else falls into your brand space? Perhaps they have a similar target market, and they offer a service that doesn’t directly compete with yours?
By publicly aligning yourself with these companies or influencers, you’re further driving the message of your brand’s niche and values. These connections can be further emboldened through joint giveaways, shared webinars, or guest blogging.
Of course, if you tried to post on every social media platform regularly, that would take up all of your time. Choose two platforms to work with and make sure to commit to at least one year of content creation for each. This will build up trust with potential clients who are finding value in your online content.
Make guest (blog) appearances
With branding for freelancers, the goal isn’t just making sure everyone knows your brand. They must associate that brand with your niche too, seeing you as an expert in the field. Guest blogging is an efficient way to create that association.
Approach sites related to your specialties or target audiences and offer to write guest posts. Some sites already have processes for this in place. When they publish those guest posts with your name in the byline, you get visibility across that site’s audience. For that reason, the more high-quality and well-known the site is, the more beneficial your guest post will be.
Keep in mind that sites don’t generally pay for guest posts. In fact, some even ask for a fee from the writer. Regardless, though, it’s viewed as more of a mutually beneficial arrangement: they get free content, you get more visibility.
Get on camera
Visual art and written content can do well as you start building your personal brand. They’re nothing compared to video, though.
In videos, viewers see your face and hear your voice. It gives them a more well-rounded, concrete understanding of who you are so your brand becomes more relatable to them.
Start publishing videos on social media as well as YouTube. There’s no need to have ultra-high-quality production; modern iPhones have surprisingly great cameras. There are plenty of video content ideas to go around, but you could do anything from demonstration videos to simple “behind the scenes” video tours.
Share your knowledge
Not all branding has to happen online. Speaking engagements can go a long way toward showing the world your expertise and connecting your brand to your freelance business. Look for opportunities to spread all those valuable insights, like conferences, guest lecture sessions, webinars, and more.
Particularly, try finding opportunities to speak to your business’s target audience, like a conference for small business owners or organizations related to your specialty or niche. In those cases, the speech serves as a way to market directly to a potential client base, but any speaking engagement will help to build that all-important brand.
Don’t forget to make the most out of each speaking opportunity by spreading the word. Talk about each appearance on your social media pages, website, and more.
Put network connections to good use
Another terrific way of spreading a personal brand is with appearances on other media sources like popular podcasts, YouTube channels, or social media profiles. Much like guest posts, these appearances establish you as an expert, a member of the thought leadership in your niche. It’s even better if you can get appearances with other thought leaders in that niche.
The chances are that someone in your existing network has a podcast, YouTube channel, or other production. Reach out and ask if they’d be interested in an interview or appearance on their channel. It’s free publicity that further develops your brand.
Get involved in your community
Effective branding happens both online and offline, so don’t get overly absorbed in digital media. Sometimes it’s best to get out and shake some hands.
Look for opportunities in your area like local festivals or marketplaces that allow local businesses to set up booths. Make the booth’s visuals and vibe distinctly on-brand. Don’t push a hard sell: you’re there to gain visibility and get better acquainted with the community. Still, have something to give visitors so they’ll remember you, like cards that outline your services or small branded products.
Share your work
There are freelancers in just about every profession imaginable, but freelancing is especially popular among creative professionals. One of the best ways for creatives to make themselves known is by posting their work. For a graphic designer, for example, try posting some fun on-brand designs you’ve been working on.
Sharing client work showcases your professional skills, but depending on each contract’s details, it might not be an option. In those cases, opt for sharing your personal passion projects instead.
Building your freelance business by establishing a personal brand
Honing in on a strong personal brand is a powerful method for growing your business. A brand is an opportunity to build an emotional connection to a business and illustrate your values to the customer. It will also help dictate what your content strategy and promotional work should look like going forward. All public-facing efforts should tie back into the brand's image in order to bring you the most value. With the guide above, you can make that happen.