Your brand is crucial: it’s everything that makes a prospective client happy to work with you, or even reminds the client that you exist. But a brand isn’t something that you come up with overnight. You build a brand, brick by brick. You need the right foundation and the right supplies.
A Mission: Your Brand’s Foundation
Establishing a brand goes a lot deeper than hanging out your shingle as a freelancer.
For all the jokes we make about big corporations and their mission statements, having a mission is important when you’re building a brand. You need to be focused on what you want to do and who you want to do it for.
Establishing a brand goes a lot deeper than hanging out your shingle as a freelancer. After all, there is plenty of work you don’t want. Chances are you can sit down and make a list without much prompting. It’s somewhat harder to identify what you do want in the way of work, but figuring it out will have a major impact on your ability to brand yourself and bring in new clients.
There are certain questions that you need to ask yourself to make sure that your brand really matches what you want to do with your career. Despite Dilbert’s claims otherwise, creating a mission statement can be very time-intensive. You need to look at your goals and aims in some serious depth.
What Do You Want to Be Remembered For?
Start from where you want to end up. It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but it’s a lot easier to create a map when you have a destination in mind. You don’t need to be able to meet all the requirements that go along with your goals today — it’s perfectly fine to plan a brand that you’re going to work to achieve, and you may well get a much better brand out of that effort.
Take the time to consider what you want people to think about when they hear your name, not just now but down the road. Even think about, if you can stand the morbidity, what your obituary might include. The graphic designer behind the world’s greatest band posters? The web developer who revolutionized user experiences for online ordering? The writer who was the definitive authority on caring for large dog breeds? You can get as specific as you want.
Narrow down your choices to just a few. The more specific you can get, the better you can evolve what you want to be into an actual brand.
Who Do You Want to Recognize Your Name?
There are very few personal brands that transcend industries, especially if we aren’t talking about outright celebrities. Steve Jobs is one of the few examples who comes to mind, and few enough of us will ever come close to his name recognition.
In fact, even if your creative skills aren’t quite as polished as some of your competitors, building a name for yourself isn’t out of the question.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t build up a little fame of your own. It’s perfectly possible — if not absolutely required — to build up a reputation if you want to grow your freelance business to the point where clients are coming to you without much marketing. That means that becoming at least a name brand in your specific niche can be very useful. That, in turn, requires a certain effort beyond just being the best freelancer in your niche ever.
In fact, even if your creative skills aren’t quite as polished as some of your competitors, building a name for yourself isn’t out of the question. That requires branding yourself as an expert as much as it requires your actual skills. If you can be the person quoted in articles about the trends in website design for your niche, for instance, you’ve got a headstart on brand recognition.
What Do You Have to Do to Get There?
Odds are pretty good that you’ve come out of the last question with an ambitious goal. It may not be something that you can just announce you’re ready for. You may need to work up to that sort of reputation. So what will it take to get there?
- What sort of work do you need to focus on landing?
- What sort of clients have that work?
- Are there any side projects that will move you in the right direction?
Of course, these questions have plenty of corollaries themselves — we’re not talking about a small amount of work to build a brand or a reputation. But if you have a clear game plan, you can guide the evolution of your career in the direction you want it to go, rather than just waiting for opportunities to come along. That plan, with ordered goals that you need to reach in order to build the career you want, can also be a key part of your mission. For some freelancers, individual goals are just as important as an overall brand, and they’re easier to work towards.
What Sort of Good Do You Want to Accomplish?
As we talk about marketing and branding, it can sometimes seem a little cold-blooded: networking can seem like just an effort to meet people and then convince them that they want to give you money. But business is only as cold as we allow it to be. The impact your work leaves in the long-run should be exactly what you want it to be. Yes, hopefully you’ll earn a ton of money, but you should also make sure that your mission leaves you room to do good.
The impact your work leaves in the long-run should be exactly what you want it to be
The good you want to do can and should come back to your own passions. You don’t have to build good deeds directly into your business model. It’s nice, but sometimes there isn’t an obvious connection. Sometimes there is — you can provide opportunities to others in a whole host of ways when you have the creative skills necessary to run a business — but even building a plan to donate time or money to specific causes on a regular basis can help you to build a brand that really does reflect what you want to do in your career.
What to Do With All Your Answers
As you answer all of these questions, you may end up with an epic stack of notes. To turn that stack of notes into an actual statement that you can use to guide your branding, you’re going to need to do some writing. For the freelance writers in the crowd, this won’t be a problem, but for everyone else, it might be a bit harder. It’s always easier to write longer statements in this sort of situation, rather than immediately parse everything down to a few lines.
So go for the big defining document — a manifesto, rather than a mission statement. Put in everything you can think of. Write it up in a format that works for you. An outline is just as good as an essay in this scenario.
Once you’ve got everything in that you can possibly imagine, it’s time to do the hard part. You’re going to have to pare down that big, long document into something that you can easily keep in mind as you’re branding your business. Your end goal is a statement: something you can memorize and mutter to yourself as you’re working on your next great marketing push, when you’re deciding if a client is a good fit for you and even when you’re out networking and talking about what you do. Just how long that should equal out to depends on you: if you can get it all into one sentence, great. If you need three bullet points, that’s fine. But you want something short and sweet that you can remember easily.
Don’t be afraid to revisit your mission statement. Stash all those notes and edits you make somewhere you can pull them out to look at them later on. While your overall brand will hopefully remain similar over the course of your career (at least in terms of questions like who you work with and what you do), your actual mission statement may evolve, especially as you achieve some of your goals and keep moving forward. If you make a point of re-evaluating your mission on a regular basis, you’ll have an easier time of keeping your current work in line with what you want to accomplish in the long run. Make a date with yourself each year, if that’s what it takes.
A mission statement, as well as a brand, isn’t worth anything if you can’t stick to it. If, after some time, you find that your brand isn’t a good fit, you always have the option of changing it. It takes work to start over on a brand, but you have to make sure that your mission is a good fit for who you are — otherwise the disconnect will make it harder to land clients. And, at the end of the day, as freelancers client work is what we need.