Friday, February 24, 2012

Branding yourself as a freelancer - this wins for useless phrase of the day.

"Brand Yourself", "Building Brand Loyalty as a Freelancer", or '"How Someone who Knows Almost Nothing Can Get Money From Your Wallet"

As you might have noticed, this particular trend is giving me virtual hives right now.  With the current economy showing no signs of reverting back to the 'work for the same company for 30 years and retire with a pension' universe,  freelancers are popping up like mushrooms.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.  Some people are just sick of their company policies, or want to take on more interesting work.  Some people are frustrated with being unemployed/underemployed, and want to strike out on a venture of their own.  Others just think it sounds cool. (Yep, as I fill out invoices and chase non paying clients, negotiate rates, worry about the reel that I swear I'll cut one of these days, there's a friend of mine, somewhere, thinking that my job must be easier than what they're doing.)

None of these is a bad reason to think about freelancing.  Jumping straight in from that random thought, however, is not the best idea on earth. Beyond figuring out what sort of business you are/want to be, the overhead, what tools you need, an honest assessment of your skillset in area x, there are the vultures.

Vultures, you say?  What defines a freelancer vulture, to me, is someone with no definable track record or skillset suddenly marketing themselves as a 'branding expert' or 'social media guru'.  (Other terms to watch out for - guru, ninja, maven, rockstar.)  As soon as this person hangs their sign, they'll start offering classes and workshops.  If you're lucky, they're reading all of the same 'how to' blogs and sites that you are (which are available for free, by the way).  If not, they have less of an idea how to do this than you do.  But man, they'll have those buzzwords down pat.  It's like paying to sit through that corporate meeting with the marketing dept. spitting out words that used to have defined meanings, but now, all they do is make you late for lunch.

Not everyone offering a workshop is a vulture.  Do your homework on them - what have they accomplished in the field that they're talking about?  If there's no track record, no specifics, don't waste your time or money.
Something like 'took company x from 10k a year to 100k a year through repackaging website and optimizing SEO' is real.  'SEO guru and expert to help with your needs' is not.

Do you even need a 'brand'?

Most of these freelance sites say yes, this is the most important thing.

I say - it depends.

Are you selling a physical object - jewelry, clothing, et al.?  Then yes.  People are suckers for packaging.  And your clientele depends upon the look of your logo, shop (virtual or real), and name to get a quick idea of whether your product is for them.   A Goth shop specializing in silver skull jewelry is not going to look the same as someone selling English tatting tea cozies.  If your item is similar enough to other products, here's where it may be worth hiring a brand expert to help you find a unique twist to your work.

Me?  I don't have a brand.  I'm a service.  Many companies who do production have a specific look or feel to their site and their work - which is totally fine.  I suspect mine is growing more organically.  The question is - 'do I NEED to brand?'

I never did.  Would I have gotten further, faster?  Hard to say.  I get very little work through strangers.  Building my network over the years is responsible for at least 95% of my work.  I don't really have an online presence.  Then again, I don't really do quick marketing videos for startup web companies either.  I don't generally do weddings.

The difference here, I think, is who my client is.  Mine tends to be people that I've met on other jobs, have seen what I can do, and want me to work with them again, or on something they're creating.  My clientele is not usually the general public.  Of the gigs I've gotten from complete strangers, there are only two (maybe three) important things.

1. Do we click during the interview.

2. Samples of my work.  (I will do a reel, eventually.  I promise.)  They need to see that I can actually do what I said I would.

3. Will I work for the listed rate.

Notice, I have a narrow niche (features, docs, music videos) for the most part.  I have done commercials, industrials, etc - and am usually hired by the company producing that product.  And of course, reality shows. I think most people have done work at least related to one in the last few years.

Artists brand themselves naturally through the progression of their work and interests.  Usually, a very simple website with their name, contact info, portfolio, and bio is all they need.  This is branding, sure.  It is also pretty simple stuff that you can do yourself.

You have to decide for yourself whether networking parties, workshops, et al. are right for you.  And be picky about the ones you take.  Or you could find yourself spending thousands on information that's freely available, or worse, no information at all.

This is one of the best blogs I've found that covers general freelancing, and has articles available for artists, writers, finances, you name it.

All that takes, is your time.

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