A creative freelancer’s guide to personal branding

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Branding is one of those buzzwords that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. And it’s not for nothing. Branding is the secret sauce that makes a business of any size memorable.

Some really know how to play it, and manage to keep control over their company’s perception in the public eye purely through their branding efforts.

  • Virgin America is the fun, quirky airline.
  • Apple is second-to-none when it comes to innovation.
  • Amazon is the simplest, hassle-free way to buy anything.

Are any of these statements accurate? Maybe, maybe not.

The point is, most people believe them to be true, because these companies invested a whole lot of money to make you believe it. That’s branding.

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Branding isn’t just for the big boys, either. Any company of any size can use the power of branding to their advantage to showcase their values, and control their message.

Yes, including freelancers just like you!

Why is great branding important?

Creative freelancing is more competitive than ever. There is no shortage of talented designers, writers or photographers, so what makes you more special than the rest?

You’ve got to present a clear, consistent image of yourself early and often.

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Even if you’ve been at it for a while, you needn’t worry. It’s never too late, and having valuable experience under your belt will help you find your unique selling proposition (USP), making it even easier to get started.

In any case, if you’re a freelancer, having a well-defined brand identity will help differentiate you from the rest of your competition.

The thought of putting together a brand might sound overwhelming and a bit intangible. But this guide will walk you through every step, so you know exactly what needs to be created and developed.

Find your voice

The most fundamental part of branding is conveying the overall personality of a business.

When branding yourself as a freelancer, that personality’s gotta be yours. To go with anything other than what you personally bring to the party would be wildly incongruent, and you would be fighting an uphill battle trying to keep up with it.

To find the personality of your brand, try this simple exercise. On a piece of paper, write down three positive adjectives that:

  1. you think describe you.
  2. you would want your clients to use to describe you.

After you are satisfied with your words, do a reality check and ask some of your closest friends (who you know will tell you the truth) to review your words for accuracy. If your friends don’t agree, you might have a brainstorming session with them to come up with something more in keeping with your personality.

These three adjectives will be the foundation for every single other element of your branding.

What’s in a name?

While most freelancers decide to use their own name for business purposes, some find it preferable to go with a “doing business as” (DBA) name.

You might decide to come up with a business name if either of the following situations apply to you:

  • You have a very common name
  • You would like to grow into a multi-person agency over time

If you have a very common name, you might find it difficult to ever claim it as your own in internet searches, and your name may not be available as a URL. I would asume that JohnDavis.com is taken, probably JohnDavisDesign.com as well. And to search for the name “John Davis” would likely return about a million results.

What do you think your chances are of coming up as #1? You see my point.

The second reason was what motivated me to stop using my own name and start my design agency, The Deep End. I knew I didn’t want to be a one-man show forever, and I figured it would be better to start my branding now rather than later.

If you decide to go with a DBA, think about your three adjectives when brainstorming. Make sure they are reflected in your business name.

For more on finding your perfect business name, check out these posts:

From hashtags to taglines

Most of your potential clients will rely on what they can find about you online before you make any kind of in-person impression.

So the written words on your website and social media will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting here.

The good news is, if you do your writing in the right order, you can eliminate a lot of the work, while keeping your voice consistent.

I like to think of this part as a funnel. Start wide, and go narrower, distilling it down to its simplest form.

The full bio

The widest part of the funnel is your full bio on the”about” page of your website.

Think of your three little words, and tell a story.

Who are you, and how can what you do improve your clients’ business? Make sure you cover both of those bases to make a memorable, value-based impression.

Distill it down

Once you have your full bio, condense it down to 100-200 words for your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.

This one can be less story-based, and should really focus on what you do for your clients, but your personality should still show through in the writing.

For your Twitter profile, condense it down even further to your most basic “elevator pitch.” Your voice should still be present in the overall tone, but should be mostly client-focused.

And finally, it can be condensed down even further to 2-10 words you can use as your tagline.

Your logo

For most people, logos and branding are two words that are used interchangeably. But your logo is only one element of your overall branding, albeit a very important one.

Remember your three words? They should be present here as well.

Ultimately, your logo needs to be a visual interpretation of your business personality, so potential clients can take one look at it and get a sense of your professional style.

If your personality is playful and quirky, your logo should look much different than if it were elegant and sophisticated. One isn’t inherently better than the other, it just has to be cohesive.

If you’re a designer specializing in logos, great.

If not, you might look into hiring one, or at least working out a trade with one.

Or, you could always go a purely typographical route and choose a font in keeping with your personality. Plenty of businesses stick with text only, and simplicity is often the best choice.

Looking for more advice on creating a great logo? Read more here:

Be social

Now that you have your voice defined, there’s no better platform to showcase it than on social media.

Choose an avatar

First things first: you have to choose your avatar, and use it consistently across all channels.

You can either use a photo or your logo.

There are benefits to each, and the ultimate choice is up to you.

Your photo is a great choice to establish yourself as a living, breathing human being. I always recommend business owners and freelancers include a photo or even video on their website for this very reason. People like the idea of knowing who they are in business with, and using your own photo certainly speaks to that.

It shows you aren’t hiding behind your business, which can create a great deal of trust in you.

On the other hand, using your logo is the best idea if you’re trying to build brand awareness.

Tough choices, I know.

Adding value

Once you have your avatar picked out and your social media profiles set up, you can post regular updates.

When you’re first starting out, a great way to start conversations is to join Facebook and LinkedIn groups that your potential clients might be in.

Look around the conversations, and see where you can be of help.

Example: Is someone inquiring about website or copywriting advice? Chime in with a helpful (non-promotional) response.

The idea is to be incredibly helpful, while using your distinctive voice and personality. Over time, people will take notice, and call on you when they need your services.

Check out these posts with more social media tips:

Your brand in action

Now that you have a fully fleshed-out brand identity as a freelancer, own it. You chose your own three words based on your personality, so this should be built-in.

You are the guardian of your brand, so you have to protect it, and project it to clients on a daily basis.

Be authentic in every client dealing, and keep it consistent.

Final thoughts

Have you gone through the self-branding process? Do you have any advice that would help other readers? Please keep the conversation going and add any tips you have learned along the way!

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About Wes McDowell

Wes McDowell is the creative director for The Deep End Web Design, located in Chicago. In addition, he enjoys blogging, and co-hosts The Deeply Graphic DesignCast, a podcast for graphic and web designers.

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Comments

  1. Yes! Glad to see Wes McDowell writing for Millo. Great article. Love your podcast!

  2. Zeyad Design says:

    Very good article. I recently launched my freelance career and had to go through this process. I realised that you had to dig deep into yourself, your thoughts and what made you who you are today. I was surprised when I diluted my business down to two keywords that describe everything I am about. It was very enlightening. The logo then came naturally as I kept the keywords in mind. The result I must say was very satisfying. Thanks again for writing such a great article!

  3. Brittany Gardner says:

    This was absolutely an amazing article and based on my own experience as an independent graphic design consultant, I would have to say these tips and recommendations are very true! I think what helped me the most was focusing on what problem can and will I help my potential clients solve? When you present yourself as a knowledgable problem solver, you are positioning yourself in a saturated market as an expert in your field! This has definitely set me a part from my competition. 🙂

  4. Amazing article!! and very inspirational!! I am currently going through this process. I am a product and graphic designer based in stoke (uk). I’ve just made that ‘leap’ to become a freelance and making sure my brand identity is spot on! Apart from everything in this article, is there anymore useful tips to gain clients and put myself out there?

  5. Wes McDowell says:

    Thanks guys, glad the article hit home for most of you! @tom_leese:disqus, not to self-promote too much, but if you haven’t checked out my podcast yet, there are many episodes devoted to finding clients and promoting yourself as a designer. You can find it here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-deeply-graphic-design/id494747654

  6. Studio Estetika says:

    I started to really understand branding when I figured out what I want my brand to stand
    for, and what makes me different from the other designers in my area. I
    think understanding branding on a deep level has made me a better
    designer. (https://studioestetikadesign.com)

  7. Thank you for very thoughtful and sharp insights, Wes! I believe that the most important part of personal branding is authenticity. Paired with a powerful and memorable visual manifestation it opens up many doors and entices people to choose one’s services over his/her competitors.

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