What Do People Say When You Leave the Room?
If Nike sold shoes in the back of a parking lot, would they still be great shoes? Of course, but would you think about Nike in the same way? If Apple only sold phones via delivery, would they still be great products? Definitely, but would you think about them in the same way? Nike and Apple might still be successful if they sold their goods this way, but they most definitely wouldn’t be the companies they are today. We’re not talking about marketing here. Nike could still do good marketing even if they sold their shoes in the back of a parking lot. We’re talking something more elusive. We’re talking about brand. Technically, a brand could encompass everything a business does, from product, to marketing, to customer service. It includes reputation and trust, expectations and standards. Your brand touches everything you do, sort of like your business’ motherboard, so start figuring out what the heck yours is.
START WITH THE PRODUCT
Start super small here. It’s important to be clear on what you are selling and who you are selling to. Your brand extends to your product and/or service, so what is that? This may seem like an obvious question, but spend some time to really define what it is you do. You’re not only creating an advertisement or an app or an article for somebody. You’re saving them time and effort, you’re giving them a skillset and a perspective they didn’t have before. A Porsche isn’t just a nice car. It's status, it’s style, it’s luxury, it’s a way to satisfy your need for speed. A Patagonia jacket is more than a jacket. It’s identity, it’s good for the planet, it’s permission to go on an adventure. What does your product/service do for a client?
If you’re new to freelancing and still deciding on what your product or service is (or if you’ve been wanting to shift your freelance business) it can be tempting to try and become a jack of all trades. But you’re more likely to build a distinct and sought-after brand if you narrow your niche to one of two precise areas - at least to start. This is where the “who you’re selling to” comes in. Is there a certain industry or space that many of your clients reside in? Is there work they need met but can’t seem to find someone to do it? Figuring this out will help inform your specialization, and define what you do for clients. “What does Bill do again? He does this niche thing that no one else can do for me.”
CHECK THE MIRROR
Analyzing your audience and their needs is one good way to determine “what you’re selling.” Another is to figure out why you have chosen to sell what you’re selling? “What kind of questions is that? To make a living of course.” You can make a living doing anything. Why have you chosen to do this thing, in this way, as a freelancer?
A good way to figure out your why is to do a few self-reflection exercises. A fairly rudimentary approach is to just reflect. Take some time and just think. Obtuse things like “why am I doing what I’m doing” are better achieved with more time and less pressure. Take a seat in a comfortable place and ask yourself some questions. Where were you the happiest? The most frustrated? What were your favorite topics in school? What’s your favorite season? To better know yourself is to better know your motivations and your reasons for doing things; such as, the reasons you’ve chosen this career.
TALK THE TALK AND WALK THE WALK
Once you have a very firm grasp on what you’re selling (whether you got there through evaluating clients, yourself, or a combination of both) you can now focus on the how. Like we’ve said, what you’re selling isn’t as simple as SOCKS, it’s a more nuanced meaningful thing. This makes it harder to sell accurately, and it may not always be clear to a client what you’re selling. Your how not only needs to get in front of clients' faces, but accurately tell them about your product.
Start by trying to boil down your brand into a few clear engaging sentences (essentially a pitch) if possible. This can be difficult, so take some time here. Once you’ve done that, start thinking about the literal iterations of your brand. How do clients encounter your brand in the real world? An up-to-date website, LinkedIn, blog, or portfolio are of course hugely important, but there are other elements of your brand beyond that. Do you have a default signature at the end of your emails? What does it say? If you post YouTube videos or write blog posts as part of your brand, is there a way you generally introduce yourself or conclude? What’s your “about page” on your website read like? Have you thought about creating a personal logo for your brand? Think about every aspect of your public persona and find ways to fit that pitch (or some version/essence of it) into each one. This thinking should continue even once you’re doing a job. Is creativity and thinking outside the box part of your brand? Make sure to show that in the work you present to clients.
Solving the mystery of one’s brand is an adventure that can last years before you reach something really concrete. Know that you won’t have an answer on day one or probably day 41. That’s okay, a brand is hard to define for everyone. This may be why when we see an individual or a company do it so well, it’s astonishing. We’ve all seen firsthand how a well-crafted brand brings customers back again and again. With enough time and effort, yours could do the same.