Choosing Your Title
Compared to your pay rates, picking one’s title can seem like more of a vanity than anything else. This is more true for an employee. For a freelancer, what you call yourself can be incredibly influential. We don’t work for any particular company, or utilize any type of standard promotional ladder, so technically, we could call ourselves whatever we want. You could be the king of ice cream sprinkles if you wanted. Of course, your goal should be to illuminate what it is you do to prospective clients, so they can quickly understand how to use you.
WHAT THESE FEW WORDS TELL A CLIENT
For a lot of freelancers, their job matches pretty closely with that of a full-time position. In this case, you can just use that position’s title and put the word freelance in front of it. That might seem too simple, but we’re still in a world where full-time is the norm. There’s no point in finding a more nuanced or clever way of saying it. You need to make people immediately aware that you are a freelancer, and what type of employee you share skills with. When looking at a resume, a website, or a social page, you want to give clients a %0 chance to misunderstand what you do. Make it abundantly obvious what your position is and what that entails. If they’re looking for a freelancer and that isn’t in your job description, guess what? They’ve just skipped right over you.
To many clients, freelancers are experts. That’s the only reason to hire one. They have a problem they need an expert to solve. Now you may not be an “expert” in graphic design, but who is to say really? Highlighting your primary niche or area of expertise in your title can convince clients of your expertise. As long as you’re not outright lying about your abilities, it’s okay. You don’t necessarily want, or need, to say “expert” in your title. Your title can tell a client of your expertise without actually saying so. Don’t add too many adjectives or skills in your title either. You have a resume for a reason. At the end of the day, your title should be concise, clear about what skills you provide, and convey your level of expertise. One of the best ways to determine your title is to find the profiles of freelancers who are in your industry, or do similar work. What do they call themselves?
WHEN TO FOLLOW THE RULES, AND WHEN TO BREAK THEM
You may be tempted to give yourself a fun title: Coding Ninja, Twitter Pirate, Graphics Guru. You would do best to avoid these. Phrases like that appeal to a small set of people, in a small set of industries, and can turn many others off. Most titles, even the weirdest, have been used before. It’s very hard to be original in that way, so doing so isn’t necessarily going to help you stand out. Remember, freelancers are experts in a specific field or skill set. Creative and wacky titles tend to work better when what you do is on the vague side. They aren’t the most descriptive.
If you want to get a bit more imaginative and show more of your personality, great, you should; but save it for your resume or website. In fact, those are the places where your originality is most needed. Recruiters and business owners go through dozens, scores, even hundreds of resumes and portfolios every time they look for a freelancer. This can cause anyone’s eyes to glaze over and miss the unique experience you have that sets you apart from someone else. A bit of personality here will help jolt an employer awake, and give your portfolio more of their attention. Your title is designed to match what an employer is searching for, a portfolio is meant to draw them in. Be professional with the former, have fun with the latter.
TITLES EVOLVE AS WE DO
As your career advances, you will probably need to pick a new title. For people who have freelance careers that closely mirror the path of an employee, they can pretty closely follow that trajectory. Instead of going from Creative Strategist to Senior Creative Strategist, you would go from Freelance Creative Strategist to Freelance Senior Creative Strategist.
If your freelance career isn’t too close to that of a full-timer, you’re still reaching for the same goal. What is the clearest most succinct title you can think of? The fact that your career doesn’t match a more traditional one is already going to make it a bit more confusing for clients. Keep it simple. Similar to finding your first title, look at the examples of your peers. Try out a couple different titles and ask friends and colleagues which they like best.
Changing your title can be as easy as putting the word “Senior” in front, but as a freelancer, you’re not technically above or below anyone; you work for yourself. When you work with a company though, you very well could be leading others. It’s not uncommon that a freelancer is put in charge (temporarily) of company employees, so having words like Senior, Coordinator, or Director in your title can help clients understand where you’d fit within their organization.
Is your title the most essential aspect of freelancing? No. Is it even the most essential part of marketing yourself? Maybe not, but it does more for you than you think, so take a little time to think about it.