I must confess, I have a love-hate relationship with freelancing.
And I suspect that holds true for a lot of freelancers.
I love the flexibility, but I hate drowning in admin.
I love being able to take a few days off in the middle of the week, but I hate writing my About page.
And some things just baffle me. Such as growing a personal brand. It’s a complex task, and that’s why we’ve invited Pinar Tarhan to take the pulse of her extensive freelance network and report back on the best practices for building a personal brand as a freelancer.
According to a 2014 survey, 53 million Americans were freelancing. And that was just the United States … four years ago.
Because the internet and online payment options make working remotely a breeze, freelancers can have clients anywhere. And that’s both the advantage and the downside of freelancing.
Yes, on the one hand, you can work from home and make your own schedule. But when everyone else is doing the same thing, the competition can get fierce. So how do you build your career as a pleasant and more than competent professional freelancer from scratch?
One good bet is this: by paying attention to your own personal branding.
Branding is basically creating a strong, memorable image for yourself and your business. However, it can get complicated if you work in multiple niches or offer professional services in several areas. So I’ve interviewed a few successful freelance writers and virtual assistants to find out the tricks up their sleeve. Here is their advice, as well as my own tips, on how to set yourself apart and attract clients with your personal brand.
1. Use your blog and social media for branding.
One of the best ways to build your brand and find clients organically is your website (or blog) and your social media.
You can write about topics that you are passionate about and build your expertise in the areas you want to attract clients. And the process isn’t complicated, even if you are a beginner. You can buy a domain name and hosting, and then craft and publish your first post in a matter of hours. If you need help or inspiration, check out the free course 7 Days or Less to Branded Website Success.
Freelance VA and writer Tyler Philbrook uses his blog for branding and getting clients. He got his freelance job because someone had read his income blogs where he mentioned he wanted to find freelance clients. On his site, he posts things that interest him, and he is also active in FB groups.
Like Tyler, I cover whatever interests me on my writing blog, Addicted to Writing. The site covers all things about my profession/passion, and serves to showcase my expertise in these niches.
2. Make that business card shine.
Even though numerous articles have popped up online arguing that business cards are becoming obsolete, they still pack a punch when it comes to personal branding. Well-designed business cards that clearly spell out your name, what you do, and how you can be reached are still how people remember you after a busy networking event. Pulling out the card is way faster and way more practical than typing or writing all that info by hand.
And if you are in a creative profession, you have even more licence to give yours a personal touch to make it more memorable.
Writer Shannon Luders-Manuel’s unique business card starts conversations wherever she goes. Featuring the picture of a woman with big curly hair, it helps her show her brand as a Critical Mixed Race Scholar and Writer.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must have only ONE business card. Writer Carol Sorgen has several business cards. “Two of them just say freelance writer; the third is specific to travel writing, but even my travel writing often has much to do with other topics as well so I don’t limit myself to which card to use.”
3. Build your brand around the solutions you offer.
While a virtual assistant can offer many services, we can sum up a VA’s job as making the client’s life and work easier for them.
The services can come in different forms, from social media management to lead generation, from customer service to bookkeeping and beyond. For more ideas, check out this post on ten virtual assistant services that you can offer to your clients.
Susan Allen has nearly 30 years of administrative experience and has been working as a full-time VA for seven years.
She recommends thinking about the solutions VAs are offering, as opposed to the services.
Is it more time? Less stress? More freedom? Allen says, “Once the answers to those questions are nailed down, a new VA needs to sit down and determine their branding colors, theme and highlights, and they can structure their website and social media presence around that.”
4. Commit to overdelivering … every time.
Sometimes, when we hear a concept like branding, we overthink things. Do I need a logo? What is my main message? How do I differentiate myself?
Take a deep breath, and think about who you are. Provide the best outcome you can. Save your client headaches. The details can wait.
Amy Metherell runs Inbound Back Office and has been working as a VA since 2014. Her business started as a side hustle, and she found her first three clients via Twitter, in one week. She branded herself by just being herself. She says, “For branding, just be authentically you. Give more than you take. It will pay off.”
It never hurts to submit all your tasks and assignments a little earlier than assigned, whenever applicable. Be the person who makes your client’s or editor’s life easier. If you believe in their business, promote them on social media, even if it is not in your contract. The next time they need to refer a writer or VA to a colleague, they won’t hesitate to think of you.
5. Keep your social media clean and neutral.
Although expressing our thoughts on social media can no doubt be therapeutic, it can also lose you clients. You should be yourself; your brand depends on it. However, what you put on social media tends to stay and be remembered, even if you delete it afterwards. A balance between professionalism and your personality is key. For more on what to avoid posting online, you can check out this post.
Tobie Beck agrees. She has been a VA for 4 years, and her first clients came mostly through personal connections. She suggests keeping social media profiles clean and neutral.
“If you’re doing business online, odds are good that potential customers will find your personal social media profiles. They can be personal and still representative of a professional.”
6. Think strategically about the colors and logo that you use.
We all know by know that colors affect us.
Blue is famous for making us calmer, and yellow for attracting our attention. But when you want to build a professional website or revamp the existing one, and when you need a logo for your business, you might want to dig a little deeper.
Melissa St. Clair’s been working as a freelance virtual assistant for 12 years. She runs Paper Chaser, a virtual-based business helping small businesses grow by handling a variety of administrative office tasks remotely.
She believes strong branding creates a lasting impression, and that branding should make a statement as it communicates your business image. She worked with a graphic designer to craft her logo – a “worker bee,” just the image she wanted to convey. Melissa recommends selecting “one or two colors that speak to you and determine what those colors will ‘say’ to your target market. Do your research on the meaning of colors.”
7. Don’t feel compelled to niche down.
Carol Sorgen writes for a variety of consumer and trade publications. The tagline on her Contently portfolio reads “I work with words.” She is also an editor, and her website clearly categorizes her services as writing, editing and public relations. She has written about a variety of topics, and instead of niching down, she emphasizes the diverse nature of her services.
I agree with Carol. Picking a niche is great, but you don’t need to pigeonhole yourself. My niches are lifestyle, writing and entertainment. If you feel like you don’t know where to start, make a list of everything you know and want to write about, and then pick the ones where there is the most demand or the one that pays the most. To get an idea what some publications pay, you can check out Contently’s rates database and whopayswriters.com.
8. Nurture client relationships
No matter how productive you are, you still get to spend a lot of time with your clients. So it helps you both if you get along well. Accomplishing this might not always be easy, but asking the right questions during your client onboarding process will go a long way. After that, it is a matter of staying friendly, professional and responsive to feedback.
Most of the writes and VAs I talked to for this article have gotten their first clients through people they know and social media. Some have gone on to form their own company of VAs, or like Philbrook, have hired an assistant themselves to help with the workload.
At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what makes you unique. And if you don’t want to rely on branding to give yourself an edge, that’s fine too. But when you are marketing yourself, it is always important to be professional, stay true to yourself and get along with other freelancers and your clients. Nice people who get the job done get referred more often.
Best of luck with your branding adventures, and please share what branding strategies and tools you’ve used in the comments.
Pinar Tarhan is a freelance writer, blogger and virtual assistant. She loves making life easier for fellow writers and other business professionals. You can catch her updates on her blog Addicted to Writing, and follow her @zoeyclark on Twitter.</em