The concept of having a personal brand can be intimidating. It seems like only famous people have a shot at establishing one, since their names are already well-known. Fortunately, you don’t have to achieve widespread fame, or even fame within your industry, before you can win at personal branding.
A personal brand is more about the art of making everything you create recognizably yours: the logo, color scheme, and brand name, as well as subtler elements like brand voice and values. The question is: How do you go about including all these elements into your professional persona?
Even a one-man show needs a brand
There is no doubt that personal branding is crucial to career growth. Frankly, there are a lot of people all doing exactly the same thing that you do, and the only reason a client will hire you over someone else is that something about you caught their eye. Whatever is unique about your brand will make you stand out in a sea of search results.
You may think your skills will set you apart, which is true to an extent; your name will get tossed around more if your work is clearly leagues ahead of the nearest competition. However, you’re probably not that much better than other talented freelancers in your field. You just have a different spin on how you do your work — how you really sell yourself. Skill may be what makes your clients happy, but branding is how they find you in the first place.
This is especially important if you’re just starting out as a freelancer. You want to present a consistent image of yourself as early as possible. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, without much thought as to what your brand is, it’ll take some work to sculpt what you’ve already done into a cohesive image. The good news is that you already have some finished projects to work with, so finding these common threads won’t be as difficult.
By establishing your brand now, you’ll also familiarize yourself with the skills needed to run a business. After all, you are a one-man company.
It’s more than just your social media profile picture
Your personal brand must comprise every aspect of your business. Along with your most visual elements, this includes the stuff that no one else is likely to see — like how you schedule your time or answer private emails.
Branding starts with how you name yourself. Is what you call your business memorable? If your name is highly unusual in your market, that alone might be enough to get you remembered. Frequently, though, you’ll need something else in your business name that sets you apart right away (i.e. “Pet Photographer” or “Technical Writer”). Before you start setting your website URL and social network names to match your new brand, make sure no one else with a similar name is using the identifiers you’ve picked.
A tagline or slogan is a good accompaniment for your brand name. This is basically your specialized skill set condensed into eight or fewer words. It may help to write your full bio first, condense it for your Twitter bio, and then chop it down to your tagline. (You may come up with such a good slogan that it ends up being your Twitter bio, but you should still write several versions of each format to see what works best.)
Your full-length bio will be on the “about” page of your website. A mid-length one, 100–200 words, is best for Facebook and LinkedIn. The Twitter version will cover the rest of your social profiles, while your tagline goes in the one-line description fields. A good brainstorming session with your friends or colleagues is a fun way to pool ideas for your bio.
While you’re talking with your friends, get their input on the parts of your personality that set you apart from everyone else they know. This is how you make your brand authentic: by giving it a personality that reflects your own. When the business image you create is a stylized replication of what you’re like in real life, it’ll be easier to stay consistent.
Consistency brings its own rewards. Those who watch your brand grow along with you will have a sense of familiarity and trust in you; less so for freelancers whose brand is so polished that nobody can tell what’s inside. Plus, when your clients meet you in person, there’ll be no doubt in their minds that the face-to-face you is as genuine as your brand image conveys.
Social media is a huge part of this. Your profile picture is the first thing searchers notice, so all of your accounts should use the same avatar. If you don’t have a logo, this should be a clear shot of your face — accompanied, of course, by your business name (if it differs from your real name). Profile consistency reassures potential clients that they’ve found the right person.
Through your social updates, you can communicate your unique selling proposition (USP) and your beliefs about your industry. Aside from a blog, social media is one of the best places to showcase your brand voice. It’s okay if you sound a little different on the internet than you do in person; everybody does. Instead of trying to replicate your idiolect exactly in every status you post, just talk in a way that fits the context of your work and your audience. The turns of phrase and personal viewpoints that are unmistakably yours will come out best when they’re off the cuff.
Your logo is the foundation of your visual identity. It can be a sleek, minimalist interpretation of your tools of the trade, a cartoon depiction of you, or simply the font and shadowing with which you choose to display your name. If you’re a freelance logo designer, this may be relatively easy for you to come up with! If not, it’s a good idea to consult with one on how to create a logo that sets the tone for the rest of your visual branding.
Once your logo has established your design sensibility, your website and marketing materials should do the same. In my experience, this is one of the most fun parts of branding — picking your signature typography, color scheme, and the accompanying design elements. The visual cues you pick are the visible counterpart of your brand voice. Whether you’re primarily casual, passionate, proper, or avant-garde, it will be apparent from one look at your brand.
Don’t just have a brand … be your brand
Because you’re a freelancer, the strengths and weaknesses that you experience personally will also be the strengths and weaknesses of your brand. For example, you can’t build a successful brand image around punctuality if you’re always running late in real life; your real habits will bleed into your work and frustrate customers.
Instead of thinking wishfully, embrace the good qualities that you already have and highlight those in your business branding. Your vision, mission statement, and brand essence should all draw from who you are. This will also improve your marketing by making it feel more authentic.