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In Depth: Freelancing Essentials, Part 1: Creating Your Brand

In Depth: Freelancing Essentials, Part 1: Creating Your Brand

With any small business owner or freelancer, you’ll wear many hats. You will likely be the artist, the marketer, the accountant, the custodian, and more. You’ll constantly be thinking about your current job, your next job, who you can rely on to help you. It’s a lot of work and it’s sometimes exhausting! Not only this, you’ll end up taking on a higher amount of tax burden than someone who works for a corporation. Still, the appeal of being your own boss and working your own hours is very appealing.

This is the first in a series for those who are freelancing and those who want to be their own bosses. Some of the tips will be specific to video and digital media, and others will be more general. Today’s topic is creating your brand, which has to do with marketing, sales, and protecting your brand.

You certainly know major brands in the world: Toyota, Coca-Cola, Adidas. You may not be Apple, but you also need to brand yourself and your business. Brand yourself? Yes! Freelancing is, after all, a lifestyle, not just a job and you are the business. Your brand is a way to market yourself.

I know some of you out there may have a problem with the term “brand”. You’re an independent filmmaker, perhaps, and you don’t want to be a corporate brand. I get that. Don’t think of the word brand in a negative way. Think of it as your reputation and your creative style. Good branding establishes your presence and your reputation in your industry. Your brand will help you attract customers and set you apart from the competition. We are not just talking about making a cool logo and setting up a website to sell your services.

When you think of Apple, what do you think? Sure, you think of iPhones, iMacs, and the logo, but you also think of innovation, clean and simple design and style, great customer service, perhaps expensive, highly-coveted, easy-to-use products… and success. What do you want your customers and peers to think of when they think of you? Defining your brand and your reputation is a critical step in your marketing plan and controls your career destiny.

What is a Brand?

Defining your Business and Your Brand

  • What do you offer potential clients? What is the first-rate talent that you want people to know about? What is your skill that deserves recognition? Be specific, and be confident. Perhaps think about your elevator pitch. How do you introduce your business in just a few sentences? Use this info to craft your brand and your marketing statement.
  • How do you stand out from the rest? You have qualities that are different from or are better than the competition. What is your core strength? What are your values? What have people said about you? Are you a visionary in your creative field? Do you have stellar communication skills? Do you have technical skills that others don’t? Think of Apple Computer here and how they are seen compared to their competitors.
  • Do your research. Take a look at others and see what is working for their businesses. I’m not saying to copy them but learn from them and surpass them. Talk to others in your industry and Google other companies, especially in other markets. You will hopefully be able to bring something to your market that it’s lacking. Capitalize on it!
  • Come up with a great business name. If you don’t already have a name, I’d recommend choosing something not too common but not too tough to remember or spell. Also, avoid trendy names, like a name missing half of the vowels. If it’s not memorable, too hard to spell, or too common, you’ll be missing a lot of opportunity on search results. In a comment on VideoMaker forum on a question from 2013, Mike Wilhelm suggests not using your own name for your business because it gives the impression that you’re bigger than you are. Also, someone else run the company if it gets too big or if you change careers or retire.
  • Design a logo that matches your brand.  It’s important to tie your creative style to your logo, and stand the test of time, so think long term. It’s a process to come up with a good logo, so don’t just throw something together. My advice is to keep it simple and easy to read even if it’s small. Keep it to one font. Don’t use clip art in your logo. There are so many bad logos in the world. I will judge a company on a bad logo and so will potential clients. This logo should be on everything: the website, social media, business cards, videos, advertising, etc.
  • Know your client and your audience. Make sure you know who they are and what they need. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. You’ll want to make sure that your branding works with your target client or audience.
  • Show your personality. Be memorable and always show your best work.

How to design a brand identity

There are loads of videos on YouTube about developing your brand. This video covers what a brand is, logo design, research, etc.

Creative Tutorial: Branding basics

Branding Basics: Making Your Business Stand Out

This is a webinar and has some good information.

Marketing your Brand

Marketing is important so that clients will know that you are available for work. Here are a few things you will need to get the word out there.

Make a Great Demo Reel.

Video is the ultimate marketing tool right now, so congratulations, you chose the right industry. Show your best work. Show the work that you want to do. And, of course, your personality in your work.

See In Depth: The Ultimate Guide to Building a Great Demo Reel for more tips on creating a fantastic demo reel.

Create a simple website.

When I mean simple, I mean that you really only need a few things. You’ll want to include a phone number, email, and your demo reel, which you should have ready before you launch your website. Put your logo on the site and make it easy to read and easy to find your contact information, yet show your style. Your website is a continuation of your brand.

You don’t code but don’t have money to build a site? There are tons of companies out there that have ready-made templates or have WordPress installations built right into their packages. These are not budget breakers and don’t require a lot of skill.

Some companies have decided to forego a website altogether and just have a business page on Facebook. The problem here is that you’re missing people who are not on Facebook, but let’s be honest, that’s about 2% of people these days. I do know a few people who are not on Facebook but they’re probably not the ones who will be hunting you down either.

Maintain a Social Media Presence.

Hit all the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. This is a great way to show your company’s work to potential clients. Keep your clients and peers up to date with the work you’re doing. Show your personality in your posts!

It should go without saying that your business social media should remain for business purposes. I’ve seen some companies get into arguments over social media or make political statements. Sometimes it totally works for them. Other times, they lose customers and respect.

Networking is KEY for referrals.

The most important thing for a successful business is networking and one of the best things you can do to get referrals is to make friends in the business. I know that some people will not talk to their competition for fear that they will steal their clients and ideas, however, I really feel that this is a mistake. Just be genuine, be yourself, and know everyone in your local industry. In other words, participate in user group meetings, speaking engagements at the local college, local film premieres, and other industry events.

  • Making friends and allies in the Industry will pay off. I get calls for video work that I am unable to do because I’m too busy or don’t have that skill set, and I have several friends in the industry that I know can do a great job on the project. Maybe that client will call your friend instead for the next job, or maybe they’ll call a complete stranger. Wouldn’t you prefer to have your friend get the job? And when your friend has a job that they’re unable to do, the chances are high that they will refer you.
  • Network for collaboration. You never know when a big job will come your way and you need help. You want to work with someone that you know will do a good job and you know their work ethic. Make sure you have a few people you can call if you’re in a pinch.
  • Get solid recommendations for help. Use these industry contacts for recommendations for a web developer, bookkeeper or accountant. At the freelancing event that we held, one of the speakers was a retired accountant and her main clients were people in the video industry. Her work came from referrals was all word of mouth from her clients to others in the industry and she knew the video industry well.
  • Networking can help you figure out what to charge – What are the local market rates? Sometimes it’s weird to ask local professional peers what they make. Many times people don’t list their rates on their website either. This is where it’s great to have friends in other cities in your field to see what they’re charging. People will be much more open and honest about delicate topics like rates when they know that you’re not in the same market and not after their clients. You’ll need to make some adjustments for your market, but it’s good to ask around.
  • Keep your ears open. It always seems to happen that when you’re on a shoot or you have a project rolling, something will come up with that client right then and there. They will mention, “Hey, do you do 3D?” and before you know it, you have another job on the horizon.

Advertising

You have a ton of options, both online and offline. Because you won’t have an unlimited budget, you’ll have to figure out what type of advertising will give you the most bang for your buck. We’ve found that Google advertising has given us the best results, plus we advertise on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter. You may be lucky enough to have enough word of mouth advertising from your networking and social media presence that you don’t need to spend money on advertising. If so, good for you! Your hard work is paying off.

Further reading on Branding

Am I a Filmmaker or a Brand? Why Not Be Both? Jon Reiss talks about the topic in Filmmaker Magazine, September 21, 2010.

Stay tuned for Part 2

In the next Freelance article, we’ll talk about contracts, invoices, and money.

Posted by Michele Yamazaki