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12 Steps to Building Your Stand-Out Freelance Brand

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There are a million freelancers out there. The question is, how are you going to get noticed and help people remember you and the type of freelance work you do?

The answer is branding yourself. As a freelancer, you need to create a memorable way for prospects to easily recall who you are and your freelancing specialty. I've reviewed hundreds of freelancers' websites, and most of them don't do a good job of presenting a memorable brand. But the good news is, it isn't hard to improve your branding and gain a higher profile as a freelancer.

There are two basic ways to approach branding as a freelancer:

  • Create a business name that tells people what you do in a snappy, artful way
  • Use your own name but develop a concise motto or tagline that fills prospects in on your specialty

I know freelancers who've had great success using both of these strategies, so it's not that one approach is always better than the other. It's a question of which approach appeals to you and works best for the message you're trying to get across.

Let's look at how these branding approaches play out as you develop all the building blocks of your marketing toolkit as a freelancer. These are the steps to building a brand each freelancer needs to go through. It's important to develop a clear brand message for your business.

Your goal is to present a consistent, unified message in all your marketing -- at in-person networking events, on your website, on your business cards and other printed marketing materials, and in social media. Repeating one brand message will also help make you easier to remember. Let's look at key branding tips to consider when creating your freelance brand.

1. Develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Before you dash off buying up any Website URLs or anything, let's start at the beginning. What makes you unique as a freelancer? For some, it might be an area of knowledge -- you're a designer specializing in WordPress, or a healthcare writer.

No matter how you call out your strengths, your branding should quickly convey what you offer.

Maybe your edge is that you're both a writer and photographer. Or perhaps you've been at your trade for more than 20 years. Another angle is that you might want to emphasize where you're physically located to help attract clients based in your area.

No matter how you call out your strengths, your branding should quickly convey what you offer. For instance, Stefanie Flaxman is Revision Fairy -- which tells you right away she specializes in proofreading and editing. Another approach: freelance writer Emily Suess simply has her name and "Freelance Writer | Indianapolis" as her branding tagline (and she ranks highly on a wide-open search for "freelance writer").

If you have more than one niche or emphasis point you could use here -- say, you're a freelance Drupal site developer based in Dallas -- you might want to brand your business with both identifiers, or pick the one you think will be most effective in drawing clients.

While the Internet has made freelancing a global business and clients could be anywhere, many companies and publications do prefer local freelancers. You'll have to weigh where you are trying to find clients in deciding whether to mention your location in your brand.

2. Research Your Business Brand Name

Once you know what niche you want to present yourself within, you can begin thinking about whether to go the catchy-business-name route or whether you'll use your own name as your business brand name. To help you decide, take two steps: Do some keyword research online, and do some in-person market research, too. See how both search engines and live humans react to your ideas to help you find your best choice.

3. Choose an Appropriate URL

The big controversy in freelance marketing is whether to grab your name as your URL or a branded company name. If you take a brand name, buy your name URL to and just make it kick over to the branded one. Even if you don't want to use it now, lock down your name URL so nobody else takes it. You never know when you might want to use it in future.

If possible, get good search words into your URL. To do this, think not just about what got the most searches in your research, but about what terms prospects will enter when searching for your type of freelancer. This is a smaller audience than everyone searching on Google, but it's the important one. For instance, more people overall might search on "freelance writing," but I believe prospects looking to hire a freelance writer probably don't search on that. They would search for a "freelance writer." Too many freelancers set up a URL like "http://cindywrites.com" and blow an opportunity to get found easily on search by not thinking like a client about SEO.

Strive for brand unity here -- if you choose a business name, make it your URL and show it on your home page. An all-too-common mistake is brand disunity -- your URL says one thing, your header says another thing, and your name is a third element.

4. Use a Snappy Tagline

If you're using your own name as your business name, here's where you'll put the snappy tagline that will give you the branding you want. Keep it short -- five or six words is the limit. "Austin healthcare writer" may be low-glamour, but it will help you get found.

5. Integrate Your Brand into Your Website Design

Branding isn't just the words you choose to describe your freelance business. The look of your website also makes a strong impression and gives you an opportunity to help people easily remember you. For instance, I know a realtor whose last name is Aro. You guessed it -- his logo is an arrow.

We don't all have as simple a way to make a visual connection, but think about what you could do to create a visual icon for your brand.

We don't all have as simple a way to make a visual connection, but think about what you could do to create a visual icon for your brand. It can be well worth hiring a design professional if that's not your expertise. Take a look at Stefanie's Revision Fairy logo, for instance. She hired a professional cartoonist for that, and I would consider it well worth a few hundred bucks to develop a strong visual brand cue like this.

Don't forget the most important visual element of your freelancer website: a nice photo of you that makes you look businesslike and approachable. I like Oscar Halpert's approach.

6. Develop Your Bio

It helps if people can read a bit about you right on the home page (right next to that nice photo is a good spot). A mini-bio that links to a main bio or "About me" page is a great way to go.

7. Reinforce Your Brand on Your About Page

Many freelancers don't realize that this is an extremely important page. On most sites, it is the most-visited page after the Home page. On this page, you want to tell a story about who you are, the types of freelance work you do, and how you solve client's problems.

The balance to strike: Reinforce your brand and call out what you do, while focusing on the way you help clients and make their lives better. For a good example, take a look at one of the best branded freelance sites I know -- The Word Chef.

8. Tell a Story with Your Resume

Do you want to read a freelancer's resume? I don't, either. Resumes are boring. Instead, if you feel a need to have a resume page, use it to tell a story of the best jobs you've had or best clients. Show your personality as defined by your brand here. I've turned mine into a tab that's called Where I've Been, which elaborates on why I'm an experienced freelance writer in my market.

9. Use Your Blog to Build Your Brand

Your blog is another chance to expand on your brand statement. Are you writing about your area of expertise? Do the graphics tie back to your business site and brand? This is an opportunity to create shareable content that keeps reinforcing your brand online.

10. Compose Your Quick Elevator Speech

This is where you boil your branding down into a short statement that conveys quickly what you do for clients. Don't make it a laundry list of types of work you do or clients you have. Instead, focus on the results you get for clients. For instance, in my role as a writing coach and mentor, I say, "I help freelance writers earn more money."

11. Further Your Brand in Your Social Media Profiles

Social media is a great place for snappy branding. If you're using your name as your business name, look at your tagline for inspiration for your social-media handle. On a quick scan of Twitter, I find @ClairelyWritten, the handle of writer Claire Palermo, for one nice example of how to add branding in social media when you're using your own name as the business.

Take the time to get your brand logos into your social-media profiles, too. You can make a great brand statement on Twitter by changing out the background to look like your website, for instance. Use your brand lingo in your social-media bios as well.

12. Design Integrated Business Cards

Once you've got your Website and social-media profiles set up, get all of those links onto your business card. Make sure the look and tagline on your card is the same as the look on your website and all your other marketing materials.

Bonus Branding Tip

If you create strong branding for your own business, it can help you get freelance gigs assisting other companies work on their own branding.

When you have all your branding elements in place, it's time to look at them for consistency and unity. Do they all use the same buzzwords and branding. Do they offer the same basic message about you? They should. To see a great example of unified branding on a freelancer site, go back to The Word Chef and check out that site in more detail. She uses her cooking theme in every line -- even her newsletter for prospects is called "Free PB&Js."

How are you branding your freelance business? Leave a comment and a URL so we can take a look.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by primastock.