It’s been predicted that by the year 2020, roughly 40% of the entire U.S. workforce will be freelancers. That’s a massive 60 million people and it’s not only the United States that’s seeing explosive freelancing growth either; freelancing is also on the rise in the UK, India and many other countries around the world.
It’s pretty obvious to see why this might be the case; after all, there are a huge number of benefits to freelancing. You can set your own hours, choose your own clients and ultimately, lead a better quality of life than you would in the regular 9 – 5 slog. However, with more people than ever (including myself) turning to freelancing, it means that there’s ever-increasing competition in the freelancing world which in-turn can make obtaining and ultimately keeping clients harder than ever.
So what’s the answer to this problem? How do you create a business that will appeal to your desired client-base and stand the test of time? The answer: create a brand for yourself.
Most freelancers never really think about their brand and if they do, mistakes are often made that can be costly (trust me, I’ve made them). It’s also important to realise that branding your freelancing business requires more effort than designing a pretty logo (here’s a great logo design guide, though) although that can still be an important part of the process.
Below, I’m going to run through some of the things that you should be considering when creating yourself a brand along with some common mistakes (including many that I personally made).
Use your freelance status to your advantage
One mistake that I personally made when I was starting out in the world of freelancing was to try and hide the fact that I was a freelancer. From liaising with other freelancers, I think this tends to be a mistake that a lot of people make too.
For me, the reason for this was quite simple. I assumed that companies would rather do business with a ‘team’ of people (or perhaps an agency) rather than an individual freelancer. Due to this assumption, I tried to make myself sound more professional when responding to emails/queries and would often say things like “myself and my team would be happy to help…” or simply used the word “we” instead of “I”. I even initially started doing business under a company name rather than my own personal name.
Strangely, the reason I did this was actually for branding reasons. I thought that creating a ‘brand’ (i.e. a company name, website, logo etc) would serve me better in the long run. Needless to say, this was a mistake and didn’t provide any benefit whatsoever. I found that companies (and other freelancers) actually preferred to work with freelancers in many cases as generally they’re cheaper, offer a more personalised level of customer service and aren’t passing projects back and forth between team members (which allows things to get done faster). Most freelancers also don’t charge VAT here in the UK which can reduce the bill by around 20% for clients.
So, my advice would be to work on building a personal brand and be proud of your freelance status. Let your clients know that you’re a freelancer and let them know the benefits. Let them know that your work is exceptional but without the exceptionally high price tag that a company might charge. Use words like “I” and not “we” and if you do use other freelancers from time-to-time, don’t refer to them as part of your ‘team’. Make it your priority to respond to their emails or phone calls promptly and in a personable and down-to-earth manner.
Stick primarily to one thing
When you first start out in the world of freelancing, you’ll probably be amazed that you can earn money from the comfort of your own home and in your own sweet time. Because of this, it’s easy to say yes to anything that comes your way, no matter what the clients are looking for and/or what the price tag is.
Obviously, you’ll probably have to do a few boring or undesirable projects in the early days of freelancing but you need to make sure that you don’t become a ‘jack of all trades’. It’s a really easy thing to do but if you fail to specialise in one area, chances are that you’ll never build up a desirable portfolio or attract the clients you really want to attract.
For example, it’s easy to be the guy (or girl) that designs, codes, writes and markets websites, but chances are that you’ll both be best at and enjoy one of those areas the most. Whichever area that is, try and stick to it as much as possible.
By doing this, you’ll be able to build up a great portfolio and be known as the person who’s the best at your chosen field and build a brand around it. If you can achieve this, you’ll always have the best clients willing to pay for great work.
On the other hand, if you do ‘a bit of everything’, your brand will effectively be watered down and you won’t give clients any reason to choose you. As an example, imagine if Apple suddenly started loading Android onto iPhone’s and iPad’s, they’d lose their brand image as (arguably) the best software company on the planet. Consumers would lose faith in their abilities and it’s likely that their sales would take a hit.
It’s the same with your freelance business so find what you’re best at (and enjoy the most) and stick with it. That way, even if you’re undercut by lower-priced competitors from countries like India, clients will still choose you (in the same way that consumers still choose to purchase an iPad rather than a cheaper Android alternative). It’s about trust.
As a freelancer, your business and yourself aren’t two separate entities, they’re the same thing. This is great for freelancing as essentially, you’ve already got a naturally created brand in the form of your existing personality. This will allow you to shape your freelancing business around your natural persona.
For example, perhaps you’re a quirky designer with a passion for minimalism and a hatred for poor design? If so, don’t shy away from this, there’s a market out there for minimalistic design and giving genuine feedback/advice on the dire nature of competitors designs will allow your passion for the job to shine through, thus increasing your chances of being hired with most clients. Don’t be overly-conservative because you’re worried about offending a client, they probably want (or at least need) to hear it sometimes. Being overly conservative will often leave you sounding unenthusiastic or robotic which I’ve personally found not to be what most clients want.
They want passion and personality and passion, so give it to them.
Basically, it’s no more complicated than being yourself and being a genuine person with a passion for your chosen freelancing industry. Yes, a well-designed logo, a well stocked portfolio and a beautifully designed website will help, but don’t ever consider these things a substitute for genuine passion and personality.
It’s important to remember that whatever your chosen brand image happens to look like, make sure to keep it consistent across all mediums. This means make sure your tone and visual identity is the same on your business card as it is on your website etc.
Author Bio: Neil is a design enthusiast who currently works for a leading printing company in the UK. He also freelances as a designer in his spare time and is always on the lookout for new clients. You can follow him on Twitter here.