To celebrate that fact that the Out of Office eBook is out now, I wanted to write a blog post that explores one aspect of freelancing that I think often gets overlooked: branding.
So what is branding? I’m certainly no expert, but it’s something that I learn more about everyday, and I think that every freelancer is ultimately an expert in their own brand because they know it like the back of their hand. Even if they don’t realise it!
I used to think it was just all about graphic design. You know, having a snazzy logo and some pretty colours and fonts on your website. Shout out to Nikki who designed my logos though! But what I’ve learned through my own personal experience (and mistakes) is that it’s so much more than that, which quite frankly means it takes a lot of work and it’s something that is constantly evolving as your business grows.
As author Seth Godin neatly puts it:
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”
Nowhere in that quote does he mention the word logo or font, does he? So let’s break it down into expectations, memories, stories and relationships and think about how you can translate that to the online world.
This blog post was inspired by my podcast episode around the same topic. Listen to the audio below!
If you’ve got your branding right, then your audience will come to expect certain things from you. They might expect a newsletter to drop into their inbox once a week, they might expect you to reply to their DM on Instagram or they might expect you to be completely honest about how you review a product on your blog. It’s up to you to set these expectations and then, make sure you deliver.
For example, I recently launched my first creative writing course. I know that there’s now an expectation from my audience that I should be an excellent writer. I have to prove to my audience that I know my stuff, so I’m taking real care over all the written content I post online. I’ve upped my game on my website, Instagram captions and my newsletters because you know what? I’m a damn good writer and I want that to be crystal clear! I want my writing to be a prominent part of my brand, because I love what I do and I want to be considered an expert in my field.
Take someone like Sara Tasker. Her brand is built on beautiful photography – she’s literally written a book about it and runs an Instagram retreat training others too. As a follower of hers, I’ve come to expect high-quality photography from her brand. If she posted a grainy image of a sloppy sandwich on her grid my world would be shook. I would be genuinely concerned that someone had hacked into Sara’s account because my expectations of what she posts online are so specific.
What memories do people have of you? Take your clients for example, when they signed up to work with you did you send them a thank you card? Or maybe a little care package with some sweets or a cute postcard? (Alice Benham is famous for this!) Giving people these positive memories of you is all part of your brand.
I know a lot of people have fond memories of me going to my local duck pond and checking in on my feathery friends. And of course, some of you will remember when I was gifted a giant rubber duck mask and took to dancing around in it with a glass of wine. These are fun (weird) memories that I’m happy for people to associate with me because I want to make people laugh, and I want my brand to feel a bit daft.
This is I think, an easy and underutilised way to build a brand. The way you interact with people online is an opportunity to implant yourself in someone’s mind as a positive force. If someone asks you for advice, give it to them. If someone compliments you, accept it and return the gesture. If you get on really well with certain people online, share their content and big them up to your audience. Bringing all those positive vibes to the table gives off all the right energy and I promise you’ll get it back in droves.
I recently read The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr, which encapsulates everything he’s learned from neuroscience about how to write a novel. But so many of the points he makes apply to storytelling in general. One of the most important things he talks about is that when we read a novel we’re always chasing the answer to a question. That question is always about the protagonist, and the question is: who are they?
Books often revolve around the main character making some moral decision, and the reason we keep reading is to get some sort of resolution. Do they get the girl? Do they find the thing they’re searching for? Do they leave home or decide to stay? Do they sacrifice something for the greater good?
The reason we get so invested in these stories is because we see ourselves in these characters and we can identify with them and their journey. Even anti-heroes like Walter White in Breaking Bad play to our wants and desires, because we get to live vicariously through their story, acting out our natural tendencies to break the rules and live life on the edge.
Think about your brand like an extended novel, where you’re the central character. The more you can let people in on your personal story, the more people will identify with you, and naturally they’ll want to follow you along to find out what the resolution is. That’s why sharing behind the scenes details are such a powerful way to engage your audience. Take them along for the ride as you embark on new adventures whether that’s finding an accountant, learning a new piece of software or writing a book. People will love it.
To learn more about building your freelance business, read my book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss.