how to brand yourself

How to Brand Yourself (And Get Your Freelancing Business Out of the Garage)

Lauren Bonk

It’s hard to gauge just exactly how many working bands and musicians there are in the US, but, according to SongTrust, BMI has over 650,000 composers, songwriters, and music publishers in their repertoire, with ASCAP having at least 500,000, and SESAC claiming more than 30,000. That’s over 1,180,000 musicians.

It’s awfully difficult to stay afloat in a sea that big… let alone rise above it. Growing your freelancing business isn’t much different; different sea, same amount of water.

What’s the defining factor between a successful freelancer and one who finally just decides to go back to his or her day job?

Obviously, luck and talent have something to with it, but oftentimes the real difference comes with marketing. You’ve got to put yourself out there if you want to get noticed.

Clients are not going to hear your name on the wind and follow it to your doorstep.

The thing about marketing is that you’ve got to have something to market, and when you’re freelancing, that can be a little difficult. How do you market yourself? You’re a person, not a big company!

You may not be a corporation, and you are definitely a lone human, but as a freelancer, you’re also a brand.

The water can get a little muddy and confusing when you start throwing out the word “brand.” Some people think a brand is a product, others think it’s your logo. I think the wise, Yoda-of-marketing, Seth Godin, says it best:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Everything that makes up the identity of your freelancing business is your brand… from the service or product you provide to the signature at the end of your emails.

So how can personal branding bring you success? We’d love take a few moments to teach you how to brand yourself… but you might want to brush the cobwebs off the ol’ air guitar.

Freelancing is a lot like starting an indie band.

A successful indie band is one that gains enough popularity to make income and fund more ventures, but also maintains its high quality and well-loved sound throughout the process of gaining fame.

The only way to pull that off is for the band to have a solid identity; a unifying feeling of what they stand for and appreciate. They’ve got to be able to get their names and music out of the garage and into the public in a way that’s recognizable and memorable.

In other words, the band has got to have a brand… and so do you.

Start with the basics and work your way up.

What’s at the heart and soul of your freelance business?

Why it’s you, you crazy kid.

You want to showcase the services you provide while also highlighting something memorable about your personality… your “signature sound,” if you will.

From here, you’ll be able to create a business name, find a catchy tagline to match it, and create an ecosystem of mission statements and branding merchandise that will hold you and your freelancing work above water.

Michelle Schulp, WordPress designer, creative extraordinaire, and owner of Marktime Media, has crafted an extremely effective brand for herself. From her design and presentation prowess right up to her vibrant pink hair, she’s got a recognizable brand that works. She’s also got some great advice on getting started:

“Your voice: who are you? What makes you awesome as a freelancer? Are you fun? Easy to talk to? Super smart and specialized? Relaxed? Obsessed with deadlines? How do you want people to interact with you? If you can put some thought into that part of it, everything else will start falling into place.”

We’ll visit our indie band in their small garage, for an example:

This particular garage is the rehearsal space for Andi and Andy, a husband-and-wife duo playing traditional bluegrass music on a small scale. They’d like to get serious about making albums and promoting themselves, but haven’t gotten much further than playing tunes next to the lawn mower.

They’re tempted to go with something like “The Ands” or Andi + Andy, because their similar names have become part of their collective persona over the years… but that didn’t really convey anything about their product: the music.

Andi and Andy developed their love for bluegrass when they traveled cross-country and got lost in the mountains of Kentucky. Through the help of the residents, they were able to find their way out of the Appalachian Mountains, but the iconic local music followed them home.

After hours upon hours of self-reflection and analysis, they came up with Andalachia. By coupling the twin-names that have become part of their identity with the portion of the country that shaped their musical tastes, they’ve created a unique name that will remind them and others of who Andalachia is, where Andalachia came from, and what Andalachia is all about as they continue on their musical path.

What are your strengths? What is unique to you? How can you craft an identity that communicates to a potential client what your skills are, and what sets you apart from others in your field?

Focus on your clients.

While representing yourself is important in personal branding, you’ve also got to keep your potential and current clients in mind. The meat of your brand has to revolve around the services you provide to the people who pay you money. This means you need to do some serious thinking about things like your mission statement, elevator pitch, and tagline.

With a name like “Andalachia,” Andi and Andy might find themselves with a little ‘splaining to do. While it embodies their music style and personalities, it’s not going to be universally understood. A tagline will help them stick to their creative decisions while also communicating a little more to their audience. Something along the lines of “Andalachia: A modern, musical adventure following Bluegrass back to its roots.”

If you choose to simply use your name as your brand, a tagline is especially important. Something as basic as your location and occupation can be enough to communicate just what it is that you do, but something catchy and creative is ideal. Take ApproveMe, for example. It’s a title that embodies what we do, but doesn’t say it explicitly. If you head to our website, however, you’ll see the headline “Use Your WordPress website to Sign Documents.” Clean and to the point.

An elevator pitch is a way to succinctly explain the mission of your business in a compressed amount of time. Not only will this come in handy when you’re working on your networking skills, but it will also force you to boil your ideas down to the basics.

A mission statement will be longer and more thorough than an elevator pitch, and is great for the “About Me” or “Services” portion of your website. This will give you a chance to elaborate on how your services or product will not only serve your potential clients, but also set you apart from the competition.

Gather your building materials and get visible.

This is the part that can get overwhelming. There’s a small chance that you’re a branding or marketing expert, but there’s a bigger chance that you’re a different kind of freelancer who simply wants to get your name out there. How do you turn your brainstorming into branding reality?

Michelle’s got more wisdom on this intimidating part of the branding process:

“…the most important part of freelancing is people being able to get a hold of you, and seeing you’re good at what you do. So, you probably need a) a website, and b) some sort of thingy to give people when they meet you. But how much effort you put into that stuff depends on what you actually do for a living.”

She goes on to explain that a web developer should focus on a clean website that showcases their coding abilities rather than worrying too much about impeccable graphic design, and a writer might be better off with a template that allows them to concentrate on the words they fill it with.

So what about Andi and Andy? A website with a recognizable logo would be good, along with a few things that get people to that website… but do they really need business cards? Probably not. T-shirts, stickers, and buttons with an easy-to-spot URL will serve them nicely. Worrying about covering the 1998-era station wagon they use for touring with a customized logo-wrap would waste time and money they don’t need to spend.

A few tips:

-Keep your means in mind. Remember, you’re building a brand. If you can’t afford a custom website right now, snag an appropriate WordPress theme and start filling it with what you need.

-If you’re unsure of a business name, go ahead and scoop up the domain name of your actual name anyway. You’ll have it for sure if you want to stick to that, or you can use it to redirect people to your official URL.

-Incorporate testimonials into your branding if you can. Potential clients are especially interested in what former clients have to say about you.

-Consider blogging, if that fits your niche. It’s a good way to provide brand-related content to your followers and keep you visible, even when they’re not currently using your services.

-For more help with branding and freelancing in general, Michelle suggests Freelancers Union, Envato Blogs, and Bidsketch Blog.

-We, of course, have to throw ApproveMe’s growing freelance blog into the hat of resources, as well.

A solid brand will give you staying power.

and that’s a trait that instills confidence in potential clients. If you can learn how to brand yourself and collect enough of that confidence, you’ll be working away for years to come, possibly with the rustic sounds of Andalachia playing in the background.

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