With the rise of blogging as a means of marketing, freelancers find themselves forced to choose a distinct voice, unique look, or narrow niche. Before they realize it, they’ve backed themselves into a corner, only able to get certain types of gigs.
Deadly Freelancing Sin #5: Accidental Branding
I’ve talked about my own branding story here at Freelance Folder before. I told you how branding myself as a work-at-home mom painted me into something of a corner, and how I struggled to move beyond that brand.
Now, how did I get into that situation in the first place? I hadn’t really planned, from the start, to write as a work-at-home mom. Quite by luck, I fell into a single writing gig where it made more sense for me to write from that perspective. Because that gig was so successful, I continued to look for other work in that niche.
It wasn’t that I set out to be a work-at-home mom; rather, that was a brand that just sort of developed around the sort of work I was doing. Eventually, when it was time for me to move away from that brand, I really had to start almost from the beginning, which was in many ways a setback to my freelancing business.
While my experience is with writing, I believe this kind of short-sighted branding can happen in design, too. Take, for example, the case of Men with Pens. These guys are awesome at blog design. They’ve had a bunch of clients who liked the look of Brian Gardner’s Revolution Magazine theme for WordPress. So, wanting to please their clients, they customize a ton of blogs with Revolution Magazine. They do an amazing job with it, too.
They do such an amazing job, however, that they develop an unspoken reputation as the Revolution Magazine guys. While they didn’t set out to develop that brand, they wound up with it. They’ve had to work hard since then to break away from that narrow brand.
So, how does accidental branding come about?
Paradoxically, it comes from being good at something. You do some good work for a client and they like it. Other potential clients see it and like it, and word spreads. In some cases, you showcase the work yourself because it is so good and because you know you’ll gain clients. At that point, you become a contributor to the accidental branding process, rather than just a victim.
So, how do you get around it? How do you break the accidental branding cycle?
You do it with deliberate branding. Deliberate branding means that you take your brand into your own hands. You clearly define your brand and get it straight in your own mind. You write it down as a part of your vision statement. You identify both what you don’t want and what you do want out of a brand.
The next step in deliberate branding is to put that brand up front.
- You blog about it.
- You put it on your services page.
- You include it in every pitch e-mail you send to a potential client.
- You showcase examples of that deliberate brand in your portfolio.
- You talk about it on Twitter.
- You write guest posts at other blogs, and make sure that the content of those posts contribute, to one degree or another, to your brand.
- You put it in your tagline on every forum to which you contribute.
In effect, you make branding a top priority of your freelance business.
The hardest part about deliberate branding is when it comes time to make a choice about a gig. Even with all of your efforts, you’re likely to have clients who want the old brand. After all, you’re good at it.
Of course they want more. In some cases, it’s a client you may have had for a long time, and with whom you’ve got a good relationship. Is branding worth losing a gig or damaging that relationship with a client? Not usually. A paycheck is a paycheck, and as long as it comes from honest work it sure as hell beats not having a paycheck.
Now, if you’ve got space on your calendar for one more gig and you get a choice between the old brand and the new, you go with the new.
The transition from accidental branding to deliberate branding can be a slow one. However, if you dedicate yourself to the task you’ll find that, eventually, you’re where you want to be.
About the author: Bob Younce is a full-time Internet writer and writing mentor living in Linwood, Michigan. He is dedicated to helping Internet writers to achieve their dreams. Visit Bob at The Writing Journey or follow him on Twitter.