Taking the leap into the world of entrepreneurship has become an increasingly enticing option for many 9 to 5 workers. What's not to love? You get to work from home and set your own hours. You can choose your clients and only work on the things that you are truly passionate about. You're in control of your own destiny.
It's easy to understand why this path has become so appealing to so many aspiring entrepreneurs. But don't be fooled – the freelance game is no walk in the park. Freelancing is hard work. Really hard work. You're no longer just the designer, for example, but also the accountant, sales person, marketer, and web team.
Work doesn't just magically appear in your inbox every day. Paycheques aren't automatically deposited into your bank account every two weeks. While this sounds scary to some, the thought of going out on your own and creating something can be overwhelmingly exciting and motivating to others. By their very nature, entrepreneurs are hungry and ambitious.
The credibility factor
One of the biggest challenges that freelancers face is that they lack credibility. Many businesses and organizations want to hire established, reputable businesses – not some freelancer who they assume is working out of a basement and who can disappear at a moment's notice. Even if your rates are affordable and you give them more attention than an agency would, if you lack credibility, you won't go very far as a freelancer. So how do you build that credibility and confidence in your potential clients?
Build your brand
Your brand is your reputation and it sets you apart from your competition. As a freelancer, you are your brand. When you are selling your services, you are selling yourself. Clients will choose to work with you because they like you. They trust you. They believe that you will deliver on your promises.
Building your personal brand is beneficial to you no matter what business you're in, but it is absolutely crucial for freelancers. Establishing an online presence doesn't have to be difficult or expensive, but it does take some time and dedication. And it's a relatively small investment that will pay itself back many times over.
We've put together some tips for building your own personal brand as a freelancer, and spoke to freelance videographer, Craig McCallion. He has developed his freelance business leveraging his strong personal brand which he's built through a combination of his online presence and his ability to deliver consistent, high-quality work.
1. Get your personal domain name
First thing's first – get your personal domain name. Not only does a personally branded domain name help you protect and grow your personal brand online, but it shows others that you mean business. It gives you credibility and instantly makes you look like a legitimate business.
Craigmccallion.ca was the obvious domain choice. It helped solidify my personal brand and legitimize my business.
Your own personally branded domain name also make it easier for people to find you online when they inevitably Google your name. Isn't it better that they find your website that outlines your services and features your testimonials, rather than your Facebook Page that contains some regrettable photos from your college days?
Tip: Is your FirstNameLastName.CA already taken? Try different variations, including just your last name or your profession (i.e. NickTheDesigner.CA)
2. Build a website
Now that you have your domain name, you need to point it somewhere. If you're not ready to build a website, you can forward it to your LinkedIn profile or portfolio in the meantime. But if you really want to stand out from the crowd, take the time to build a professional website. Our Canada Internet Factbook identified that 39% of Canadian internet users don't trust a business that doesn't have a website and 63% agreed that having a website makes a business/ organization look more credible. Again, it all comes down to how your potential clients perceive you.
As my portfolio grew, I knew I needed a place to document the amazing projects I was working on. I wanted a site that would reflect the professionalism I bring each project
Building a website doesn't necessarily have to be difficult or expensive – especially if you are a freelance web designer or developer. But what if you're not? There are several other easy, beautiful and affordable options out there, including website builders like WordPress, Wix, Weebly and SquareSpace, just to name a few.
Tip: Many Registrars have website builders as part of their offerings, and sometimes provide bundled deals on domains, hosting, or email when you purchase a website. Do your research and get the most bang for your buck!
Along with selling your services, showcasing your work and providing potential customers with an easy way to get in touch with you, your website should feature some testimonials from satisfied customers. Nothing removes the doubt of working with a freelancer like knowing that they've delivered high quality, reliable work to others. Rather than pitching all by yourself, let your satisfied customers do some of the work for you.
I believe that client satisfaction is a major factor when determining the success of a project, so I include a client testimonial whenever possible.
3. Brand your email
Email is a huge part doing business as a freelancer. Often times, it's your first communication point with new customers. It's what you use to send out proposals and invoices, and how you keep in touch with contacts. Branding your email by hosting it on your personal domain will bring an added layer of professionalism to your freelance business. Just like a website hosted on a branded domain name, it shows that you are committed to your business, and thus committed to the client.
A poll asked small business customers what makes them trust businesses on the web. One third of respondents said that they would doubt the trustworthiness of a business that used a generic email address for business, and 75% believe that having a business email address that matches the business's website is key to building trust.
If you're still sending out business emails from a Hotmail or Gmail account, you're likely hurting your own credibility and losing the trust of your potential customers. Getting your own branded email address is a simple, inexpensive, and extremely effective way for freelancers to take their business up a notch.
I branded my email address the same as my website, keeping my professional brand consistent in the eyes of my clients.
Tip: Setting up an email on your domain name is quick and easy. Most Registrars offer this service and can help you set it up in a matter of minutes.
4. Step up your social media game
Social media is a great platform for freelancers to build their personal brand by showcasing their personality and establishing themselves as a thought leader in their area of expertise. It's also a place to connect and engage with potential customers on a personal level, which can go a long way in building trust and generating new business.
Furthermore, if you're a designer, videographer, or photographer, social media acts as the perfect complement to your website as a place to share your work and show off your skills.
Social media continues to be a powerful tool in promoting my work. I rely heavily on Instagram and Vimeo for showcasing my portfolio. It's also a great way to drive traffic to my site.
Tip: Include a link in your social media profiles back to your website - it can help turn your social media audience into qualified leads.
5. Think offline, too
While digital is seemingly the place to be, a lot of business happens offline as well. Don't be shy to go to Meetups or networking events related to your area of expertise. You never know who you're going to meet, even if it is a friend of a friend who is looking for marketing help. Come armed with business cards (yes, you should get a set of branded business cards printed that include your website and email address). These small touches go a long way in showing that you care and that you are dedicated to your craft.
Branded business cards have really completed the package by offering a tangible reminder for the recipient to contact me. My unique business cards have been extremely valuable when shooting video at events and networking.
Tip: Follow up and connect with people you meet at events. Building your network is crucial to building your brand.
Building your brand and credibility as a freelancer does time some time and effort, but it will help you bring your freelance game to the next level, which will set you apart from the rest. A little investment now will pay off in the long run. Remember, as a freelancer you are your brand. Start building your brand today by registering your personal domain name.