How Chilled Is the Branding for Your Freelance Business?

Freelancers typically struggle with branding. They think great charisma and good skills with a nice, zen-white site are all they need in the ocean of competition out there. And sometimes, that works. Charm and skills goes a long way in business.

But to think that this is all it takes, especially in an online environment… well, you’d be wrong.

Branding goes a long, long way in the great big world of business. The right look, the right image, the right promise… and you have a winner. Sure, your skills and reputation count, but in most cases, it’s the brand packaging that sells.

Yes, people really are that shallow. Don’t believe me? Join me as I tell you the story about branding.

Oh, the best part? It involves beer.

Once Upon a Time…

… I was having a great day. It was beautiful outside, the sun was shining and life was fantastic. But I had to grab fixings for supper at my local grocery store, so I headed over and started my shopping.

Everyone was smiling. No one was rude. The whole store felt like one big happy family. A hungry family too, because cheese slices and hamburger buns and relish were going fast. Seemed like we all had the same idea that day:


Now, I don’t know about you, but I figure that nothing goes better with a hot barbecue than a cold beer, so I headed over to pick up a six-pack. That would be the perfect top-off for my private little backyard cookout.

Except when I got to the piles of cases and rows of cans, I slowed down. We Canadians are known for liking beer, and the slew of choices before me was a good indication we liked it a lot. The only problem was that I don’t drink beer that often, and I didn’t know what to choose.

Cans? Bottles? Pale ale? Dark lager? Moosehead? Molson? It was option paralysis.

That kind of option paralysis is what your potential customers face. They might need a designer or a writer, but they aren’t that accustomed to knowing the difference between good and bad, between “right” and “not so great,” between this person or that business.

So they blink at the masses of you and think, “Who the hell should I hire for the job?”

That’s about the same feeling I was having while I stood there gaping wondering which beer I should buy for the barbecue. Then I spotted it: Bud Lime.

I’d seen Bud Lime before. My friends drank that brand, so it must be alright. There’d been television commercials showing pretty people having fun at parties. I wanted a party. I was pretty people. So I reached for the six-pack.

But then something else caught my eye: Miller Chill.

And I was back to square one. My options had narrowed down to two brands (just like your clients narrow down their options to two potential hires), and I had to find a way to pick between them.

Well, good luck with that! They were both light beer, both came with lime flavour, both were in six packs, and both were sold at the same price.

Looks like I had to get picky about it. Miller Chill had clear glass bottles and a silver and green label. Bud Lime came in sleek silver cans stamped with green accents. Miller Chill wasn’t sleek – in fact, the labels and bottles reminded me a little of a Mexican fiesta.

And then a whole bunch of mental images came to mind. Mexico was sunny; it was sunny here. A fiesta was fun; I could have my own barbecue fiesta. Fiestas made me think of music; I’d put music on!

The Bud Lime cans weren’t bringing me the same emotional impact. They made me think of urban clubs and thumping disco music and high-fashion clothing. I didn’t feel urban or thumping–I felt like relaxing and chilling.

Same beer. Same product. Same features.

What Finally Sold Me?

But it was the brand image sold me. And brand image is what sells you as well, when your clients are trying to decide between you and your competition. They look at the type of site you have, the message in your copy, the colors you’ve used, and the way you communicate.

Then they build up an image in their mind thanks to the emotional impact you’ve created. They’ll decide if you’re friendly or sharp or smart or fast or qualified, all from looking at your packaging, and how you present it.

Shallow? You betcha. Does it work? Sure does.

Branding creates an emotional pull that draws in the right clients. They “fit” with your image and relate to it, personally. They buy into not just what you sell, but the feeling they get from working with you. And if the feeling you’re giving is common old charismatic zen-white?

Well, you might as well be a no-name brand.

Think about how you stand out from your competition. What makes you special? What makes you different? What makes someone think you’re worth hiring over the competition?

You’re probably going to have to dig deep to find the answer, too. Your first ones are probably going to be words that you share with your competition, like “best,” “expert,” and “skilled.” That’s no help. That’s like saying “beer,” “light,” “six pack.” You need more than that.

You need to find what makes you catch someone’s eye and what makes them put down the cans they’re holding. You need to stand out from the crowd like a Mexican fiesta on a hot summer day. And that’s the way you’ll get thirsty clients coming to you like you’re a drink of cool water.

Or beer. You choose :)

What About You?

Does your marketing catch the eye of your prospective clients? Do you stand out?
Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by tibchris


  1. says

    For my copywriting business, I go for the colour-coded magenta and blue look on everything: website, business cards, postcard mailouts, e-mailshots etc etc. Not sure if it differentiates me or helps me stand out from the crowd but it certainly puts across a consistent look.

  2. bembo says

    Yes, branding is important….
    At least that’s what I tell my clients every day.

    For myself, I’m not quite sure and I am struggling with the concept of self-branding, like lots of freelancers out there. Not only because it’s very difficult to brand yourself, but also because I’m not sure if/how it will work out for me.

    I’m working as a self-employed/freelance web/graphic designer/developer for 6 years now, and I have never had a decent brand identity, logo, website (justs one page with contact details) or even business card myself.
    I operate on referrals only, and if people want to know more, I send them a pdf project list and they can check me out on LinkedIn.
    I’m not struggling to get by financially at all, on the contrary: eg. in the first 4 months of this year, I made more than most people in a good job in a whole year.
    So is branding necessary? I’m not 100% sure.

    The non-branding is something I am regularly sort of ashamed of, because I partly operate in the branding business, and I don’t practice what I preach.
    But it has one big advantage: people are sort of ‘blank’ when they contact me.
    I can position myself as an expert front-end developer, an expert interaction designer, a graphic designer, project manager, or an expert anything. And I can do this on a very personal one-to-one level, tailored to the potential clients question, problem, person and level of expertise.

    When I would build a website for myself, positioning me as an expert everything, people would not believe it. Nobody can be good at everything. Positioning myself as an allrounder would probably even result in losing potential ‘expert’ projects.
    For example, recently I would have lost a potential high profile front-end project if the hiring company would have seen me as an allrounder, not as an expert front-end developer. This company thinks they hire an expert developer (which of course they are :-) ) and they don’t know other companies hire me as an expert designer.
    Sometimes I try to change the image they have of me, but in my experience people like to label you and they want somebody who is clear about what he/she is good at.

    Of course it comes down to choosing who you are and/or who you want to be. Be an expert (and dive deeper), or be an allrounder and diversify. That’s currently my problem. I don’t know, or not yet at least. All I know is I want to be independent, free to position myself as what I want, and free to take on the projects that I like.

    I know I’m not the only one, in my network I know several freelancers without decent branding, who are perfectly happy with their situation.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would really love to have my business decently branded, with a great logo and shiny web portfolio. But every time I start working on that, I just drown in all the questions and go work on some client project.

  3. says

    For me Branding is really important. It’s a reason why I gave a named to my business. So it is easier to brand my stuff.

    Also I tried to do stuff for a future branding it doesn’t a good idea to make a site web that doesn’t fit with the other piece of my customer. And, if I do first stuff I made them to be easy “brandable” in the future. That’s why I don’t like logo on black with transparency (like light). It’s beautiful but how do you put that on t-shirt…

    Also It’s a part that make me buy. If I need some computer part would you go to the small computer store or best buy? For me even if best buy is not the cheapest choice i’m more secure to go there first.


    As complement in Quebec we have really small brewyer. One just change the packaging of there beer and got a raise of 40% on his sale. And without any other publicity. Good shot no?

  4. says

    A lot of freelancers struggle to figure out whether they should go with their name or make a company name for branding. I’ve found that using my full name allows me to seem more personable to clients versus some random “XX Development & Co” type name. It’s also more recognizable everywhere.

  5. says

    Here is what 98.12144224242% of designers are doing:

    Market to everyone.

    But guess what?

    Everyone is doing the same thing. ^ . ^

    No specific market.
    No competitive advantage except price.
    No sophistication.

  6. kitory says

    I think this article is useless.

    All this great nonsense talking just to say that your branding is important!!

    A totally waste of time.

  7. says

    This topic really resonated with me. I used to just use my name for my business, and had a very generic design on my website. What I realized was that by trying to identify with everyone I was identifying with no one.

    What’s so important about branding is that, (if you do it right) you’re making yourself more attractive to your ideal clients. When I rebranded, I realized that I wanted to attract more clients who were looking for fun, fresh copy that showed some personality, so I made sure that was reflected in my brand. I’ve been told it’s quirky and cute, and not in a bad way. It’s helped me sign clients who appreciate those qualities in a writer.

    Shallow or not, I’ve had clients actually tell me that they chose me over other writers because their websites were boring. It’s true that there’s an emotional pull working there, but also, when you’re in the business of helping others build their brand, you can’t afford not to make your own brand an example of how well you do it.

  8. says

    @Freelance – Consistency counts, more than people think. Big-name companies work really hard to maintain consistency, sometimes over 100 years worth of business – and they’re still rockin’ it out!

    @Jordan – Well, no. Your name isn’t your brand, because a brand is an image… and a name is just letters. C’mon, you can do better than that! :)

    @Bembo – Glad to hear you’re enjoying steady work – that’s all aces. But it does make me wonder how much better you’d be doing if you did have a brand!

    @Maxime – Hé le Québec! C’est incroyable comment un petit changement peux faire gros impacte, hein? And you’re quite right; brand also enhances a feeling of trust in clients, especially when it becomes recognizable and well known.

    @Amber – Well, as I mentioned to Jordan, your name isn’t really your brand – your image is. So what image does Amber stand for? :)

    @Jae – Yeah, no, LOL. When people answer, “Who’s your target market?” with “Everyone!” then you know they’re in trouble, eh?

    @Kitory – Sorry to hear you didn’t like the article. Can’t please everyone all the time!

    @Natalia – There you go, you’ve got the ticket, and I’m glad your branding paid off.

  9. says

    Thank you for a short, concise, clear message about branding James.

    What resonated was how you really need to know your where and how your target audience is emotionally bereft…

    Also, the delicate balance b/w appealing to their design preferences even when yours may be incongruent.

  10. says

    Great article. Reminds me of the time I came up with the brand for my own site.

    That day I grabbed a pad of paper and pencil and just started doodling ideas. I began by writing my own name on the paper and then looking at that for a while. When nothing came to me I started drawing again. That’s when it hit me…I’m Doug, and I draw.

    I wrote that on the page – dougdraws. I sat and looked at that for a while more, then I frowned. I thought it was too silly at first, but the more I looked at it the more I realized it made perfect sense. Next I thought of turning the ‘d’ in the word draws into a pencil and that’s when it all came together.

    Simple. Neat. Effective. It describes who I am and what I do. And since ‘dougdraws’ was available as a domain it seemed destined.

  11. says

    Yes, branding is important, but how does this apply to freelancers who don’t have the finances yet to buy their own websites or to hire a designer to create their business cards and logos? What can they benefit from this?

    I’ve got lots of ideas for my own branding but monies is what’s keeping me from turning them into reality.

  12. says

    Hi James !

    “They buy into not just what you sell, but the feeling they get from working with you…” This one caught my attention! I don’t know what they feel about me… but I sure perk them up with my frank and free flowing thoughts of the real persona (of course, in a very positive and encouraging way only):

    I tell them how I actually felt about their website, logo, baseline, their brochure, ads… including their dress, hair style and the irresistible charisma if they have any…

    Like your CHARISMA … James…

    Maybe… just maybe …may touch a chord in their hearts… ’cause not many people in the industry are so overwhelming or forthcoming with frank talk .. and taut with over flowing professionalism :-)!

    Maybe.. it is my kind of branding. I’m dreaming of having a edgy (professional) website like yours and a catchline like yours… “Smoking pros…” James ! I like to try that beer you purchased .. if it’s available here.

    Of late… me… sporting a new fashionable beard ….

    Any way thanks for a great post!

  13. says

    This is two times now that i’ve happened upon on your website in the last 3 days while searching Yahoo for absolutely unrelated things. Kinda odd. Keep up the good blogging!

  14. says

    The thing you wrote about zen-white sites makes me laugh. I think it’s safe to say that we need to make that first impression lasts — as a freelancer. You’re really right about everything. Being a freelancer on the world wide web is really tough, since you are competing on a global scale. Even all those SEO and social media marketing don’t really promise you a 100% positive result — if you have a website that looks like those of a ninth grader. I guess, in the end – being genuine will work best ( and mind-reading, perhaps? ). Nice points, I wonder how successful your brand is as of this moment.

  15. says

    I’ve had the choice between the two. I’ve tasted both. I’ll never drink Bud Lime again. Miller Chill – oh, yeah.

    Oh come now, ya’ll are talking about branding but you know you were thinking about beer as you were typing. Some of you might have had a cold one in your hand as you were reading the article. :)


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