The field of freelancing is changing fast. It used to be that you freelanced locally, people knew your face, you met in person and sealed the deal. The more you specialised, and once the positive word was out, you could develop a steady stream of clients who needed your particular services. Now that’s all changed…
Today, freelancing is often not local at all. It’s global. Depending on whether you’re a web developer, a programmer, a mobile app developer, a graphic artist, a writer or a social media consultant, you have a whole lot more competition on your hands.
Unless you make a beeline for conferences in your industry (if there even are any) it can be difficult to make real connections with people. You’re just another email flying their way, another instant message, another tweet; just one more interruption to their day. How do you get noticed?
Understanding Your Target Market
Each market is different. Depending on whether you are working locally with clients at home or abroad or if you solely work online, who your target market is will differ greatly from another freelancer even if they are in the same line of work.
If you’re in your twenties and can readily identify with clients also in their twenties, then this may be as much your client base as it is your demographic too.
Know How People Do & Don’t Look At Freelancers
Most often with freelancing, while, for instance, the recruiters for a IT role will consider an advancing age as a negative, a freelance client doesn’t care. What they care about is whether you have the skill set and experience to get the task completed, and whether you’ll actually deliver. What academic degree you obtained two decades ago is not reflective of that.
Standing Out From The Crowd
While prospective clients aren’t stuck going through a pile of resumes to determine who to take on, they will mostly likely be reviewing online profiles, portfolios of previous work and other confirmations of what to expect should they assign work to you. What helps under these circumstances is to have a brand.
What A Brand Is Not
There is confusion over what a brand actually is. If you get a bunch of business cards printed with your logo, add a few inspiring words, and then you throw them around town like confetti, do you have a brand? No, not really.
A brand is not a web site or a business page on Facebook. It’s not even a catchy slogan that you think spells it out.
Branding for Freelancers
The idea of branding is obviously not a new one. But branding for independent freelancers is quite unusual. A brand is about creating an image that one can trust. A freelancer with a brand no longer is a one-person element in a sea of other freelancers who are all competing for business. Instead, they stand out as a little bit differently.
As a freelancer, I even sometimes do it with clients. Three British clients become Brit 1, Brit 2 and Brit 3 so I can keep them organized in my head. This is easier than remembering their name or their main web site (because often they have many web sites that need content).
It follows that for themselves they need a way to remember me specifically because they often work with a slew of different writers on a variety of projects. Keeping up with who’s who ain’t easy and I want to get the nod when their next open order needs a writer assigned.
Getting Respect & Higher Prices
Depending on how a brand is created and managed, a brand can signify quality or lack thereof. An image of a freelancer (or a team of freelancers) who operate under an umbrella brand name can do wonders for name recognition and creating a good reputation.
With a good service that delivers quality every time and a measure of professionalism, people will remember you or your team.
I know of a WordPress theme developer who makes nice looking themes. But he does little to market himself. He actually has a brand, but it’s a name that only really makes sense to him (sounds like a newspaper publishing company) and no doubt causes confusion right off the bat. I mention that he should patrol the WordPress theme message boards and put up helpful replies up to answer queries about WP blog themes.
/“Why?” he asks.
I tell him, “Because it will make people aware of your brand and demonstrate quality in your answers and your helpfulness.
Some people will go on to visit your web site without you needing to actively promote it.”
But he won’t do it. The following week he complains that his ranking has fallen in Google since the last update. I tell him that first you get respect, then you get more money.
Why is this so? Because clients don’t pay higher prices if they don’t respect what you can offer and if you don’t value your service, neither will they.
Brands Are Not Mission Statements
Mission statements, those meaningless platitude-filled ideas in a frame on the walls of the reception area of a business, tells people nothing of value.
People need to know that you will deliver what they expect at the price agreed upon. A brand helps with that because they know that you have to protect it, otherwise it won’t retain any value. A brand gives assurances to prospective clients and current clients in a way that no mission statement ever could.
Brands Going Forward
Brands will continue to be more important than ever. It’s not surprise that Google is favoring brands rather than smaller, specialist web sites in their search engine results pages. Much to the chagrin of the little guy, Google trusts brands and believe that others do too.
The good news is that with retail sites like Amazon.com, interest is splintering into niche sites. Etsy gets the hand-craft and design retail side of things. Audible (owned by Amazon) does a swift trade in audio books and other downloadables.
This means that there is still room for the little guy, the upstart, the new freelancer who wants to make a name (or a brand) for themselves. Brands will become more and more important because in a world with 3 billion+ Internet users and more people discovering the freedom of the freelance model every day, it’ll only become more difficult to rise above the din of all the freelancers vying for their clients’ Dollar, Euro, Pound, Yuan and Yen.
Brands Are About Reputations
What’s your reputation with your current and previous clients? Can you up your service level to improve what your clients think of you? Are you able to deliver more value without sacrificing profit margins or work volumes?
Once you make a lousy first impression, it’s very difficult to get reputation back later. People have long memories for mistakes and low quality, but a short memory for things that go right. The freelancer tends to remember the good things and denigrate the bad as unimportant. Put yourself more in the shoes of your clients to see how they see you and your brand. Then work from there. And if you don’t have a brand, create one.
Really helpful post!
I’m already working hard to become a brand, I think the commenting on forums is a really good tip, and I will definitely try that.