You must have heard this idea many times — that as a freelancer, you must build a strong personal brand to continually generate business. If you are not convinced you have to do it, take a look at these numbers:
- Freelancers today make up about 35% of the total workforce in the US. The number of freelancers in the US grew from 53 million in 2014 to 55 million in 2016. By 2020, the gig economy is projected to make up 50% of the workforce in the US.
- In the UK, there are about 1.9 million freelancers as of 2015. This number indicates a 38% increase from 2008.
- As of 2014, around 2.3 million Americans, 1.9 million Indians and 1.3 million Filipinos make up the largest number of freelancers on Upwork, the world’s largest freelancing website.
Millions of freelance workers compete in the market. You don’t just compete with the freelancers in your region, but with those in the whole world.
And if you want to attract your ideal clients and charge what you are truly worth, then you must stand out in the crowd. One way to do this is to build a strong personal brand.
Your Personal Brand Is Not about You
A personal brand is broadly defined as ‘how people perceive you and what they think of you when they hear your name,’ but remember that your brand isn’t all about you.
Branding yourself as a freelancer is not merely talking about yourself. That may be one part of the process, but for freelancers looking into landing quality projects and finding their ideal clients, simply tooting your own horn isn’t the way to go.
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
As a form of marketing, personal branding is a process of articulating the value that you bring to your prospective clients. It’s a subtle way of saying, “Hey, I’m the one who can solve your problem.”
Personal branding is a distinct way of telling your story so you will be remembered.
Personal Branding Is a Journey, Not a Destination
The process of branding yourself starts even before you decide to brand yourself. It requires introspection, self-assessment and mapping your future. You may find yourself lost, confused or feeling uncomfortable as you begin your journey to developing your personal brand. But once you’ve found your voice, you’ll be unstoppable!
Here are three major steps you can take to begin your journey:
Step 1. Discover
Start with knowing who you are so that you will know exactly how you can add value to other people’s lives or to your target clients’ businesses.
Knowing who you are entails discovering your strengths, acknowledging your limitations or weaknesses, being clear with your values, knowing your passions and defining your purpose in life or career.
PWC recommends using a personal brand workbook to help you answer some questions that you might not have any chance to truly think about or ask yourself, including:
- Skills/Strengths: What unique skills do you have that make you stand out from the crowd?
- Weaknesses: What are your weaknesses, and are these essential to your career goals?
- Values: What are your top five values? Which of those values are the most critical to achieving your career success?
- Passions: Why do you love what you love doing? How can your passion help you achieve your goals?
- Purpose: What exactly do you want to achieve in your career? Are your skills, values and passions in sync with your purpose?
You may need to spend a lot of time on the ‘discovery’ period especially if you haven’t really done a serious introspection of your key values and an inventory of your key skills.
Step 2. Differentiate
After ‘discovery’ comes telling your story — your unique experience. Branding is storytelling. To effectively tell your story, find that X-factor within you. What differentiates you from the rest of the freelancers in the market? No one can answer this for you. You’re the only one who can tell your story.
“No matter what you do, your job is to tell your story.” – Gary Vaynerchuk, Author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World
In finding a story to tell, don’t forget to reframe your focus — from your point of view to your target clients’ perspectives.
What value can you add to your clients’ businesses? What can you do that other freelancers won’t be able to copy or duplicate?
How can you help solve your target clients’ problems? Find those benefits that you can offer based on your strengths, values, passions and purpose, and you’ll never go wrong.
Step 3. Demonstrate
Most freelancers stop at step 2. Although they are clear with their key skills, values, passions and purpose, and they know exactly how different they are compared with the rest of the freelancers in the market, they don’t go out of their way to demonstrate what they discovered in steps 1 and 2. This is a huge mistake.
Go out there, choose a channel (online and/or offline) and start building your brand. I don’t mean you should create online profiles everywhere. You need to choose a platform based on who your ideal clients are, in your niche or in your target industry. You want to stand out and get noticed in the right place by the right people, so be strategic and consistent.
In my nine-year experience doing freelancing, I discovered that LinkedIn is one of the best places to establish your personal brand. Don’t get stuck on freelance bidding sites.
And finally, be authentic. Don’t overdo, overstate nor exaggerate your brand. People can sense if you’re simply trying hard to be someone you’re not.
These three steps — discover, differentiate and demonstrate — are just the beginning. What you do on the rest of your journey as a freelancer will continue to shape your personal brand and eventually allow you to enjoy a regular stream of income and projects at the price that you deserve!