Personal branding sounds really important — and it is. The way you present yourself to the world as a freelancer has a direct impact on your success, both professionally and financially. But personal branding can also drive stress and resistance in the freelancer community. Many indys shy away from self-promotion because they don’t want to actively sell their brand and their service — it feels too fake or inauthentic.
I’m definitely one of those people. I’d rather be writing than networking at an event, and I’m much more comfortable giving praise to others’ work than my own. Even with my hesitancy, these four techniques have helped me create a strong personal brand and move to a higher level of success in my work. Added bonus: They’ve made my job more enjoyable, too. Let’s dive in:
Practice Your Pitch
Companies have elevator pitches, and you need one, too. To sell your services every day, you need a succinct summary of what you do and how you stand out from competitors in your field. This short description comes in handy. You can turn it into your byline for thought leadership work, share it at a cocktail party, and start there when interviewing for new projects.
Deborah Grayson Riegel, a communications expert, recommends in Fast Company that you use the simplest language possible to explain what you do. Start with pen and paper and simplify your elevator pitch over and over again, until it’s just a few sentences. Rather than memorizing a written pitch, practice out loud in the mirror or with friends and family. Your pitch should feel relaxed and natural — so, ironically, a little bit of work will get you there.
Develop an Expertise
Many freelancers cast a wide net during their first few years. They want an array of different experiences, so they dip their toes in a bunch of fields and industries — as I did when I started freelancing. As you gain more work, think about the kind of projects and topics you prefer working on and you can intentionally develop an expertise, with some practice.
As Harvard Business Review summarizes, “You need a particular kind of practice — deliberate practice — to develop expertise … It entails considerable, specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well — or even at all.” If you’re multi-passionate like me, you can have a couple focuses. For example, I write about freelancing because of my personal experience with the topic, but that doesn’t stop me from managing travel projects. Get creative about how you market your expertise, and make sure you really enjoy this focus. You’ll be practicing it a lot as your career evolves.
Help Your Peers
To become an industry leader, you need to act like one first. Start by helping out your peers. Lend an ear when they need a second opinion, offer free advice and set up regular group events or casual coffee meetings to get to know each other. The best way to raise your profile is to create an extended network of supportive fellow freelancers.
As these relationships flourish, they’ll create a strong referral network. You’ll notice it when work starts to flow your way from friends and fellow freelancers who know your strengths and expertise as an indy. Always thank people for these gestures; sometimes, I send my fellow freelancers gift cards to coffee shops, and they love them.
Be Your Own PR Person
Do you see an opportunity to get featured in a local news story or contribute to an industry magazine? Go for it. Most successful entrepreneurs and leaders hire a public relations professional to leverage their reputation and grow a strong public following. You may not want to invest the money into a PR person, but you’ll benefit from mimicking some of their behavior.
When you look for opportunities to broaden your influence, make sure you’re aligning with the right audience and publication. Cold pitches — without extensive research — usually fall flat and can have the opposite effect in the publishing world. Make sure you read a publication regularly for a month or two before reaching out with an idea.
These four tips can help you build a great reputation, elevate your personal brand and sell your services. Practicing them regularly has made me more confident as a freelancer and more comfortable asking for solid compensation. Plus, once you have more leads coming to you, you can prioritize projects and clients that interest you the most. This extra benefit is my favorite part of investing in personal branding.