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The freelancer’s guide to personal branding

by Hollie Arnett

Whether you’ve actively crafted one or not, you already have a personal brand. People hear your name and think of certain things, feel specific things, and make relevant associations about who you are, what you do, and what you’re all about. 
 

On your birthday, do gifts that you receive generally follow the same theme? Maybe they’re all gardening-related or cat-themed?

That is your personal brand in action.

Cats and gardening have become associated with you. When people see cat memorabilia in the store, they think of you. And when someone wants cat-specific recommendations, you’re the go-to. 

These kinds of associations can be powerful. This is especially true when it comes to your personal brand as a freelancer. The amazing thing about your personal brand though, is that you have complete power to shift and direct it to create a picture of you and your business that conveys exactly who you are, what you do, and what you’re all about. 

The act of shaping this image of you, is branding

By the end of this article, you should know how to intentionally craft a personal brand that accurately represents you, gets you more clients, and helps you grow your business.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

First, let’s get clear on what a personal brand is. 
 

What is a personal brand?

Marty Neumeier describes a brand as:

a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company.

Essentially, it’s all about what people think of you when they hear your name, see your work, or encounter your brand. It’s how they’d describe you to a friend or colleague, and how they feel when they do so. 

As a freelancer, people might think of you as “the branding designer who specializes in logotypes with an eclectic aesthetic and a super fun client experience.”

That’s your personal brand.

Or maybe people know you as “the technically-minded content writer for Software as a Service (SaaS) companies who is really easy to communicate with and is all about featuring diverse examples in your case studies.”

Or perhaps you’re “a wedding photographer with a glamorous style who is recognized for the magical way that you edit your photos and the unique metallic colours in your logo.”

Whatever you do and whatever you’re about, a personal brand is all about getting known, recognised, remembered and referred by the right people, in the right way. 

Now let’s talk about why you need a personal brand.
 

Why you need to build a personal brand as a freelancer

Personal branding isn’t just one of those buzzwords that people throw around for the sake of it. In fact, it’s the key to building and growing your freelance business; it’s the difference between being seen as a hobbyist and a professional; it’s one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your business.

Let me show you why.
 

1. You’ll stand out more

There are a million and one freelancers out there, especially now that more of the world is embracing the freedom and flexibility of the self-employed life. Whatever industry you’re in, there will be many others freelancing in that same arena, and often in the same location as you. So how on earth are you supposed to compete in an industry full of other designers, writers, photographers, and other freelancers?

Now, I don’t point this out to freak you out, I promise! I say this to highlight the importance of the solution.

Personal branding.

The key to standing out in a sea of freelancers is to build a personal brand that helps you shine as the unique, amazing person that you are and carve out a specific niche for yourself! 

Take Meg Lewis for example! Meg is a designer, comedian, performer, and educator working to make the world a happier place, and her brand stands out like nothing else in the sea of freelance designers out there.

Meg owns who she is, embraces the things she loves, and has created a bold, fun, hilarious brand that makes her so much more distinct and memorable than many other designers. (Trust me, if you can’t tell from the screenshot below, follow her and you’ll see!)

Meg Lewis’ hilarious and unique personal brand helps her stand out!
 

2. To grow your network

While around 30% of freelance work comes from referrals, and you likely have returning clients on your roster, not all clients will discover you that way, and relying on referrals alone is a recipe for disaster. In fact, one of the top freelance mistakes you want to avoid is assuming work will come to you. Instead, you should always be thinking about growing your network and increasing your brand visibility.

And one of the best ways to do that is by cultivating your personal brand.

If you want to grow your freelance business through networking, then a well-established personal brand is going to help you throughout the whole process. Not only will it help you get more referrals, get mentioned online, and get asked to speak at events - it will also help you make a strong, confident, clear impression when you are networking.

With personal brand, first impressions are everything. When you meet somebody for the first time, you should be able to explain clearly what you do and show your passion for it. Even better if you can hand them a beautifully branded business card with your name, title, and a web address on it.

It’d feel a LOT better than floundering not knowing how the heck to describe what you do, giving them the email address you set up when you were 12 and asking them to email you so you can send them some JPEGs of your work, right? 

With a clear, creative, and consistent brand, you’ll feel SO much better networking, and others will feel confident in connecting and recommending you which will help you grow that network! That’s an all-round win-win when it comes to networking!
 

3. To connect with the right clients
 

When you know where you came from and where you’re going, decisions become easier. You know which clients are a good fit and which ones are not. You have a way to filter options and make decisions that will get you to where you want to go without compromising on your values.

– Bernadette Jiwa

Now when we talk about networking and booking more clients, it’s not just about getting any old client to come through your sales pipeline - it’s about getting the right clients.

Why would you battle through an inbox full of irrelevant projects from mundane or sketchy clients when you could be attracting dream projects from your dream clients? I can tell you which I’d prefer!! 

The way to ensure that is through a clear personal brand that speaks directly to that dream client while communicating:

  • what you do,
  • the type of projects you love, and
  • what you value in a client relationship

A vague, inconsistent, confusing brand will do the opposite of that, and you’ll be inundated with random requests for logo designs from clients or brands that give you the willies.
 

4. To become known as an expert

Your expertise is your key to capturing the attention of your dream clients - and landing them when they enquire. You want to become known as the go-to person for your specific skill in your particular industry who people trust and recommend consistently.

This, too, is part of your personal brand. 

Let’s check out Kaleigh as an example. 

Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer for eCommerce and SaaS companies who has built a personal brand as an expert at results-driven writing for these types of businesses. Companies like Forbes, Vogue Business, and Shopify turn to her for expertly-written content; aspiring writers look to Kaleigh for advice and expertise. 

Her website, social media, and past clients all work together to create a personal brand that establishes her eminence so that future clients can see that she is the person to work with if you’re an eCommerce or SaaS company that wants blog content that gets results. 

Kaleigh Moore’s personal brand and website establish her as an expert.
 

5. To build trust 

As I mentioned with Kaleigh, trust is a huge part of being a successful freelancer. Whether you’re working on gaining new clients or building freelance client loyalty, it’s all about trust.

You see, the process that someone has to go through in order to buy from you is simple: Know, Like, Trust.

  • First they’ll find and get to KNOW you
  • Then they’ll start to LIKE you
  • Finally, they’ll TRUST you

This can all happen quite quickly, as a potential client finds your profile, browses your website, and reads testimonials, for example. But they won’t buy your services until they feel they can trust you with their money, their time, and their business. 

A strong personal brand can build that trust in seconds by presenting you as a professional, quality, trustworthy business.

If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.

– Zig Ziglar


How to build a personal brand

So, now that you know why building a personal brand is important, let’s talk about how you do that.

Building a personal brand is, in essence, pretty straight-forward. All you need to do is follow these three steps: 
 

1. Decide what you want to be known for

Brainstorm and clarify:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • Who you do it for
  • How you do it
  • What value you add
  • The feeling/s you evoke
     

2. Make that clear everywhere

It takes 5–7 impressions for someone to recognise your brand, so you’ve gotta get your brand applied across all of your touchpoints. Apply messaging and visuals that represent your answers from step one on all of your brand touchpoints such as your: 

  • Website
  • Social media profiles
  • Email signature
  • Printed materials (flyers, business cards, posters, etc)
  • Documents (Pricing guides, invoices, proposals, contracts, etc)
     

3. Communicate consistently 

Being consistent with your branding makes you 3–4 times more likely to experience brand visibility (a.k.a more people will know who you are) and that can result in 33% more income, so it’s actually true when people say that consistency is key. So whenever you are updating your website, creating content, communicating with a potential client, or representing your brand in any way, be consistent in how you do that, both visually and through your copywriting. 
 

What to communicate in your personal brand

Your personal brand is all about communicating to your audience and potential clients who you are, what you do, why you do it, what you’re about, and what it’s like to work with you. There are four main aspects of your brand that are key to communicating these.
 

1. Vision, mission, values

At the heart of every good idea or great business is a clear sense of purpose and a vision for the future its creator wants to see.

– Bernadette Jiwa

These three branding basics are all about clarifying and communicating the essence of what you do. Here’s how you can think about them: 

  • Vision: Why (The big picture, deeper reason why you do what you do)
  • Mission: What (What it is that you do, for who, and the value you provide)
  • Values: How (How you conduct business while working on your mission & vision)

Get clear on all three, and you’ll have the foundations of a strong brand strategy.
 

2. Your story

If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.

– David Brier

Every single person’s story is SO unique, and everything that has happened in your life has made you the person and the freelancer that you are today. That’s why it’s so important to know and share your story. 

You could start with these questions:

  • Were you creative as a child? 
  • What got you into the industry you’re in now?
  • What made you fall in love with your passion?
  • What made you start freelancing? What drives you?
  • What education/jobs did you have beforehand if any?
  • Are you trained or self-taught? What did you learn from that process & how has it influenced how you freelance? 

Use these as a starting place to uncover the magic of your story - delve deeper and ask your own questions along the way too!

Answering questions like these gives your audience insight into who you are, why you do what you do, and what sets you apart from others. 
 

3. Your unique selling point

Distinctiveness often requires boldness, innovation, surprise, and clarity, not to mention courage.

Marty Neumeier

Branding is all about standing out and differentiating yourself from the others in your industry. Think about what it is that sets you apart from the crowd. Is it your:

  • Skills
  • Clients
  • Background
  • Experience
  • Personality
  • Strengths
  • Philosophy
  • Framework/methods
  • Beliefs
  • Process

Really think about this and get specific. Don’t just say, “my experience.” What exactly is it about your experience that makes you different from all the other freelancers in your industry? And maybe it’s a combination of a few things!
 

4. Your personality

Last but not least, as a freelancer who works directly with clients, your brand is about you, so make it yours! People connect with people, so don’t be afraid to open yourself up to your clients. YOU are the defining part of your personal brand, so be yourself, tell personal stories, embrace your personality, and go all in on you. 

Being authentically yourself will make freelancing and building a personal brand so much more fun and enjoyable for you, and will make the experience even better for your clients.

If you’re always trying to be normal you’ll never know how amazing you can be.

– Maya Angelou


The 10 key elements of a successful personal brand

Branding can get a lot more complicated and in-depth than this, and span across many more elements, but for now, as long as you are clear, creative, and consistent with these 10 elements, you will have all the essentials of a successful brand.

  • Name
  • Bio
  • Mission
  • Vision
  • Values
  • Story
  • Voice
  • Colour palette
  • Typography
  • Brand photography
     

Where to start when it comes to building your brand

All of this might seem like a lot, especially if you’re a first time freelancer who is also trying to figure out how to run your business, so let’s start off small. 

I always say that branding isn’t a one-and-done thing that you do all at once and then forget about for three years. It’s an iterative process that starts with clarifying and communicating one thing at a time to get you closer and closer to the personal brand that truly reflects who you are. 

That means that no, you don’t have to figure everything out right now, but if you’re going to start anywhere, start by answering these three questions: 

  1. What do you do?
  2. Who do you do it for?
  3. What value do you add?

Answering these three questions and putting them into a sentence you can pop in your social media bio, on your website, in your email footer, and talk about in your content, will do wonders for your brand. 

For example: 

  • Hollie Arnett is a brand coach and strategist helping creatives like you get more eyes on your work, more dollars in your pocket, and more creativity in your life.
  • Meg Lewis is a designer, comedian, performer, and educator working to make the world a happier place.
  • Kaleigh Moore is a subject matter expert that creates long-form, top-ranking blog content for eCommerce platforms and the SaaS tools that integrate with them. 

See how these single sentences make it SO clear what each of us does and what we’re all about? That’s what you need! 
 

Ready to build your personal brand as a freelancer?

You’ve just learnt the essentials of personal branding: 

  • What a personal brand is,
  • Why you need to build a personal brand as a freelancer,
  • How to build a personal brand,
  • What to communicate in your personal brand,
  • The 10 key elements of a successful personal brand,
  • And where to start when it comes to building your brand

Now you’re ready to go out there and start building your own. Start small, work on it incrementally when you can, focus on the foundations first, and remember, be yourself! 


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