For freelancers, having a personal brand ensures that people trust that you have the skills, expertise, and professionalism to handle a project and complete it on time. It also makes you stand out from your competitors since it highlights what makes you special and memorable.
Unfortunately, personal branding gets a bad reputation from creatives that associate it with selling out.
In some situations, I can see why this misconception persists. Take Steven Tyler, for example. Most fans of Aerosmith remember him as the lead singer of one of the greatest American rock bands of all-time. Over the years, however, some believe that Tyler has sold out thanks to performing with pop acts at the Super Bowl, appearing as a judge on American Idol, and getting paid to be in Skittles commercials.
I’m not trying to criticize Tyler. Those were his decisions. And, these decisions probably helped introduce his band to a new generation. My point is that Tyler’s personal brand doesn’t necessarily gel with that of a rock star or even that with the rest of his band. As an outsider, it could be easy to see why so many of his fans perceive Tyler as a sellout. He’s no longer the guy who belted out “Dream On.” He’s now that reality star who sells candy.
The thing is, personal branding doesn’t mean that you have to betray your values or “sellout” if you focus on the following five points.
1. Focus on what makes you unique
As I’ve previously mentioned a couple of time, the first place to start when it comes to your personal brand is what sets you apart from others? Despite what people may think of Steven Tyler these days, he has done a pretty consistent job of standing out from other musicians thanks to his wild wardrobe and those scarves on his microphone stand.
For creatives, this means thinking about your unique value proposition, which is just a fancy way of referring to a selling point or the problem your product or service solves for your customer. When determining your unique value proposition, think about;
Your superpowers. What are you really good at? You may be a writer, but there are thousands of writers out there. How is your writing different? Which topics do you excel at? It’s an easy way to differentiate yourself from every other writer out there.
What else you're into. Remember, people want to connect with other people. Embrace the things that make you, well, you. It’s an easy way to start connecting with others and makes you stand out because you’re an authentic and genuine person and not just a freelance finance writer.
Find what’s lacking in the market based on what your interests. As a business coach and author Amanda Abella explains, “When I was a little kid I wanted to be an artist. At some point, I traded in paint for words and became a writer. That being said, I still have a major appreciation for art, so I use it in my branding. For example, my website design is based on the murals in my town’s art district. My Instagram feed is getting artsier as well because it’s a part of who I am. The reason this works for branding is because money is usually scary for people, so my mission has become to make finance as beautiful as possible. This is something that no one in the industry is really doing (at least not to my knowledge) so it’s become my unique value proposition.”
If you’re stuck, then you could try this technique from Dorie Clark, marketing strategy consultant and author of Reinventing You and Stand Out;
“With a three-word exercise, you can do this very quickly on your own. Over the course of a week, for example, you reach out to about half a dozen friends and colleagues. These should be people that know you reasonably well, and you ask them literally just one simple question, and that is, "If you had to describe me in only three words, what would they be?" Where this is helpful is that by the time you get to the 4th, the 5th, the 6th person, you are going to start to see patterns in what they say about you.”
2. Find the right channels and audience
Now that you know what makes you unique, it’s time to find the right channels and audience for you to build your personal brand. For example, if you’re an accountant, then a channel like LinkedIn, as opposed to Snapchat, may be your best bet since it allows you to connect with other professionals who could use your services. If you’re charismatic, then don’t be afraid to put yourself in front of a camera. That’s how Gary Vaynerchuk and Marie Forleo built their empires. That's how I've started building my company Due as well.
While you should have some sort of presence on multiple channels, select the one that best suits your profession, personality, and where most of your audience spend their time.
3. Let your work speak for itself
If you’re producing top-notch work on a consistent basis, then people will take notice. Whether if it’s through referrals, review sites, interviews, or a Google search, people will discover your work if it’s in the upper tier of awesomeness.
You can make it easier for others to view your work by having a portfolio on your website so that they see for themselves how amazing and unique you are.
4. Tell your story
While your work should be able to speak for itself, it also needs a narrative that informs others why you’re the most hire-able creative around, as well as building a human element.
Need a starting point? Here’s some great advice from connector, trainer, and coach Maria Elena Duron, “it is imperative you take the time to really break down your goals, your dreams and your current situation.”
Again, don’t be shy about sharing your personal interests as well. If you’re a dog owner who volunteers at shelters, then make that fact known. It may seem meaningless, but it makes you more relatable to the clients who feel the same way. In fact, that could be the deciding factor between you and another equally talented freelancer.
5. Stand your ground
Finally, make sure that you stand your ground. Say no to clients that don’t gel with your values or lifestyle - even if they’re offering you a boat ton of money. Don’t take on too many projects either. It’s a surefire way to get burnout or miss deadlines. If you see an article that has questionable advice from a fellow freelancer call that person out on their BS. You don’t have to be confrontational or mean-spirited, but just correct them if you know otherwise because you have facts that they don’t.
You don’t have to be confrontational or mean-spirited, but just correct them if you know otherwise because you have facts that they don’t.
Personal branding isn’t about “selling out.” It’s about discovering your strengths and why you’re a rock star. As a result, you’ll attract clients that you want to work with, as well as boost your confidence.