This article was created in partnership with 99designs, a global creative platform that empowers freelancers all over the world.
Thanks to technological advancements, the de-stigmatization of contract employment and other economic conditions, more people than ever are launching their own freelance careers and finding high levels of success in the process. According to Forbes, “nearly all of the 10 million jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were freelance”, and that number is only expected to grow. As a creative professional, the buzz can feel enticing enough to make you want to quit your day job—but hold tight.
Ask the most successful freelancers and they’ll tell you that it’s no longer enough to be talented. If you’re trying to carve out a niche in the increasingly competitive freelance space, you need a solid brand strategy that clearly defines who you are—and communicates why you’ll be valuable to your ideal clients.
Successful brand marketing isn’t easy though, and trying to figure out your brand can trigger existential dread. Who are you? What are you about? Where do you even start?
If you’re having a hard time defining who you are and what you can offer, it’s time to lean in and get introspective. To help kick-start your process, we’ve rounded up eight questions to ask yourself to help you craft a creative freelance brand that will not only encapsulate who you are, but help to elevate your future career.
1. What are my goals for my business?
In many ways, your branding will be influenced by what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. By mapping out your goals you can reverse engineer the steps it takes to get there.
First, unpack your ambitions into two equally-important boxes: one short-term, and one long-term. Setting short-term (or “enabling”) priorities makes reaching your longer-term goals much easier. For freelance creatives, short-term goals could include racking up 1k followers on your Instagram profile, or to hitting two networking events within a month. A long-term goal might be more visionary, but still attainable, like making enough to buy a new desktop, or becoming proficient in new creative software, so you can offer your clients a wider range of services.
Defining your goals is critical to your overall branding strategy, so spend some time mapping, narrowing, and prioritizing them. Ask yourself: are they feasible? Will they keep me motivated? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track.
2. What are my core values?
Your core values are a huge part of what makes you tick as a freelancer—and because they’re so personal, they should be infused into your branding at every possible opportunity.
Which creatives or businesses do I admire, and why?
Whether it’s Apple’s constant innovation, or Disneyland’s commitment to customer experience, the things you find inspiring about others can offer insight into what’s important for you.
What do I value over money?
You want your business to turn a profit, but what else is do you think is important? Would you turn down a project if it meant preserving your integrity? Would you slash your rates if it would bring a client joy?
How do I show up for my clients, customers, and collaborators?
The ways you show up for people can tell a lot about what’s driving you. If you never miss an opportunity to brainstorm new ideas with peers, one of your values might be collaboration. If you frequently stay up late to accommodate clients in different time zones, one of your values might be excellence in service.
3. Who is my ideal customer and what are they looking for?
No matter what type of business you’re in, connecting with clients or customers should be priority number one.
Create a persona to flesh out the identity of your ideal customer and put yourself in their shoes. What problems are they struggling with? Why are they seeking out my services? What are they looking for in a creative collaborator?
Getting insights into who your clients are and the challenges they are trying to solve will help you build a brand that speaks to your core demographic. The more your brand speaks to your ideal clients, the more likely they’ll be to seek out your services.
4. What do I do better than anyone else?
Figure out what sets you apart from the competition before you start slinging your goods.
What you do better than everyone else is known as your point of difference (POD), and it’s one of the most important elements of your brand identity. Your POD is the reason your clients will choose to work with you so you want to communicate yours clearly--and often.
Your POD can be skills-based (have you been a leader in your industry for 20 years?) or process-based (do you pride yourself on the fact that you never miss a deadline?). Whatever you decide it is, make sure your POD is clear, impactful, and i it is communicated in everything you do, from your website design to copy—and everything in between.
5. If I could describe my brand in three words, what would they be?
Stripping your brand down to three descriptive words can help you get to the core of who you are as a brand, what’s important to you, and how you can uplevel your message to create a more comprehensive branding strategy. Once you’ve defined your words, use them to guide you while you design your website, write your marketing copy, and send prospecting emails to potential clients.
6. What colors feel like the right fit for my brand?
Color is an extremely powerful tool, and people have long had strong psychological associations with each hue. Although additional research on color theory needs to be done, studies have shown humans are influenced by color in powerful and interesting ways.
Color can have an effect on consumer choices, moods and even performance. Most of the time, it all comes down to a gut feeling. If you want to be perceived as trustworthy and reliable, consider incorporating blue into your email signature or business card. If you want to be looked at as sleek and sophisticated, a little black never hurt. The colors you choose are completely up to you, but when it comes to elements of your brand, don’t pick shades at random or based on personal preference—use psychology to guide your choices.
7. What’s my brand voice?
Everything from the layout of your portfolio down to the copy used to describe each project has a voice. How you use that voice to talk to your audience is a crucial part of your branding. What does yours sound like? What kind of words does it use?
If you’re building a business that caters to high-level executives, you’ll probably want to avoid a tone that’s too casual. On the flip side, if your brand is targeted towards millennial entrepreneurs, you don’t want to alienate your clients with a stuffy vocabulary.
When defining your brand, ask yourself what voice will resonate the most with your audience—and how that voice will be be received by your customers--so your message never gets lost in translation.
8. What do I want to inspire in my audience?
Ultimately, the goal of building a brand is to inspire a specific set of feelings, thoughts, emotions, and actions with your audience. It’s important to get clear on what those are.
Think back to the creatives and businesses you admire, and how they make you feel. Do you want your brand to inspire feelings of excitement and fun? Trustworthiness and reliability? Do you want your audience to look to you as an expert, or do you want to feel more accessible?
The point is, your brand will spark feelings within your audience whether you like it or not—so it’s better to get ahead, take control and be sure they help, not hinder, your goals.
Building a freelance business can feel challenging at first, even a little overwhelming. But now that you know the questions to ask yourself to define your brand, you’re well on your way to establishing who you are as a freelancer—and building a solid business for the long haul.
Want to learn more about how to create a successful brand? Skillshare’s got hundreds of classes on how to brand, market and grow your small business.