The SitePoint Guide to Personal Branding

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Here’s the thing with creatives – we love our craft.

Whether we specialize in web design, development, typography or copy, we love what we do so much that we live and breathe our work, so much so that we often forget about the mundane parts of our business, such as branding and marketing.

As with any business, a proper branding and marketing strategy is what puts money in the bank.

Assuming that the work will just flow in is a mistake many creatives make.

Just take this amazing graphic artist I know.

She has the ability to understand what a client really needs, even when they’re unable to describe it properly, and translate it into just the right logos.

I don’t know how she gets into their head like this, but her clients love her for it.

Client referrals generate the the majority of her work she does get, but it is far from consistent, which is what she needs.

Like most creatives I know, she hates selling. She hates pitching to new clients, and yet to sustain her lifestyle, she has to keep doing it.

The reason she has to stay selling is because her portfolio does a poor job of translating her innate ability to deliver gorgeous logos to clients.

Since she’s so focused on client work, she has forgotten to create a brand for herself, and, she’s not alone.

I see many freelancers forgetting about their personal brands. This is a huge problem when 34 percent of the U.S. workforce are independent contractors, making competition for the best jobs steeper than ever.

So What’s Stopping You?

I spoke with an array of freelancers to get an answer as to why they weren’t branding themselves. Here are their responses.

“I’m still experimenting.”

They haven’t quite figured out where they want to go or what their goals are as a freelancer. That really is not a reason to hold back. Tim Ferris built a brand, and a business, out of his experiments.

“I don’t want to be tied down.”

Others are afraid to commit to a single storyline, an image. They can’t quite decide what to brand themselves as. When Ramit Sethi started off 10 years ago he branded himself as a personal finance guru. He wrote about getting your finances into order. Today, he has successfully reinvented his brand as a professional development guru who helps his students live a richer life.  Your brand is not set in stone. It is not limited to what you are doing at the moment. It evolves with you, over time.

“What I do is not really brandable.”

What this really means is that they haven’t yet figured out how to brand it, or perhaps, haven’t even made the effort. Would you think traveling across the world is brandable per se?  Chris Guillebeau loved to travel. Just for the heck of it. Sometime into his travels, he figured he wanted to visit every country in the world. He turned his travels, his experiments with frequent flyer miles, airport lounges and a very nomadic lifestyle into The Art of NonConformity brand and many successful books.

“My work speaks for itself.”

I don’t need to create a brand: These people really believe they’re genius and that potential clients will magically recognize it. Do you know Nikolas Tesla? He’s the forgotten genius who invented light bulbs. Yes, it wasn’t Edison.

“I don’t have the time.”

Penelope Trunk started as a freelance writer when her son was born. She’s now onto her fourth successful start up. She’s also an established blogger and an elite career coach. She’s done all that while living on a farm, homeschooling her two sons and cooking fresh meals every day. Like the rest of us, she also only has 24 hours in a day, yet she manages to juggle it all.

Hidden Costs: The Price You Pay

If you’ve nodded along with any one of those excuses, realize that there’s a hidden cost you’re paying for not developing your personal brand. It’s not just limited to the cost of lost opportunities. There is also the time, effort and money you spend on ineffective pitches to new clients. Let’s take a look at some of the hidden costs. Which ones do you identify with most?

1. You need to repeatedly scout around for clients.

You need to consistently sell. You sell hard. You need to put together new pitches, with new messaging, for new potential clients, who never sign up. Repeatedly. That’s a lot of unpaid work.

2. There’s no flow across clients.

You need to start from scratch with each new client and prove yourself all over again. Different clients have very different messaging. You spend time and energy just switching between styles.

3. You end up with a ton of those kinds of clients.

The kind that sap your energy and leave you feeling miserable about your work.

4. You’re just like everyone else – a commodity.

With the large number of services available online, you find yourself competing to get attention – mainly on price. As a result, you usually end up slashing your rates, just to land a client.

Take a deep breath and add up the hidden costs. Just put your hourly rate against all the hours spent on unfruitful pitches and the bad clients you’ve had to deal with. I’m sure it adds up to a lofty number.

The benefits of having a personal brand

If you’re not getting the kind of work you want, with your dream clients, chances are you need to work on either your brand or your skill. Let’s just assume for the moment that your skills are top notch, and yet you’re struggling to get the right set of clients. Here’s how crafting your personal brand will help you.

1. It will help you tell your story.

The biggest advantage of your personal brand is that you get to tell your own story. The way you like it. You can frame your story, your projects, your ups and downs the way you want. You can choose what you want to include, what to leave out, what to highlight and what not to. You get to be the person you want to be. You can learn how to tell your story effectively on The Story of Telling blog.

2. It helps you stand out from the crowd.

By showcasing what makes you unique, you set yourself apart from the crowd. People pay for the value they feel you bring to the table. Highlight the value proposition you bring to the client. This puts you in a better position to name your (higher) price. Notice how Kris Carr sets her brand apart from all the gurus promising wellness? She’s not talking “get fit” or “lose weight” or “eat healthy.” She talks about “crazy, sexy wellness” to stand out from the crowd of wellness advisors.

3. It lands you the right clients.

Or rather it gets the right clients to coming to you. No one likes chasing clients, and no one wants to be stuck with the wrong kinds of clients.

Notice how Contently subtly says “high-end brand publishing.”

That one word subtly filters out the low end brands or those with lighter pockets.

Also, take Marie Farleo’s brand. She straight up promises to help her clients get anything they want. Read through her blog, and you can see she understands their fears, their needs and their desires. Her clients see that too. Thousands sign up for her BSchool course each year.

4. It builds trust.

Proper branding builds rapport with your readers. It helps people see what you stand for and what your values are. Potential clients are more likely to trust, and hire freelancers who share similar values.  Pat Flynn has built his band on trust. Starting out as an Internet novice in 2008, he’s now a thought leader in the passive income community and makes around $100,000 per month.

5. It establishes your authority.

Everyone respects authority. Everyone wants authority on their side. Over time, building your brand helps you establish your authority, and once established, it draws in clients and supporters. For example CopyBlogger’s page shows how they’ve built their authority and how they do it for their clients.

The Two-Step Method to Crafting Your Brand Strategy

So now that you know what you’re losing out on by not crafting your brand and how it can help you land better clients, what’s next? There are many guides to branding available on the web, discussing logos, color schemes, social media and websites, but those are just the tools – ways you express your brand and build it. What you need to do first is craft your brand strategy. The crux of it boils down to two not-so-simple steps that most people overlook.  

1. Know yourself.

It requires more than it sounds. Knowing yourself is the key to making your branding right.

  • What are your skills?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your values?
  • What are your goals – short term and long term?
  • Where do you want to see yourself in two years, five years and 10 years from now?  

Craft a personal brand strategy that leverages your strengths to help you get where you want. Anything less than that is just not worthwhile. It won’t be authentic. It will not help your essence, your passion to shine through.

2. Know your Client

Construct a persona for your ideal client.

Know them – not just their demographics or other shallow information . Go deeper into their problems, their desires, their fears and their aspirations. Craft your brand story around getting them from where they are today to where they want to be.

Two deceptively simple steps, but ones that are crucial to getting your branding right.

Having these two things clear will help you create a brand that stands out.

Don’t just keep this in your head. Write it down on paper. Revisit it every day, and see how it feels to you over time.

Only once you have this thought process detailed, should you move on to the next step of actually building your brand and figuring out the right channels to market it. The clarity you have in these two key aspects will guide your decisions, your choices and the people you draw to you.

Where do you stand? Have you put in the effort to really understand your strengths, your offerings and how you can really help your clients?

Richa JainRicha Jain
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Once upon a time, Richa was a savvy techie & manager, in the semiconductor software industry. After her miraculous escape and recovery, she now works from her garden, creating websites, writing about technology, business & entrepreneurship; and helping others escape the cubicle lifestyle.

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