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Business

How to Grow Your Freelance Brand Without Losing Your Sanity

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Small Business Branding.
How to Create a Profitable Brand for Your Freelancing Business
7 Steps to Building a Head-Turning Personal Brand

Ah, branding. It used to be so easy. All you had to do was press a burning hot iron on the backside of your cow and, voila, brand! (Yup, those are the real origins of the word “brand”.)

And as for brand management? That was as easy as herding your cows into the barn at the end of the day. Done. Brand managed.

Today, branding your freelance business has become a little more complex than that. And brand management can feel more like herding high-strung cats than herding tranquil cows.

Issues affecting the growth and management of your freelance brand today can range from the state of your general market to the specifics of your particular offerings, and from the development of your skills to the perception of your brand role by your audience. Try managing all these different components haphazardly without a greater plan to guide you, and you’ll soon find yourself chasing after the aforementioned cats without catching a single one of them.

Nevertheless, successful brand management is crucial for any freelancer who wants to escape the feast-or-famish work cycle and see higher profits from happier clients. So what’s a freelancer without an expert team of brand managers to do?

Take out a BB gun and start shooting at the cats, of course… not!

But I do want you to take aim. A good brand aim with a big brand gun.

The Brand Aim

The first step to accomplishing anything is aiming for it. And the next step is devising a plan to help you go after it.

If you want to manage your brand and grow your freelancing business, you can’t do it with your eyes shut and a wish upon the stars. You need to set some goals, look at them squarely in the eye, and aim at them with precision and mastery.

Wolff Olins, a brand management partner to large multi-national companies, uses a quadrant method to manage the development of its clients. Although your brand may not be quite as big as the players in the Wolff Olins portfolio, the same brand management principles that hold true for the big-name brands hold true for your brand as well. Borrowing a page from their playbook, today we’ll look at a tweaked and adjusted brand-management method that specifically fits the needs of your freelancer brand.

Step 1: Set Your Goal

Taking up your BB (for big brand, that is) Gun, I want you to point it in the direction of your next brand goal. That’s code, by the way, for downloading your free Brand Aim Workbook and completing the first exercise, shown in the picture below.

Branding Goal
Set goal for new brand direction or new brand project.

Is there a new direction in which you want to take your brand or a goal you want to accomplish but don’t know how to? For example: if you’re a photographer who’s been photographing a bit of everything, you may now want to focus your brand on just one type of photography, such as wedding photography, or newborn photography, or artistic portraits. The problem? You don’t know how to shift your brand focus from the generalist to the specialist without facing a big gap in your bookings.

Is there a new service or product you’d like to add to your brand but don’t know how to do it? For example: if you’re a graphic designer who’s been designing logos and other print materials for clients, you may now want to expand your services to include web design to accommodate the growing needs of your clients. The problem? You don’t know how to add these new services to your brand and how to present something new without sacrificing your expert status and seeming as if you’re just trying to dabble in everything.

Whatever the goal you have for your brand is, write it down. Don't worry about how you'll get there just yet. We’ll talk about that in just a second. For now, simply describe your goal as clearly and specifically as possible.

Step 2: Understand Your Aim

With your goal in place, it’s time to learn how to handle the aim on your big brand gun and get it pointing towards your goal. Let’s take a look at the components that make up that aim.

The crosshairs that go through the middle of your goal make up the skeleton of your aim.

Brand Crosshairs Take Aim
Take aim within the brand crosshairs.

The horizontal crosshair extends from "hard" on the left end to "soft" on the right end. "Hard" are the components of your brand that are tangible or measurable. "Soft" are the components of your brand that are usually intangible and not measurable.

The vertical crosshair extends from "external" at the top of the spectrum to "internal" at the bottom. "External" are the components of your brand that are visible to the outside world. "Internal" are the aspects of your brand that are not visible to the world because they happen behind the scenes and internally within your brand.

Each of the four areas created by the slicing of your goal with these crosshairs represents a different component of your brand.

Calibrating Your Brand Components

By breaking down your goal into the four components shown above, you can easily focus on and analyze each one separately. This way you can identify the specific areas of your brand that need work without worrying about the others. And then brand management will seem like a much simpler, far less stressful task to complete.

When you bring each component of your Brand Aim into alignment with your specified goal, you'll be able to hit that goal squarely on the nose without having to dodge any stray bullets from your own gun.

1. Skills

Your skills sit at the intersection of the hard and internal aspects of your brand. Skills are internal because they're something that each person possesses within, and hard because they are visible to the world and measurable.

The most important aspect of calibrating the Skills section of your Brand Aim is exercising self-awareness. You need to take a good, honest look at yourself and your skills to see if there's a particular skill you need to improve or acquire to get to your next brand goal. 

Under the Skills section of your workbook, answer the questions about your current skills and the skills required for reaching your goal and see where you stand. 

Do you already possess all the necessary skills for reaching your goal? Great! You're good to move on to the next brand component.

Found that you're lacking in some skills? No worries! The good part about skills is that they're learnable. The even better part is that you're already at Tuts+ where you can learn or improve practically any skill you need for growing your freelancing business.

2. Offers

Your offers take shape where the hard and external aspects of your brand meet. Your offers are a hard aspect of your brand because they are the tangible products or services your customers can experience. And they are external precisely because they need clients to function. Your offers are essentially the external manifestation of your internal skills. 

Take a look at the questions in the Offers section of your Brand Aim Question to identify any issues you may be experiencing with this component of your brand.

If you find that your offers are good as they are, then you don't have to worry about repackaging the entire service list of your brand again. Even if you need to boost your skills a little bit (component 1), that's not to say that you need to rethink your offers from scratch. You can simply move on to the next component. 

If, however, you find that your current offers are not moving you towards your goal, then you may need to reconsider this section.

Let's say that you're a web designer who's been getting a lot of requests from blog readers about how to fix or even create their own websites. They lack the expert training that you have. Although you like to help them, you can't keep answering these technical questions in-depth without neglecting the work you do for your paid customers. How can you include offers in your brand that serve this new and growing audience without undercutting your established web design services? 

The answer may be that you package your knowledge into a course format that you can sell to web design enthusiasts. This would allow them to learn DIY techniques at their own pace. If your brand is all about personal attention, though, then you may choose a different direction. You could, for example, hold a more intimate workshop with live video sessions for those that already know the basics of web design. 

The question here isn't just about adding the offers that you think your audience wants to see, but also adding those offers in a way that feels genuine to your brand. Consider, how can you keep your new offers on brand?

3. Role

No freelancer is an island. We’re all connected to other freelancers in our industry through invisible lines of communication and client trails. But each freelancer fulfills a different role within the industry. One is the long-standing expert, the other is the fresh-ideas newbie, another is the theoretical mastermind, while yet another is the practical-solutions guru. 

Your role in your industry falls within the external aspects of your brand because it indicates the way others (both clients and colleagues) perceive you. And it falls within the soft aspects of your brand because no can measure the “degree” of your role. Each role within an industry is as unique and distinct as each star is in the night sky.

Answer the questions in the Role section of your Brand Aim Workbook to uncover the role you play within your industry. 

Is your role unique and clearly defined both for you and your audience? In other words, do potential clients immediately know what it is that makes you different from every other freelancer in your industry? If they do, then your new goal will probably follow in the tracks of this role without much tweaking needed. 

But if your role is not as immediately obvious to others then you may need to work on defining it a little better. 

Can the role you play in your industry support you on your way to your new goal, or do you need to work on changing the way people perceive you? For example, if you started out as the “disruptive newbie” of the industry but are now ready to become the “established professional", you'll need to craft that new role carefully and purposefully. You can do that by reorganizing the presentation of your experience and your accomplishments so that they reflect your new role. 

4. Personality

Your brand personality determines which type of customers you attract by the way you interact with them. Your brand personality belongs to the soft aspects of your brand because personality is not measurable in degrees and to the internal ones because it’s something that stems from you, not the outside world. As mentioned in my last Tuts+ tutorial, your brand personality doesn’t have to be identical to your real personality, but it has to be true to the way you like to work and interact with clients. Otherwise, you won't be able to maintain it consistently through your brand.

Your brand personality may be humorous, serious, professional, casual, motivational, supportive, or even offering some tough love. There's no right personality to have, other than the personality that best expresses how best you work. 

Think about your brand personality and how you project that personality through your brand story and material. Do people perceive your personality, or do you need to amplify it through the way you do business? Is the personality you currently project the right one to take you towards your goal, or does it need any further fine‑tuning?

For example, you may have a personable or funny or quirky brand personality, but come across as rather serious and somber, because when you first started out you were concerned with looking "professional". As a result, you may be attracting the wrong kind of clients that don't understand your humor or light-hearted nature, which makes collaborating with them difficult. 

How can you inject more of your true brand personality into the expressions of your brand so that the internal and external aspects of it coincide? Maybe you need to rewrite your website or start writing more personable emails and notes to clients. When you fine-tune your personality to match your goal, you'll find moving towards that goal much easier.

Reaching Your Goals and Managing Your Brand

After you’ve directed your aim through the four components of your brand, you'll know how to guide your brand towards any goal you wish to reach—without getting scratched or bitten in the meantime by any unruly, high-strung cats that threaten your sanity when left to roam about at their free will.

What's the next goal you have for your brand? And which areas of your brand do you need to calibrate to hit that goal? Share with us in the comments! 

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