What’s in a brand?
When you think of the word ‘brand’ what comes to mind? For most people, they will think of a company logo, and maybe the colours they use in their materials. But a company brand is so much more than their logo and how they look. It is the essence of a company - who they are, why they exist and what you can expect when interacting with them. The brand is everything someone thinks about in relation to that company.
This can be positive. Like Apple being known for innovation. Or it can be negative. Like the Weinstein Company being associated with the sexual harassment of women.
It can be something factual. Like Tiffany jewellery always coming in an egg-blue box. Or it can be more emotional. Like Digital Mums standing for female empowerment.
But what does this have to do with you?
Brands don’t just apply to companies. They also apply to people. When someone thinks of you, they will have some key adjectives that spring to mind.
Think about Richard Branson for a minute. What adjectives come to mind? For me it's leadership, adventure and entrepreneurialism. What was it for you? Anything similar? Or did my words resonate with you?
Now think about Victoria Beckham. What adjectives come to mind for her? For me it’s style, fashion and family.
I once asked a Digital Mum’s graduate what 3 words came into her mind when thinking of me and she said “feminism, flexible working and hats!”. I’ll take that.
Why is it particularly important for freelancers?
A strong personal brand has become increasingly important for a successful career in today’s competitive jobs market. It can support you to succeed in any career but for freelancers, given that they succeed or fail on the basis of their reputation, a compelling personal brand is most important of all for them. It’s crucial for them to:
- Find clients and win client work
- Work with their target and dream clients
- Earn the income they want
When done correctly, a great personal brand sells a strong image that makes you stand out from the crowd and positions you as a leader and thought leader. It tells people what to expect from you.
Shaping your personal brand for the better
What adjectives come into people’s minds when they think of you? And more to the point, what adjectives do you WANT them to think about? Because you can influence your personal brand just like a company can.
A personal brand is a mixture of your personal and professional history - your personality as much as your experience. It sums up who you are and what makes you, well, you.
There are many elements that contribute to your personal brand:
- What you say about yourself - your biography and how you introduce yourself
- What you say generally - online and in person
- How you say it - your tone of voice, particularly online
- How you present yourself - there’s no getting away from the fact that people make judgements on the basis of what you wear etc.
- What other people say about you
The personal brands mentioned above - Richard Branson, Victoria Beckham and Kathryn Tyler - aren’t accidental. They have been crafted through effort on the part of the individual in question. So you have control over your personal brand and can build it specifically to showcase yourself in whatever light you’d like.
And you can change your personal brand. Think of Victoria Beckham today and you think style, fashion and family but in 1998 these words wouldn’t have sprung to mind.
This is particularly pertinent for freelancers that have changed career, or that want to head in a different direction, or for those facing a common challenge that they aren’t winning the right type of work with the right people.
The following elements contribute to building your brand in a purposeful way.
Your target audience
Your Unique Selling Proposition
A clear personal brand “strategy”
- Your goal: In the context of your personal brand, it’s important to be clear on what you want to achieve as a freelancer.
- Your target audience: There will be people that have the power to support you to achieve your goal, typically your target clients but also potential influencers that can help you to reach them.
- Your Unique Selling Proposition. You need to know who you are and what makes you special. Here, your personality, professional passions and personal interests are just as important to consider as your skills and strengths.
The key thing is you have to KNOW the answer to the above questions. But many freelancers don’t. And that’s what is holding them back. They jump to worrying about their LinkedIn profiles but until they have the answer to the above questions, no amount of LinkedIn updating is going to help. Only when you have answered the above questions can you move to communicating your personal brand and using it to get the freelance career you want.
Case study | Nicola, finance freelancer
Let’s look at an example to demonstrate what we mean.
Nicola was a freelancer and had been freelancing for a couple of years. She had a steady stream of clients, but she wasn’t doing the type of work she wanted to do at the day rate that she wanted.
Nicola was working for a handful of clients doing basic accountancy and tax return filing. She even did the occasional bit of bookkeeping. She was busy but she was bored. She was overqualified for this type of work and she knew it. She wanted more. She wanted to win client work doing financial strategy. That was the work she found interesting.
Nicola’s LinkedIn profile wasn’t the problem. It was bang up to date. It had a good photo and all her experience was on there. It listed things she had achieved for her clients. She was reasonably happy with it. And she was getting loads of clients from online enquiries and word of mouth referrals. But she wasn’t happy with the work that she was winning. What was she doing wrong?
Let’s imagine we got Nicola to think about what fired her up. What was she passionate about? Turns out her passion was all about helping small business owners that weren’t great with numbers. She knew that they can be held back by a lack of understanding of financial strategy and planning. And financial strategy is the key to achieving business success. She was good at this work and she wanted to use her knowledge to help their businesses grow. She wanted to be the Littlest Hobo of the finance world, and instead of working with just a handful of clients on a regular basis, she wanted to move from business to business sorting out their financial strategy.
So the work she wanted to do and was passionate about was financial strategy, financial planning and helping business owners to understand the profitability of their products and services. Very different from bookkeeping.
Nicola also did some work on her personal values which helped her to understand what type of clients she wanted to work with. She also did some work on her ideal day rate which dictated the sorts of clients that would and wouldn’t be able to afford her.
So she now had a clear goal. And a clear target audience.
The reason she wasn’t winning the work she wanted, with the clients she wanted, at the day rate she wanted, was because her personal brand was all wrong and wasn’t speaking to her target clients and their pain points.
Her LinkedIn profile talked a lot about accountancy and bookkeeping and tax returns. And her LinkedIn headline simply said “Financial Controller”. Most small businesses don’t really know what that means. It was a term that was carried over from her previous role in a corporate environment.
So Nicola did some work to develop a clear personal brand that would steer her in the right direction. And she used that to update her LinkedIn profile.
Her headline went from “Financial Controller” to “Using financial understanding to deliver business growth”. She developed a strong and clear bio for her Twitter and her LinkedIn, which she used to update her summary. She edited her previous experience to highlight all the times she had helped with financial strategy and financial understanding. She also offered a local creative brand consultancy some free financial strategy support in exchange for a new visual brand and business cards.
Her new personal brand can now guide her professional development and her sales and marketing strategy. She can use it grow her reputation as a thought leader in her field, and to grow her network of target clients in a strategic way.
If Nicola’s story chimes with you or if you are a new freelancer building your brand from scratch, we have a new course that can help. “Becoming a Successful Freelancer” covers your personal brand and so much more. Register your interest HERE to find out more.