What are you doing to build your personal brand? Because if the phrase “perception is reality” was true 30 years ago then the equivalent today would surely be “Google is reality.”
The fact is, you are constantly being googled. Potential clients, competitors, employees, contractors — they’re all googling you. And what they are finding is your online CV. But is it the version you want them to see?
As a freelancer, it’s on you to determine how you want people to perceive you, and the best way to do that is with personal branding. Yes, the quality of your work matters, but you also need to gain name recognition. Just like any business, freelancers must rely on personal branding to secure a steady flow of gigs and to command higher rates.
As Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur, New York Times best-selling author, speaker and internet personality puts it:
“It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.”
Another reason for managing your personal brand is that once you commit to putting the best version of yourself out there, you may well find that your ideal clients will start finding you.
Here are five data-backed reasons why freelancers should take the time to build a strong personal brand:
1. There’s a lot of competition, and your personal brand can help you stand out
- Freelancers are predicted to become the U.S. workforce majority by 2027, with nearly 50% of millennial workers already freelancing — more than any other generation.
- Half of the United Kingdom’s working population will be self-employed in the next 5 years. And independent workers comprise the fastest-growing group in the European Union labor market. 
- 24% of all online workers live in India. With outsourcing, now one of the country’s main exports, Indian freelancers find they can be competitive globally due to their high levels of education and technical expertise. In fact, 55% of Indian freelancers work in software development or technology. 
- Technology has made it easier than ever to enter the freelancer economy, with 80% of freelancers using social media as a means of finding work. 
With more freelancers than ever before, no matter what your niche, you’re going to be up against some stiff competition. And not just locally or nationally, but freelancers based in other countries who will undercut your rates.
The reality is, there’s nothing you can do about the number of competitors in your niche. What you can do, however, is to develop your personal brand to stand out above that competition.
Here’s the thing: Whether you’re a web designer, writer, developer, or have some other special skill, there’s a lot of pent-up demand from overwhelmed business owners who don’t have the time or talent to create a website, write a blog post, code a plugin. In other words, there’s more than enough work to go around.
So rather than waste time worrying about your competitors, think about what sets you apart when developing your personal brand.
⚡ Action steps:
- Determine your unique value proposition (UVP) – Your UVP tells prospects why they should do business with you rather than your competitors, and makes the benefits of your services crystal clear from the outset.
- Have a focus – Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Once you’ve determined your UVP, focus on your niche and stick to it. As Goldie Chan at Forbes writes: “Keeping your message focused for your target demographic will make it that much easier to both create content around your personal brand and have others define you.”
- Be ready to fail – Failure is tough, but it also provides an invaluable learning experience. According to Timothy Hoang, CEO of Stories By Tim, Inc.: “You’ll never achieve the best branding until you fail a couple of times while pushing past your comfort zone.”
2. Freelancers are often well-paid
- The worldwide average hourly rate charged by freelancers is $19 – well above the average hourly salary in most of the countries where freelancers were surveyed for The Payoneer Freelancer Income Survey 2018. 
- In some countries, women earn higher freelance hourly wages than men, on average, such as Indonesia where men earn $18 compared to women who earn $19. 
- Some freelance coders and software developers earn up to $1,000 per hour. 
- Some freelance copywriters earn over $250 per hour. 
There are a lot of freelancers out there earning top dollar for their work. How do they do it?
As Amanda Abella from Due Inc. writes, our mindset when it comes to money has a lot to do with how much money and opportunity we are able to attract into our lives, i.e. if you don’t believe there’s money out there for you then that’s how you’re going to act. The end result is you’ll be broke.
The reality is, there is more than enough money and clients to go around. No one person (or even a few people) could possibly handle all the work that needs to be done in your niche. Developing your personal brand can help you build your reputation over time so you can attract your ideal client and, in turn, charge higher rates.
⚡ Action steps:
- Know what you’re talking about – You’ve got to be actually good at what you do to command top dollar. Enough said.
- Look the part – You might be amazing at what you do, but if your website looks cheap and you don’t already have the reputation to back it up, prospects will question your rates. So invest in your logo, website, portfolio, and photography, and consider your brand tone and voice.
- Be consistent – Consistency is similar to having a focus — it’s much easier to build a reputation for doing one thing really well if you consistently create your personal branding and content around it.
3. Many freelance jobs aren’t advertised
- 85% of all jobs are filled through networking. 
- While 73% of freelancers use online marketplaces to find work, 33% find gigs through word of mouth and referrals — that’s one-third of freelancers who don’t need to go out of their way to find work. 
Just the other day, a client who’s looking to hire a project manager asked me if I could recommend anyone. Two days prior, the CEO of a fin-tech company who I sit next to at a coworking space told me about how she’d hired her new designer after “stalking them” on Instagram — and after unsuccessfully advertising the job.
Moral of the story? Many jobs aren’t advertised, and often the best freelance gigs are found through word of mouth.
To tap into this hidden job market, you need to network and put your work out there. When you craft a personal brand that puts your work front and center, and you take the time to get to know people in your niche, you’ll make it easier for potential clients to find you.
⚡ Action steps:
- Put yourself out there – Where can people find you? If you’re not sharing on social media or blogging on your website, you may as well be a ghost because no one knows you exist.
- Be part of your community – Connect with others in your niche, attend events and conferences in real life, comment on blog posts, comment on Twitter threads. Be known and be recognized.
4. First impressions count — and a personal brand can help
- Out of all business decision makers, 84% start their buying process with a referral. And Google is the very first place people look after getting a referral. 
- Of all internet users, 65% see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies. That’s a higher level of trust than any other online or offline source. 
- 70% of employers say they’ve turned down candidates because of something negative they found online. 
- 85% of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals say that an employee’s online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their decisions to a great extent. 
- According to one academic study, 94% of the time, someone’s first impression is based on design, and it only takes 50 milliseconds for that decision to get made. 
First impressions count, and when you work online this means controlling (as much as possible) what people find when they google you.
According to a Harris Interactive survey on behalf of BrandYourself.com, 75% of American adults have googled themselves, and half said they didn’t like the results . Thirty percent said nothing of relevance came up.
If you don’t like the way you look online, there’s plenty you can do about it. You have seconds to make a good first impression with your personal brand. The pressure’s on. Where do you start?
⚡ Action steps:
- Plan the effect you want to have – Successful freelancers start by getting to know their ideal client well before they try to appeal to them. Once you understand them well, formulate a brand message that you’ll communicate consistently.
- Own your brand – Embrace the social media platforms that your target audience uses and post to them regularly. That means using content to spread your message. It means putting your brand out there on a regular basis, whether through blog posts, webinars, speaking gigs, or interviews.
- Share positive reviews – Ask your existing clients for testimonials that you can share on your website and social media. Testimonials are powerful because they prove you are the real deal. Prospects will be more inclined to reach out and hire you if you can show examples of how you’ve successfully helped others.
While first impressions count, consistency when building your personal brand is key. It takes 5-7 impressions for someone to remember a brand, which means marketing must be an ongoing process if you want your personal brand to be successful.
5. A powerful personal branding story can help you connect
- Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations. 
- 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like a story. 
- Research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts and figures alone. 
- If people love a brand story, 55% are more likely to buy the product in the future, while 15% will buy the product immediately. 
What drives you to pursue the business you’re in? How did you enter your niche and what motivated you to start freelancing? What are you passionate about?
People want to do business with people they relate to, who they respect, and who they believe share their values. So weave your values into your personal story. Then, share that story on your website, in your blog posts, in your social media posts, and use the content you create to reflect the things that are important to you.
People love a good story. Stories are the reason we stay awake late to finish a book and binge-watch TV shows on Netflix. Stories engage us like little else.
When you tie your personal branding together with a compelling personal narrative, your story can cut through the clutter, get your message across, and help separate you from your competitors.
⚡ Action steps:
- Create original content – Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the most influential social media personalities of all time. The secret behind his stupendous success? He creates a ton of content daily. If you follow Vaynerchuk, every time you log onto Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you’ll see one of his thought-provoking updates. As he likes to say, “Every company needs to be prepared to be a media company.” And that includes freelancers.
- Be genuine – The easiest way to have an original personal brand is to just be you — be genuine and authentic. If you copy your competitors or come off as disingenuous, your audience will see right through you. Plus, being genuine is easier to manage on a daily basis. If you’re really skilled in your niche, your reputation alone will help you build the personal brand you want.
Ready to start building your personal brand?
In closing, build your personal brand with focus and passion. Personal branding is the single most powerful thing you can do for your freelancing career. Building your brand from the ground up is more significant than an MBA, more powerful than a millionaire father, and it’s more important than getting a celebrity endorsement.
What have you done for your personal brand today? Share your personal branding journey in the comments below!
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