I’ve got a freelance secret…
5 years into freelance writing, 2 years full-time…and I still don’t have a business card.
I also don’t have a logo…or even official colors.
Those are cardinal sins of personal (or any) branding, but ya know what? I can’t say it’s had a negative impact on my freelance life. If anything, I think it’s helped it along.
Let me explain.
Freelancing is a lot like a cross between employment and traditional entrepreneurship…you’re doing your own thing and running your own business, but it’s based completely around services that other businesses (and sometimes individuals) are already hiring for. That means the first question you have to answer isn’t about you, it’s about your potential clients.
As much as branding will always matter, starting from that point can be a big mistake, which is why I want to give you 5 things you should focus on as a freelancer before the words “personal brand” even cross your lips.
The problem you solve…
Straight out…this is the only thing your clients care about.
A nice website is nice and catchy slogan is catchy, but companies and individuals looking to hire freelancers have very specific issues they need you to address. Until you let them know clearly and concisely that you can do that? No amount of bells and/or whistles will have them coming up off their cash.
If you want to start fleshing out the problem you might be able to solve, start here. The points in that exercise will push you through some difficult, but essential questions you should be answering as a freelancer. The key here, though, is “answering”…finding the problem you can solve profitably while still feeling satisfied with your freelance life takes practice, trial, error, and of course, time.
If you don’t know right off the bat, that’s completely fine! It’s actually a good thing since it means you’ll be even more open to the problems companies are telling you they need help with.
Once you figure out the problem you solve, you need to tell people and you need to do it everywhere. That means…
- On social media
- On your website
- On your LinkedIn Profile (the one dedicated to your freelance career)
- In cold contacts/pitches
Your messaging thankfully, is relatively simple. It’s the answer to a prospective client asking “why should I hire you?”
Keep in mind though, good messaging takes time (just like everything else in freelancing), so don’t be too hard on yourself if you have no idea how to answer that question right now. To help you get there, I’m going to share a simple formula (from the people over at Copyblogger) to get you started.
All you have to do is fill out this sentence.
I help __________________ (do) __________________ so they can ___________.
After you do it once, you’ll be tweaking and changing it until you have a message that you can build a truly effective brand and message off of.
Side note: I can almost guarantee that this statement will change at least 5 times before you start to really feel comfortable with it, so don’t wait to start trying new ideas!
Who you work for…
This ties into that previous exercise, but it’s worth calling out on its own — especially since it connects to a really good reason you should wait to invest and significant amount of time and energy (or money) into permanent brand collateral.
When I look back on my own freelance journey, I see a path that traces from international affairs, to sports writing, to general business, to tech, to healthcare, to finance. (I ended up on something that’s a blend of a couple of those.) Along the way I bought business cards, chose logos, picked site colors and templates…all that stuff.
Now, there are some benefits to those things — at certain points they made me feel more confident, helped me learn certain business processes, and taught me about myself…and honestly, if I weren’t an introvert who didn’t avoid conferences like the plague, I might have gotten some use out of those business cards.
I promise you though, none of that stuff would resonate with the small niche of clients who appreciate and pay for my services today.
You cannot know how to brand yourself until you know who’s interpreting that brand, so don’t worry too much in the beginning about your image.
A habit of listening…
This right here? It might be the number one most important skill for a freelancer.
You’re going to be listening to client feedback, listening to their questions, listening to their problems, and listening to their excuses when they don’t want to pay (being honest here…it happens.)
That’s why it’s important to set yourself in a habit from the beginning. Instead of telling the world who you are, start your freelance career by listening to what companies want. Your future freelance self will thank you for it.
A flexible brand…
So I know I’ve said it a bunch of different ways already, but growing as a freelancer requires a lot of flexibility, and your brand is no different.
You want to stay nimble (it’s one of the advantages freelancers have over employed people) and be able to shift your website, target client type, rates, niche, and even the type of work you do, as needed. Investing larger amounts of money in physical materials, expensive courses and coaching, and high end websites probably just isn’t a good idea early on in your freelance career (and possibly ever.)
Don’t get me wrong…your brand matters. It’s something you’ll be building for sure, but you’ll be doing that over time. If you take your time and do it right, it can become one of your most powerful assets as a freelancer and work to bring you work and higher rates even in your sleep. Just remember — branding, like most things in freelancing, is a long game.