In this part of the Start Freelancing series, I’ll tackle the question – just how much of your freelance ‘brand’ do you need to set up before you start trying to find clients? And what the heck is a brand anyway?
In its simplest terms, your brand is ‘what people think about you and your services’.
Put like this, you can see that you can’t just decide to not bother with a brand. It’ll develop on its own (in the minds of your clients, contacts and various places throughout the web) whether you like it or not. Much better to steer it in the direction you want from day one.
What you need is a firm idea of the services and qualities you want to be known for, so you can:
a) Talk confidently about your business to potential clients
b) Set up an ‘online home’ to communicate this message (so clients can check you out in their own time).
Makes sense? Excellent. Let’s crack on with the six essential steps in creating your bare minimum brand.
1. Know how you want people to see you
Which qualities or values do you want to be known for? Think of three positive words that best describe you when you are working e.g. creative, reliable, friendly, professional, great at big ideas/the important details, frank and honest, etc. Think of these qualities or values as being the basis of your brand.
Be honest about this – your brand will only work for your business when it reflects the real you. You need to naturally ooze your brand values, so that you give out a consistent and authentic message in every meeting you have, every tweet you make and every piece of work you do.
2. Develop your elevator pitch
Your elevator pitch is a few sentences that you have ready to say when anyone (particularly a potential client) asks ‘So what do you do?’. You don’t want to lose that golden opportunity to garner their interest by saying:
‘Erm, I kind of do stuff on people’s websites. You know, like usability and er..making them not so complicated and I do a bit of testing and whatnot.’
Or even a plain old…
‘I’m a freelance writer.’
Both of these will probably get a cursory ‘Oh, yes? How interesting’ before your dream client moves on.
Rather than answering the question ‘What do you do?’ your elevator pitch needs to answer the question ‘What can you do for me?’
In fact, your pitch needs to:
- Describe who your clients are
- Convey the benefit you bring to those clients and how you do it
- Reflect the style of your brand (warm and chatty, or exclusive and professional)
So, here’s an example. Rather than:
‘I’m in market research.’
‘I help retailers to really understand what their customers want…so I might design and run a survey or a focus group, or more often these days I’ll monitor what’s being said about the company on social media.’
Design and practise your pitch so that it comes naturally, rather than sounding like a rehearsed speech.
3. Decide what you’ll call yourself (for now)
Tricky one, this. It would be ideal to know from the start what you’re going to call your business. Will it be your own name (e.g. Lyndsey Miles) or a business name (e.g. Freelance Parents)? There are a whole host of pros and cons for each option (which I’ll cover in a later post) but for now, I would advise sticking with your own name. Why?
- It’s always worth securing the domain name and social media profiles related to your name anyway, so you won’t be losing anything by doing this now (even if you redirect everything to a business name later).
- Creating a business name requires some serious thought and possibly a commitment to a niche, but this takes time and your current priority is creating some income.
- It’ll do you no harm to build a great reputation around your own name first and it may make it easier to generate the personal network that’ll support you in the coming years.
The only exception to this might be if your name is either very common (John Smith) or difficult to spell (Xzanthcia Qalsticz).
4. Stake your claim on your name
If you haven’t already done so, you need to buy the domain for your own name (i.e. www.lyndseymiles.co.uk). You might need to try some variations if it’s already taken (using hyphens, or adding words related to your service). You’re not necessarily going to use it right away, but it costs very little to own it. I use TSOhost where you can currently buy a co.uk domain for £3.35 per year.
Then go and bag your name on as many of the social media networks that you can, particularly Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. Complete the basic profile on each of these using a variation of your elevator pitch. Again, you don’t need to start using all of these straight away, but best to nab those names now.
5. Create an online home
You need a home somewhere on the web – somewhere to which you can direct people if they want to find out more about you. The ideal home is, of course, your own website. Whilst this is easier than ever these days with WordPress (and I’d be happy to walk you through it), if you’re not already familiar with setting up a site, this might be a distraction too far at this point.
Assuming your clients are business people, I’d suggest that the best place to house your bare minimum brand for now is LinkedIn.
When people use LinkedIn they tend to be in business mode, they expect to see people selling their skills and they have often come purposely searching for talent. It’s also an amazing tool for searching out and connecting with potential clients, which I’ll cover in a later post.
Make your LinkedIn profile the best it can be. I was going to give my own advice here, but some other people have already done it so well, I decided to leave it to them. Check out this rather excellent advice:
If you do nothing else, make sure that you:
- Create a strong headline which includes the keywords people will use to search for you.
- Write a summary that’s essentially a souped-up version of your elevator pitch (people are expecting a reasonably hard sell here), plus a summary of relevant credentials/experience. Again, include keywords here.
- Add a professional-looking photo.
- Add a set of skills for which you believe people will endorse you.
- Edit your ‘Public Profile URL’ so that rather than including a long string of random letters and numbers, it’s something like ‘www.linkedin.com/in/lyndseymiles’.
- Once your profile is complete, connect with as many ex-colleagues as possible and try to gain testimonials and skill endorsements – if you provide these for other people first, they will often reciprocate.
You now have a respectable place where you can direct potential clients if they want to know more about you. Result!
When LinkedIn might not be the right place to be:
- If your clients are individuals who will be in ‘personal mode’ when they are in the market for your services, you really do need a professional-looking website for your business. This should aim to inspire the trust that individuals will need to have in you before they pay for your service.
- In some fields such as web design or graphic design, clients will probably expect you to have a more impressive-looking portfolio than the one you can create on your LinkedIn profile.
6. Get yourself a business card
No matter how new your business is, you don’t ever want to find yourself in a situation where someone asks for your details and you have to rip out a bit of paper from your notebook and scribble down your email address. Believe me, I’ve been there – I cringed.
- your business name
- your contact details
- either your website URL or the LinkedIn URL you created earlier
- an indication of your services (you could put this on the back of the card)
There you have it – your bare minimum freelance brand.
And not a logo in sight. There’ll be plenty of time for that later once you’ve earned some money.
Sorting out these brand essentials is the first step in putting yourself out into the market. Once you have them nailed, you should feel a little better armed to face prospective clients. Which is good news, because that’s what we’ll be embarking on in the next part of the series…