How to Build Your Own Brand as a Freelancer

Do potential clients evaluate your talent and skill based on your personal brand identity? You bet.

As a freelancer, your own brand identity is just as important as the work you do for clients – and, in some ways, more important as it represents your independent thinking and design sensibility. To secure freelance work, your personal brand identity has to attract clients and serve as a call to action.

Building your own brand entails creating an original visual identity – logo, website, business card, resume and promotional materials. You also need a verbal identity – bio, elevator speech, resume content and social networking profile(s). To do this, some freelance designers start with their story; others begin devising their strategy. Determining your story and strategy enables you to formulate a design concept, which will drive both the design and copy. Based on my new book Build Your Own Brand: Strategies, Prompts and Exercises for Marketing Yourself (HOW Books), here are some tips.

Craft Your Story

To determine your strategy, you need to clarify your story. The raw material is you – who you are, what you've done, what your strengths are, where you hope to work and more. Although no formal research is necessary, analysis is required. American architect Louis Sullivan said, "Form ever follows function." In personal branding, not only should form follow function, but it should follow your story as well.

By first conceiving your elevator pitch (see below), LinkedIn bio or Twitter profile (which requires determining a premise as well as shaping a distinguishing voice), you will be able draw a clear picture and set a tone of voice and personality. To determine your story's premise, begin with these main tasks:

  • Conceive a core message by synthesizing your experience and expertise
  • Edit (especially for repetitiveness)
  • Aim for brevity
  • Show, don't tell – Use action to evoke an emotional response. If you're funny, don't say you're funny ­– be funny.
  • State it clearly and memorably
  • Be specific in explaining the assets you bring to the table – Avoid superlatives and generalities. For example, writing "I am the greatest designer of my generation" isn't as useful or believable as stating exactly what makes you exceptional.

Make your bio pithy. Eliminate extraneous material. Write genuinely and specifically. Your statement is about you and should not be easily applied to anyone else. If a freelance competitor can insert his or her name into your statement, it's too broad or generic.

Craft Your Strategy

Strategy defines your brand personality and promise. Who are you? What value do you promise to deliver?

Determine what differentiates you. Base your strategy on an insight into your own expertise or on a personal attribute or quality – originality, wit or wisdom, for example. At what do you excel? What is it about your design thinking and solutions that sets you apart as a creative freelancer? Ask yourself how you want an employer or client to see you in comparison to your competition.

Craft Your Strategic Calling C.A.R.D.

Consider several factors when formulating your strategic calling C.A.R.D.:

  • Consistency: Create a coherent personal brand voice and tone in all verbal and visual communication across media platforms. You don't need to think of it as "matched luggage," but it should be unified.
  • Authenticity: Emphasize a true attribute.
  • Relevance: Base the branding on insights into you and the needs of your potential clients. For example, clients value nimble thinkers, so you might emphasize your ability to think quickly and creatively.
  • Differentiation: Create a unique visual and verbal presence.

Craft Your Elevator Pitch

If you can state your premise in one sentence, that's a great start. In fact, if stated well, that could be the entire pitch. For example, my pitch is, "I am a designer who writes."

Create a 30-second, three-sentence pitch about your expertise with the following objectives:

  • First sentence: Draw interest. Hook the listener with an attention-grabbing, active first sentence. The opening line leads to a fuller story.
  • Second sentence: Add compelling content. Engage the listener with information about your experience or expertise. Once again, show, don't tell.
  • Third sentence: Provide a payoff. What is the essential takeaway message? The last line should leave an impression, like the ta-da! ending of a performance. What do you want to imprint on the listener?

After writing your pitch, read it aloud. If any of it sounds contrived or unlike something you would say conversationally, rewrite until it sounds genuine.

You may not feel like a brand. After all, you're an individual, not a cookie or a car. But to break through as a freelancer in the creative industry you need to make an indelible impression. Building your own brand takes some extra effort, but it's well worth your time.

Robin_LandaRobin Landa designs and conceives brand strategy. She holds the title of Distinguished Professor in the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University and has written 21 books about branding, design and advertising, including Build Your Own Brand; Advertising By Design, 2nd ed.; Graphic Design Solutions, 5th ed.; and Designing Brand Experiences.