As a freelancer, you are a small businessperson. As such, you have a product to sell, which is usually yourself. You, as a product, deserve and need to be perceived as a brand just as surely as a multinational corporation does. How can you create this perception? Let’s examine some of the elements of the branding process, as applied to a freelancer.
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The basis for successful branding for any business, of any size, is analysis. This may sound boring, or scary if you are, as is the case with all too many of us, numerically challenged. It may seem unnecessary and excessive. Don’t be misled by these often-reflexive reactions. Your investment in preliminary analysis will allow you to spend your time, energy, and money efficiently in branding yourself.
Analyze yourself as a product:
You need to know who you are and what you offer the marketplace. This is the same process that would be undertaken by a widget manufacturing business to establish a brand identity for their product.
This is especially important when you work independently, because few people start out to be freelancers. You might have fallen into this role, perhaps as a bridge between organizationally-based jobs, or to try out a new career. You may missed out on the sort of self-inventory often involved in job-hunting. Freelancing certainly lacks detailed job descriptions.
List the skills that are obviously applicable to the work you do or aim to do. Then list everything else you do well, and your areas of expertise and familiarity, even if they are not obviously related. Remember, as an independent worker, you are a one-man/woman band. You may find yourself needing to do things handled elsewhere if you were working with an organization.
For example, if you were proofreading for a publisher, you might read, correct, hand your work in, and go home. As a freelance editor, in addition to proofing, your could very well find yourself shepherding a writer past an episode of writer’s block, or a failure of confidence, or some other existential nightmare.
Describe what you do, or intend to do, in as much detail as you can. Explain what you do as if talking to an extra-galactic alien. Make sure that you do not assume any prior knowledge. To continue with the example of a freelance editor, if you know how to import bibliographies from external bibliographic tools, or to embed complicated figures into a document, explain it, using the name of the tool (for example, Moodle). If you can edit in multiple languages, mention that.
Analyze the market around you:
Just like a giant corporation, you need to carry out an environmental assessment. Using the description of your skills, and what you do with those skills that you have created, generate a list of keywords. Search online using these, to identify your direct competitors – not the whole world of people and organizations who do something roughly similar.
Thus, to use the proofing example again, instead of just searching on ‘editor’ to find out who else is out there doing the same thing, search on ‘editor’ plus ‘graph creation’ or other extra special things you can do. The pool of folks who pop up after such a highly targeted search are probably your direct, head-to-head competitors as a freelancer.
Analyze how you want to be perceived:
Consider the way you want people to describe you. How would you like people to (you hope) refer their friends and colleagues to you? These are the words and phrases you want to convey consistently in both your behavior and in whatever marketing you do for yourself. Make sure they fit; as an example of what not to do, think of how “global warming” fails to fit the climate change has undermined subsequent efforts to affect policy and public opinion.
If you can feasibly ask customers how they perceive you, this is a wonderful tool in your efforts to brand yourself. This kind of data is not available to everyone, but worth trying to acquire. The gap between what people actually think about you professionally and what you want them to think of you is your challenge to bridge.
Analyze how to communicate who you are, and what you, do as a freelancer:
As you identify other entities, whether individuals or firms, that do what you want to do, look at their websites and other promotional materials. Discreetly, and without overtly stalking, keep track of how they present themselves and what they are doing for publicity and marketing.
This includes everything from the screen name they choose, to the way they present themselves in photographs, to the text in their websites or profiles. There will be some aspects that you will not be able to see, for example, the arcana of search engine mechanics. However, there is a great deal that you will be able to discern.
Use everything available to publicize yourself:
Now you know who you are, what you do, how you want to be perceived, what your competition is, and how they are marketing themselves. You can use free social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, and even resources like YouTube to discuss or demonstrate what you, uniquely, do. Join and become active in all the relevant professional organizations in your field. The key is to be consistent.
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Everything that originates with you should convey the same message. Let us imagine that you want to distinguish yourself as being able to help ESL students, or proof quantitative and scientific material. Your profile in every medium, and even your greeting on your email, should carry a tagline including those professional attributes.
Careful analysis and observation will help you figure out how to distinguish yourself. Consistency of message and presentation in everything written, and in your behavior, will help you to build a successful brand out of your skills and unique product, or service.