Managing Your Personal Brand As a Freelancer

personal brand as a freelancer

Photo by Antoine Beauvillain

There’s a world of marketing lingo that it can be quite difficult to buy into as a freelancer.

Sure, when you’re a Google employee sitting around a meeting table with a bunch of other fired-up creatives, the buzzwords and acronyms might flow free and easy – but it’s a different story when you’re home alone with just your laptop.

If you’ve heard the term ‘personal brand’, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the same kind of deal – marketing jargon that doesn’t really apply when you’re flying solo – but you’d be wrong.

Here we’ll cover what your personal brand is, how you can create a good foundation to build one from – and some solid dos and don’ts…

What is your personal brand?

It’s really important you don’t mix up your personal and professional brand. While there’s scope for plenty of crossover, a professional brand is something you choose – but a personal brand is there whether you like it or not.

Your personal brand is any information someone can link to you. There are some really obvious examples – like your LinkedIn page – it’s generally set so that professionals you might want to connect with can have a look at your skills, work experience, etc – but today, people want to dig deeper than what you’re simply offering up.

As painful as it might be to think about; your personal brand includes those slightly unfunny tweets from 2014; it includes heated discussions you’ve had with people about whether or not the Earth is flat – and it definitely includes those publicly viewable pictures that were taken at 3am after 6 tequilas. Now, unless you’re really out there – those things are unlikely to feature on your UpWork or PeoplePerHour listings…

personal branding for freelancers

Searching photo by Thomas Lefebvre

People don’t dig that deep – do they?

Surely people don’t have the time to go looking into the background of freelancers they’re hoping to work with? Wrong. They absolutely do – and they absolutely will.

There’s a lot about hiring freelancers that lines up next to a recruitment process – and a recent study expands on exactly how deep companies are willing to dig when they’re looking to fill a job role.

Nearly 50% of people screen potential employees and freelancers through social media and search engines – and more significantly, 36% of people have disqualified a potential candidate as a result of information found about them on their social media or search engine results.

The message is clear. Your personal brand exists, whether you like it or not. You just have to decide whether or not you want to be in control of it.

How can you control your personal brand?

There’s no ‘one simple-trick’ that will see you in control of your personal brand – it’s an all-encompassing concept that involves a handful of ideas and techniques.

That said, there’s a really solid foundation you can build from – and it’s a question:

Who are you?

You don’t have to be liked by everyone to be successful. In actual fact, it sometimes helps if you’re not. Whatever and whoever you are, being yourself is going to save you a lot of wondering about how to put across the ‘right’ imagine online.

If you haven’t thought about who you are, it’s good to find a bit of a work philosophy that fits with you. Are you hard working? Are you easy going? Are you the most creative person you know? Do you spend 8 hours a day out taking photos? Are you obsessed with understanding the finer points of After Effects? Are you more of a nuts and bolts kind of person who just gets the job done?

You might want to think about your attitude toward wider life too. Do you want to own a Tribeca apartment in the next 5 years? Are you happy in your parents’ basement? Want to travel the world? Would you be happy never leaving your state?

There’s a bunch of questions there – and here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how you answer. Whether you want to make a billion dollars or just want to make enough to get through the day – it’s totally fine – just own it.

Superhero image by

“Shouldn’t I try to look successful?”

When it comes to a personal brand, there’s a whole world of people who think the very best thing is to look like you’re the next Gary Vaynerchuk – and that’s totally fine, if you’ve got that work ethic and drive, but if you don’t, you’re going to end up with a bunch of clients who expect something you’re not.

If you’re working 18 hours a day to save enough money to buy the New York Jets then sure – let people know, but if that’s not you, don’t set yourself up for a life you don’t want to lead.

Showing the world who you involves a bit of risk. Have you got some really strong political views that you’ve vocal about online? Expect to lose some business from people who disagree with your thoughts. Spend all weekend posting drunk selfies on Instagram? Don’t expect to win business from the people who are looking for a straight-laced uber-reliable contractor.

Again, you get to decide if you want to put your polarizing character traits across – just be aware that the more you show, the more risk of rejection you’re exposing yourself to.

Some dos and don’ts

There are a few dos and don’ts that have nothing to do with your character or specific personal image – and they relate to social media.

Don’t: Buy an image

Got 30 tweets on Twitter but 9,000 followers? That might look a bit suspicious. Trying to manipulate your image with bought likes is a definite no-no.

Don’t: Lock everything down

Don’t want people to make judgements about you? Surely the answer is to make sure no one can see anything? Incorrect. Super-secretive makes people wonder what you’re hiding – and many decision makers will avoid the unknown.

Do: Separate business from pleasure

In contrast to the previous ‘don’t’ – you can quite easily lock down your personal social media if you’ve got a business outlet. For instance – if you want to keep you Facebook for friends and family, make sure you’re easily contacted and viewed on LinkedIn.

Don’t: Be a ghost ship

You might not tend to your social media profiles all the time – but if your LinkedIn page still says you’re in a job you left 3 years ago you might want to do some maintenance. Make sure people see the latest version of you.

What’s the right approach for you?

Your personal brand is, as the name suggests; yours. Whatever and whoever you are – or whatever and whoever you want the world to see, is up to you, but the most important thing to take away from this is that YOU need to be the person who’s in control.

People are looking at the online version of you and making decisions about whether or not they hire you based on what they see. It pays to be in control of your personal brand.

2 Replies to “Managing Your Personal Brand As a Freelancer”

  1. Awesome Post! I somewhere find myself in it.

    Although everything seems up to the point, I think the quote “Shouldn’t I try to look successful?” fits right into today’s world. It’s very hard to get freelance work without shouting or boasting our success stories.

    1. Stephen Kelly says:

      You’re right Parvesh – I suppose what I’m trying to say is to be realistic with your self-promotion. I’ve seen a lot of people pretend to be something they’re not when they begin work with a new client – only to be surprised when the client gets to know them and doesn’t like the result.

      But yes – shout and boast as much as possible about what you do and what you’ll deliver – it’s the only way we get heard!!

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