The secret ingredient to being a freelancer: Being yourself
The secret ingredient to your brand success has been staring you in the face all along.
No, not the biscuit tin.
I should have stressed you need to be looking in the mirror for that opening line to work.
More than your business name and how your logo looks, personal branding for freelancers is very much about what you say and do.
We hear so much about businesses looking for their ‘USP’ - their Unique Selling Point. Well, what’s more unique than YOU? (That’s not an acronym, I literally mean you).
When you’re a freelancer, your clients are buying you and your skills and knowledge.
The more authentic you are, the more people will come to like and trust you.
People buy from people. And this is a strong benefit of being a freelancer. It works in our favour. Big brands pay a lot of money to have a ‘voice’ and ‘identity’ - but you’ve been honing yours since you were a kid.
With that in mind, I’m going to share 4 key pieces of personal branding advice I’ve picked up over the years of doing the Being Freelance podcast - all relating to being yourself in business.
1. Don’t pretend to be more than you are
Quite a few guests have started out portraying themselves to be an agency/production company/studio, when in fact it’s just them.
But what’s wrong with it just being you? As Kaye Putnam puts it:
“Don’t be afraid of appearing small, being small is actually your biggest asset!”
For Sam Burgess, personal branding was important. She ditched the ‘we’ for ‘me’ and became Social Mouth Sam, rather than just Social Mouth, after realising she didn’t want to take her business in the agency direction.
“I realised that people wanted to work with me, they didn't want to work with my assistant, or my associates (that didn't exist, obviously), but they wanted to work with me. That's when things really changed for me.”
Sam kept the Social Mouth brand she’d built up but started to take on a much more personal approach. There was still the credibility there, but Sam began presenting herself as a person, rather than a business or a brand.
Like Sam, app developer Jason Kneen took on a more personal approach and saw amazing results from it.
After starting out as a freelancer alongside his wife Hannah, their business grew into Bouncing Fish, an agency with a big office and lots of people on the payroll.
Sadly, the financial crash hit and the business folded, ultimately leaving Jason back where he’d started – being freelance.
Speaking of his website, for which he kept the same name – Bouncing Fish, Jason said:
“The key thing I did was I made it all about me. So I didn’t use ‘we’ – I just said ‘I’. I put a cheesy photo up and an about page with a sort of backstory (which sounds a bit cheesy but people seem to like). It’s that whole sales thing. People like relating to people, they like seeing a person, they like seeing a face.”
And it was taking this more personal approach that turned things around for Jason.
“Within a month I’d had several enquiries. I now get a huge amount of enquiries through the website… maybe 10 a week. It’s quite incredible.”
2. Let your own style and interests shine through
For Superlogoboy Paddy McGrath, having a beard is part of his personal brand.
Paddy uses not only his beard but his whole personal appearance to help people recognise and remember him. He talks about the importance of keeping his image up to date online. If the beard grows, the photos on his website and social media change. He wants people to be able to identify him quickly by the way he looks.
“I wear crystals all the time as well and when you go to networking events, people come and ask you about these things. As long as you’re being true to yourself and you’re expressing an aspect of your personality, I think it’s okay. This life now means I don’t have to walk around in a suit. I don’t have to turn up and put on a performance for people. You can be yourself and celebrate"
Kyle T Webster, meanwhile, confesses he has “no beard growing skills”. That’s not a quote from the podcast but from the video on his website’s About page. Don’t worry, you’ve not got to go clicking for it, it’s this video right here:
As Kyle told me in our conversation when I complimented him on it (the video, not his beard):
“I found that regular boilerplate stuff on people's websites so boring, and it all sounds the same anyway. So, I just thought, instead of having that little copy, you know, "Kyle's an illustrator who does this, this, and this," I'd make a video. And it actually wound up being far more successful than I expected it to be in getting me work, actually, or starting conversations with people who I work with. It was an eye-opener for me.”
And why did it work? Because Kyle was simply Being. Himself.
Using video is a great way to show the real you, and it doesn’t have to be a super slick production, nor does it have to be a one-off.
Yes, a weekly freelance life vlog (like I do) is a lot of work, but you know what isn’t? Instagram Stories - it couldn’t be easier to let potential clients, collaborators or referers get to know the real you.
3. Find your voice and let your personality show
Copywriter Karen Marston is a big advocate of showing your audience who you really are.
“Having a strong voice and not being afraid to be yourself, not holding back, and sharing things like your opinions really makes a difference, because that's what makes people go, ‘Yeah, I agree with you on that, and I like you, and therefore I'm going to hire you.”
Of course, there might be people who don’t like what you’re saying, but you’re never going to please everyone.
Karen used her own voice when she sent out a round of cold emails – and with great success. It was her personality and unique style that helped her land her first website copywriting job.
From there Karen’s gone on to build a real brand for herself that’s based around her unique and conversational style of writing. She’s able to charge more than the average copywriter because people buy into the way she isn’t afraid to show some personality in her work.
“I think that's kind of my strongest selling point: that I am just myself”
4. Don’t try and appeal to everyone
Freelance coach Ebonie Allard is a big believer in niching. She says that you can’t serve anyone 100% if you’re not focused on them. In her experience, a lot of people are afraid of doing that and so they continue trying to solve everyone’s problems at once.
Ebonie’s own niche is quite unique, and it’s through defining this that she’s felt empowered to be herself and use her own approach and tone of voice to its full extent.
“I work with misfits,” says Ebonie, “I work with people who are too innovative, too creative, too full of heart to clock in and clock out of a job - and that isn’t everybody. So there’s a lot of self-selection that I do by using the word misfit – some people say ‘Oh yeah that’s me,’ and other people are like ‘Oh god, that’s not me.” There’s lots of little things we can do like that to help our market know who they are.”
- Don’t act like you’re a ‘we’ when you’re a ‘me.’ There’s nothing wrong with being a one-man (or woman) band – in fact, it’s often preferred. People like working with people.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the things you’re interested in or show off your own style – especially if it’s something that sets you apart and makes you memorable. Everyone might not get it, but those who do will like you even more.
- Share your opinions and write as you speak. Holding back through fear of offending people or turning them off won’t get you anywhere. It’s boring and bland. Use your voice to connect with the people who are really going to get what you’re about.
- You can’t please everyone, and you can’t fix everyone’s problems. Find your niche and work on getting really good at delivering high-quality, targeted work to those people.
When you’re true to yourself you’ll feel more relaxed and more confident. People (the right people) will want to work with you. But more importantly, you’re more likely to like the people, like the work and love being freelance.
Be consistent. Be yourself. It’s the secret ingredient in a great personal brand. (The ‘personal’ bit).
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