Creative freelancers invest time and effort carefully crafting brands for their clients. In regard to their own brands, they often come up short. Creatives should pay as much attention to creating and managing their own brands as they do their clients’.
I’ve reviewed many portfolios of new and mid-career freelancers. Many are not branded. An illustrator may create great work, but unless there’s a cohesive, practical visual message in place, there’s a disconnect between all that great work and those who need it (and will pay you to create it for them).
Why Branding Is Crucial
Branding is crucial simply because of the amount of options available to businesses and organizations. Brands are shortcuts through the myriad choices clients are faced with. They’re a beacon of light shining out from the masses of sameness. A client looking to develop a brand will more likely work with a creative who’s branded well than one who’s not, or not at all. After your portfolio, branding should be your first focus if you want to succeed in business.
Your first-priority branding client should be you.
Branding enables you to compete on your own terms. When you brand, you don’t have to compete on pricing, discounts or package deals. Instead, you make yourself attractive to your best kind of client. So branding acts as a filter that turns away those who aren’t ideal. Branding gives you the ability to say no: “I’m sorry, but that’s not what I do."
Your first-priority branding client should be you.
What Is Branding?
Brand is reputation. I’ve discussed how brands are not actually designed but are built on the opinions and trust of the marketplace. Everything we do in business supports or tears down our reputation.
In the brand design process, we develop graphic assets that uniquely identify, position and differentiate our work from others'. We communicate not just what we do but how we do it. We develop copy and visuals that explain why a client should work with us as opposed to someone else.
Branding is how you make your work and services relevant to your client base. Your base is made of those prospects you can serve well and want to work with. Without a brand, your approach will lack clarity. When things aren’t clear, people don't trust them.
If you want to attract the right clients to you, you must put out the right bait. Branding is like bait.
Brand First, Then Market
Generally, once we have an adequate portfolio of work, we are prone to launch directly into marketing and promotion. When we do that, we’re overlooking a crucial step, which is to determine what we’re offering. We can’t offer something without knowing what it is. Knowing what it is leads to knowing how to communicate it.
Without a solid brand and strategy for it, your marketing efforts won’t be truly effective. You’ll end up frustrated, having spent time and funds on tactics that don’t work well.
Anyone who sells goods to customers or services to clients needs to take branding seriously if they are profit-minded.
The Basis of Your Brand
Your brand should be honest and relatable in order to invite people to connect with you. You should look at your work, purpose, goals and ideal client types closely and find the common ground between them. That is where you position yourself for success.
As an independent creative professional, branding is both professional and personal. You present yourself to your clients, not as a company or organization. It is how you tell your story, share your ideas, and create meaning. Branding is how you become relatable and your work becomes relevant to others.
Therefore branding needs to consider your whole reputation. It is how you tell your story, share your ideas, and create meaning. People will not connect with you unless they see a good reason to do so.
If you have a logo and a web site, you have not branded yourself. Logos, business cards and other items are the means by which you connect with others. They are representations of your brand, but are not by themselves your brand.
My Branding Road Map for Creative Freelancers
Brand development can be broken down into 4 stages: 1) Your purpose; 2) Your brand; 3) Your marketing strategy; 4) Your clients.
Purpose: You have to get clear about what you do, and how and where it’s relevant. This process should not be overlooked, and requires some soul-searching. Why is freelancing so important to you? Why not just get a job? What do you really do: paint pretty pictures for kids’ books or help young readers understand values and how the world works? Successful brands are deeply rooted in purpose and values.
Successful brands are deeply rooted in purpose and values.
Brand: This encompasses your approach, position, and differentiation. These are expressed in the visual designs that you create to communicate. How do you relate to your clients and how do you want them to relate to you? What is the message you want to share?
Marketing is how you share your message with the world. It includes social media, list-building, advertising, direct mail, email and networking, to start with. It’s through your marketing channels that you become known, recognized, and trusted. So consistency in message, look and feel, and frequency is important.
Clients: Once you acquire a client, branding needs to be maintained in the working relationship. Integrity is necessary. Are you consistent with your brand while working with clients? Keep in mind that clients will recommend you or not, depending upon how you treat them.
Brand is relationship.
The purpose of branding is to build relationships. It’s a long-term commitment that becomes fruitful over time. Manage your own expectations of your branding efforts. When prospects enjoy repeated positive and meaningful “encounters” with your brand, they open up more easily to the idea of working with you. Commit to developing a visual brand and strategy for implementation, follow through with your plan and stick with it.
Are you interested in starting a freelance business or refreshing your freelance career? Do you have questions about being an independent creative pro? I invite you to join my Freelance Road Trip mailing list to receive resources, tools and articles. If you enroll in my business road map program you get access to trainings, worksheets and an exclusive private Facebook group.