How to grow your freelance brand

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April 26, 2021
5 minute read

When you think of a successful brand, companies that sell products, like Apple or IKEA, typically come to mind. But brands are important for freelancers, too. They’re a way to set you apart from others, and emphasize why a client should choose you. From graphic designers to web developers to writers, all freelancers benefit from having their own personal brand. Best of all, you don’t need to hire a brand specialist—there are lots of creative and effective ways you can build and grow your own brand.

What is a freelance brand?

Developing your own freelance brand is a good thing to do when you are first starting out, but you can create a brand at any time along your career path. In fact, branding is a great opportunity to revisit what you offer, and get a specific message out to potential clients.

As a freelancer, your brand is you. It’s what you do, how you do it, and how you want clients to think about you. In other words, it’s identifying how you want the world to see you.

For example, if you are a freelance writer, you obviously write for a living. But maybe you also pride yourself on providing great service, such as being flexible, meeting deadlines, and always being professional. If you wanted to narrow that down to three main brand attributes you might pick: dependable, easy to work with, and does a great job.

Truthful and consistent

A big part of creating a successful brand is also making sure it is accurate. This might be the time to do a little soul searching and make sure you can really follow through on your brand promise.

Once you establish what you want your brand to be, you need to make sure it is consistent throughout everything you do. That means your work, of course, but also how you promote and market yourself.

Develop a logo

A logo is a great way to instantly convey the qualities that set you apart from other freelancers and reflect your unique brand.

When you think of some of the world’s most famous logos, it is often the simplest, like Nike’s swoosh, or McDonald’s golden arches, that make a lasting impression. Like those, you want your logo to be memorable and different, but still relevant to what you do.

Of course, companies spend a lot of time and money coming up with a logo. They have focus groups, marketing experts, and even historians and psychologists help them find just the right image.

DIY logos are for designers only

If you are a graphic designer, spend some time creating an amazing logo for yourself. Treat it the same as an assignment for a valued client. This is a great opportunity to show off a shining example of your work.

If you’re not a designer, it’s well worth the money to hire a freelance graphic designer to create a logo for you. Talk to the designer about the attributes you came up with to describe your distinct brand. Your designer will have ideas on how to make your logo convey those attributes, and resonate with the type of clients you want to attract.

It helps to think of your logo as a visual representation of you. You want it to give your clients a sense of what they can expect by working with you. Of course your logo can’t instantly convey all your brand qualities—but it can convey a sense of them—like sophistication, reliability, and creativity.

Tip: If you are just starting out and don’t think you can spare the money to hire a designer, try to work out a trade. Write some marketing copy or fix-up their website in return for a few logo options.

Tell your story

Create a portfolio that shows off your best work, stays true to your brand, and tells your particular story. Just like your logo, you want a portfolio that stands out from the rest and reflects why you are the right choice for the client.

Portfolio 101

  • First, the basics—have a flexible portfolio that can be quickly updated to meet the specific needs of a client. Make sure it can also be easily accessed through a link to your website, or by PDF.
  • Take time to select your pieces. If you are just starting out as a freelancer and don’t have a lot of work to show, create some original work and explain the challenge and solution you came up with.
  • If you have a specialty like medical illustration or financial writing, make sure it is immediately evident and explain how you gained that expertise, i.e. through specialized training, a history of work experience, or a special interest. Try to create a compelling story in a few short sentences.
  • Include a testimonial or two from satisfied clients or previous employers. If you have a long-time relationship with a client, ask them to craft their comments to highlight a certain brand quality, like being extremely flexible.
  • Include a current resume. Besides giving a quick overview of your experience and qualifications, prospective clients might need a resume on file for their company’s freelance hiring procedures. If you are new to freelancing, a resume can highlight other relevant information, such as education, pro bono work, and past employment history.
  • And don’t forget to have clear, easy-to-find contact information. Once you’ve hooked them you don’t want to make your clients search for a way to get in touch.

Have some case studies at the ready

Sometimes explaining how you did something can showcase your brand qualities even better than the finished work. For example, not only was that a beautifully designed annual report, you want people to know you hit some tough deadlines and worked with a large committee to get consensus.

Whenever you finish a project, take a few minutes to write up a quick case study. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just talk about the challenge or objectives, the process you went through, and the successful result. This way you’ll have a list of case studies at the ready to choose from for each particular client.

Get social

Social media is fast, fun, and free. You can manage it on your own to show off your brand and help keep your services top-of-mind. It’s also often the first place prospective clients go to when looking for freelancers.

Be careful though. Make sure your social media doesn’t contain any crude or objectionable posts. You are your brand—and anything you post will affect your reputation as a freelance professional.

LinkedIn—Built for business

It might not be super cool, but LinkedIn is all about making job connections. It doesn’t really allow you to be too creative in the way you showcase your offerings, but you can post your resume, samples of your work, and ask people to write recommendations. You can also write comments and post articles to increase your brand awareness.

In addition, your LinkedIn profile usually shows up first when people Google you—so it could be that important first impression you need for a client to hire you.

Don’t forget about your Facebook friends

Tell your Facebook friends you are freelancing. Post examples of your work. Anything you can do to build awareness of your brand is valuable. You never know who needs to hire a freelancer, or who knows someone who does. You can also add links to interesting articles to show how current and leading-edge you are.

While you’re at it, check out some Facebook groups. There might be an industry group you can join to share experiences and business tips. Or maybe there is a local business group where you can pick up some freelance assignments, or trade some free copywriting for a haircut. There are also alumni groups where you can search out former classmates and see if you can help each other with job contacts.

Instagram—Capture it with a photo

Instagram is a great way to show off your work, especially if you freelance in a highly visual field. You can also reinforce your brand by posting photos that capture your special attributes.

If you do a lot of travel writing, post some great photos from exotic locations. If you want to show off your creativity, post a pic of that excellent apple pie you just took out of the oven, or those tulips coming up in your garden. You want to engage people and have them associate particular feelings, qualities, and skills with your brand.

Twitter—Gain some followers

Twitter helps build connections. Start out by following the clients you’d like to freelance for. See what is important to them, and learn more about their business. Anything you learn can come in handy when you apply for freelance work. You can also comment on their posts to get on their radar. Maybe they will even start following you! You can also follow other successful freelancers in your field to get tips and possibly form a connection that could lead to referrals.

Having a lot of followers is great for spreading awareness of who you are, but don’t sacrifice quality just to get more followers. Make your tweets thoughtful and interesting. And try to keep your brand qualities in mind with every comment you make. If it’s off-brand—don’t hit send!

Word of mouth

The best way to create awareness of your brand is through word of mouth. Recommendations from satisfied clients will always be the best way to get work. But there are lots of other people in your daily life that can also get the word out about your unique talents.

Start with family and friends

You could have some potential clients in your immediate circle of friends and family and not know it. Or if they don’t need your services right now, they may know someone who does.

So let everyone know you are a freelancer! Don’t bore them with all the details of your freelance career, just let them know you are a writer, designer, editor, or web developer, etc., and you are looking for clients.

If you didn’t tell them what you do, how would you know your cousin’s company needs a logo refresh, or your best friend’s car mechanic needs some marketing material written. On top of that, your family and friends know you are a great person and how dependable and trustworthy you are. Awareness of your brand has just grown without you even having to talk to anyone new.

Bosses and co-workers

If you haven’t already, reach out to your former bosses and co-workers to let them know you are freelancing. Explain your brand and ask if they know of anyone who is looking for services like yours, or if they have any advice. They might even hire you on the spot!

While we all know it’s never good to burn your bridges, this is a great reminder to always treat your colleagues with courtesy and respect. You never know when their recommendations and support can make a big difference to your freelance business.

People in your daily life

Your plumber runs their own business, so maybe they need someone to write a blog for their website or design a logo. You’ve hired your plumber for their specific expertise, so tell them about yours. Think about all the people you deal with in your everyday life, like accountants and dogwalkers. They might need your services—but you’ll never know unless you ask.

Existing clients

Always ask your clients to recommend you to their business associates, friends, and family.

Your clients will probably be pleased you asked them. It shows you think they have a valuable opinion and can influence others. But make sure you ask the right person for the recommendation. Instead of the main client who hired you, you might have actually worked more closely with the company’s Communications Director, or Head of IT. That’s really the person who can tell others about the details of the great work you did.

Freelance colleagues

Don’t forget to ask your colleagues for business referrals. This can be especially valuable when you are starting out with your freelance brand and may not have many clients to ask for recommendations. If your colleague is busy, you can take on their extra work. You could also form a relationship with a freelancer in another field, such as a designer, who can send writing projects your way.

It’s easy to get cold feet over cold calling

Cold calling is one of the hardest things to do as a freelancer. There is no exact science, so there is no sure way to get a freelance job out of a cold call.

It’s best to think of cold calling as a first step in forming a relationship with a client you would like to work with.

  • Send an email that quickly explains why you want to work with them, and most importantly, what you can do for them.
  • Do your homework so they can see that you’ve taken the time to understand their business and have thought about ways you can make a difference.
  • Make sure you add in a link to your portfolio, and tailor it specifically for their needs with some glowing testimonials and case studies that highlight your brand.
  • Try to end with a friendly call to action, like, “Please let me know when you are free in the next few weeks to schedule a call to discuss how I can help you reach your goals.”
  • Don’t give up right away, but don’t be too aggressive either. If you don’t hear back in a reasonable amount of time, send another email to see if they are available to talk. Or find an excuse to follow-up, like telling them you are going on holidays and will be back at work next Monday if they would like to set up a time to chat.

Perfect your pitch with networking

One of the side benefits of cold calling is the practice you get perfecting your pitch. You’ll get better at explaining your brand and what you do with every call. Even better, take the opportunity to refine your pitch at social gatherings and networking events.

No matter where you are, you could be meeting a potential client. Casually mention you are a freelancer when you meet people at parties. Don’t be pushy, but if the topic turns to work, get in there with a modified pitch. Just telling someone what you do for a living may put a bug in their ear so they will remember you when they need your specific services.

Networking events

Special networking events are a great place to spread the word about your brand. Find out if there is an industry organization in your field that holds events for prospective clients and freelancers.

Your neighbourhood business association might also have networking events you can attend, or you could even consider joining and get some freelance work from local businesses.

Even networking with other freelancers can help. You can share best practices and freelancing tips, and help each other out when you are overloaded with work. You can even practice your pitch on them!

Become an expert in your field

Show off your unique brand qualities by letting people know you are an expert in your field.

Start mentoring: Volunteer your time as a coach or mentor to young people starting out in your field. Your local community college or community center might have a mentorship program, or need instructors for adult education classes. Build your brand while sharing your expertise.

Provide free tutorials: Create an instructional YouTube video or add a PowerPoint module to your website to share your skills. It will set you up as a subject matter expert and is also a great way to give back by spreading your knowledge. Potential clients will be more open to the rates you've set if you also have free resources.

Be a blogger: Showcase your specialized insight to others through an entertaining and informative blog. It’s a chance to highlight your brand while exploring the hot topics in your line of work. Stay true to topics that align with your brand and are interesting and useful to potential clients. Your search engine optimization rankings also increase when your blog is posted on your website.

Speak at events: Share your expertise while you network with a whole new group of prospective clients by speaking at business conferences and events. Think of the special skills you have and how they could interest a business audience, like writing effective advertising copy or developing an e-commerce website.

Live your brand every day

You don’t have to be a branding expert, or hire one, to create and grow your brand. Take a good look at what you do and figure out the qualities that set you apart. But most important, be true to your brand. Incorporate it into everything you do —from your logo, to how you pitch your freelance work in a cold call. And spread the word about your distinct brand to as many people as you can!