Building your brand - my reflections as i push the restart button
“One day I will…!” We all say that from time to time and even honestly mean it, but hard reality stops most of us from ever realizing that because we “just lack something”.
That “something” can be connections, time, money, witts, luck, etc; but in the end it all boils down to just self esteem and conviction.
Prologue - Self esteem has more to do with it than you are willing to admit
When i first started freelancing i dropped into it from nowhere. I had no presence on the internet or in real life, i had no social network accounts and no social network. The shear thought of marketing myself was repulsive and daunting. But i needed money and i needed hope…
One day on some forum i saw a guy talking about how easy freelancing is, and i figured i have nothing to lose. My face will be hidden behind a wall of 0’s and 1’s and my true name will be shown only to a very limited group of people who actually choose to hire me.
I figured that’s a good deal as long as i can wing the initial Skype - voice only - conversations. So i dived into it without further thinking to avoid fear talking me out of it. It was a slow start but my income soon exceeded what any regular job in a 100 mile radius would pay me.
Since i was doing OK, i chose not to build my brand and my name on my success - despite knowing better - and as time passed this turned out to be a big mistake.
I wanted to avoid building an “I” brand because i felt it simply wouldn’t work. I avoided it at all costs, right to the point where i now need to start from the beginning.
But why did i avoid building an “I” brand so desperately?
The objections and excuses i mentioned (and many others) in the first paragraph are just a disguise for the flaws we perceive in ourselves. It is the “I don’t have a face, or voice, or height, or nerve for an I brand”, packed in a socially unstigmatized wrapper.
It is the fear of being proven to be inadequate.
After all, all the “I brands” we see - the actors, the popular politicians, the popular rich people - are perfect in every way we see. They have the looks, the voice, the right words, the toys… How do we compare to them?
So how can we ever delude ourselves we could be successful as individuals if we do not have the body of Hector (Spartan) and brain of Einstein at the same time?
The imperfect reality - appearances, appearances, appearances
Let’s be honest, we live in a global society in which appearances matter. If you look good people trust you, if you don’t look good people don’t trust you; if you look good people perceive you as competent, if you don’t look good people perceive you as incompetent.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you can’t handle social situations you won’t be successful. On the other hand, if you have the looks people will go out of their way to help you.
The same goes for your voice. People with a pleasant sounding voice do much better in phone conversations (as well as in personal conversations).
Don’t have a good voice? Too bad, there goes your chance of sticking to voice meetings in order to compensate for your lack of good looks…
Some may think i am being overly pessimistic now, but it is just my personal experience. I wasn’t born with looks or voice and i can’t change them. So when it comes to appearances i’m stuck with bad odds.
The bad appearances take away from your professional appearances and you need to put in a lot of work to regain them.
But… in this time of the internet one does not necessarily need personal or phone meetings to conduct business. With poor call quality all over the world and preoccupied people who cannot be bothered to respond to a call that exact minute, text is becoming the standard messaging system.
No face, no voice, no need for instant witty remarks, yet appearances still matter.
I brand - from the book of Niccolo Machiavelli
In early 1500’s an italian diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli has written at length about the importance of appearances, how to use it and how to manipulate it.
His book ‘The prince’ has a bad reputation among people, yet the ones most vocal about how bad it is have either not read it or missed its point. The prince is merely a 15’th century business etiquette handbook.
But even though it is 500 years old many of its underlying principles are still applicable today. It is true that much has changed since then, but mostly just on the surface.
Machiavelli does not write about the rulers face, height, voice or biceps… not even about his courage on the battlefield. Instead he writes about how he presents himself, how he plans and organizes, how he chooses his timing and his battles. And how he chooses his allies and his enemies.
Contrary to popular belief this is very applicable to our everyday life and building our own brand.
Much of The prince is dedicated to the concept of ‘aura’ which the rulers create around themselves and use it as a tool for having their way and as a shield for deflecting attacks on their authority. We can use it as well for letting clients believe we are legitimate, honest and competent - and above all, are not hiding anything.
Please note i am not talking about black-hatting here, but strictly about overcoming our perceived shortcomings.
The faceless I brand
People usually think that people who do not want to show their face have something shady to hide and are thus very weary and even afraid to do business with such people. We see this even here on STEEMIT. People just don’t stop to consider we might be trying to protect ourselves from unfair treatment and even abuse.
But if rulers of the old didn’t need to have a pretty face nor do we, especially with internet as our main “habitat”. Our I brand does not need to carry our name and our face does not need to be its logo. In fact even when applying for regular jobs most employers now prefer you don’t add your picture on your resume.
Sending companies an introduction letter and your resume is a safe and good option for finding your initial clients. However they will likely do their best to check you out on social media. If you kept internet free of your face and stupid remarks over the past 20 years, your web-absence may trigger some questions, but a load of weird photos and remarks will be far more damaging.
Either way, you want your introductions (the text you send) speak for themselves. You want your potential clients pay attention to what you handed them not on some sketchy rumours.
If your initial introduction “WOWs” the recipient they might not even try to research you. If they still do, they will do just a quick look for your name and you can dominate the top search results which come up for your name and field with 2 to 3 simple websites. This way you can push back any unfavorable results which you do not want your clients to see.
If you do not have any online presence a single website will be enough to wawer the doubts the client has when he fails to find anything about you online. However in some fields a lack of online presence can be a good thing as long as your initial introduction was captivating, professional and inspiring - because that lack of presence is perceived as a sign that you have loads of work and hence don’t need to market yourself.
You need to know your market well and understand the psychology at work. Generally there are several distinct client groups/mentalities and you cannot hope to cater them all at all times. You need to choose the one which will be the easiest for you to serve.
Tailor everything to that group and its underlying psychology. Not only what you say, but also how you say it. The layout and esthetics of your email and documents and of course you need to tailor your work to them as well.
- Do they want cheap?
- Fast delivery?
- No risk?
- Are they worried about something in particular?
- Do they prefer long term support?
Whatever it is, focus on that and don’t clutter your emails/documents with too much additional information.
Information overload is the norm today, if you will be swift and to the point they will see you as more professional (though never forget the business etiquette). If you are swift and to the point they also won’t ponder so much over your lack of social media presence.
Now let’s return back to the visual part of appearances:
As i said earlier you need to “captivate” the potential client. One way is to carefully craft your messages with copywriting and the other is with visual styling.
You may question the effectiveness of this but the headers and footers of a simple email can really make a difference. It can make you look incompetent, desperate, uncaring or professional and established/trustworthy. Same goes for all your documents such as your resume, invoices, bills, etc.
Of course visuals go far beyond your emails - into your websites. Your website is essentially your face. Your competence and trustworthiness will be judged by the esthetics and usability of your website.
Design your website with simplicity in mind but make it look elaborate and prestigious. If your website makes your services look high value (it’s all about appearances) the clients will be less likely to question your experience and your good name.
Finally make them feel your services are risk free for them. A good black-hatter can potentially do a lot of damage to their company so you must calm those silent fears they have right from beginning. They want confidentiality, warranty, money back guarantee and possibly ongoing support. While it goes without saying that a good freelancer should offer all that and more you can make it seem that you are truly going out of your way for them - people like to feel they are getting a special treatment.
We all want to print ourselves some money and black-hatting can sometimes seem like a good and easy method, but in reality it often backfires in the long run. It goes without saying that a freelancer who endeavours a lasting business should avoid all black hat practices at all costs even if he must take a loss sometimes.
However there is a grey area inbetween white hat and black hat conduct. You can exploit this area greatly, starting by overinflating the jobs you did so far and the job you are talking about with your prospective client. This can greatly boost your income and give you a lot of free time, but if the clients become aware of it or if you cross into full blackhat you can quickly face the end of your career.
Unfortunately some clients expect you to play in the grey area which causes problems if you have been 100% honest with them the entire time and they don’t believe you. They want to squeeze your greyhat margin - which doesn’t exist if you have been playing whitehat - by pressing you with insane deadlines, budget cuts and unrealistic demands. One could say that at this point they have crossed into the black area.
So even if you do not want to use the gray and black areas you must know them and be aware of them in order to not fall prey to them. It is very difficult to get your client back to the white area once you have let them too far into the grey - i know from experience - as they just keep pressing you ever harder.
Writing your resume and introduction letter and sending them to 100 potential clients isn’t that difficult. And with the average response rate of 5% chances are very good that you will land at least 1 preliminary phone conversation - an interview.
At this point many “what ifs” start arising in our minds and the fact we can’t hide behind a wall of text and images during the interview makes it all that much worse.
- What if they ask something i don’t know?
- What if they ask something i don’t want to answer?
- What if i answer wrong?
- What if i mumble?
With every additional concern the chances of you mumbling increase as the stress does its thing. Mumbling is a sign of insecurity and detracts from the client's perception of your competence. Fortunately most clients understand some people are nervous during first encounters and don’t hold it against you.
Even if you mumble by default (i do), your chances of lending the client don’t decrease as long as your initial documents did their job well. You must understand that clients nowadays talk with freelancers from all over the world and another odd accent doesn’t leave a lasting effect on them - hurray for globalization!
All you need to do is to stick to what you are good at. Don’t try to hide your weaknesses and deficiencies; don’t try to downplay them either - just be honest. Clients value honesty - it is rare nowadays. But if and when you need to admit a weakness you have, return straight back to what you are good at.
It means you will be less nervous and constantly on the point - and clients will appreciate this.
Also remember one more thing - if the client has bothered to schedule a conversation with you, they need you.
This is how the theory works…
This isn’t a guide, it is just my reflections and thoughts on the tools we have at our disposal. In the upcoming weeks i will be using this around the clock to create a stable client base which i can later turn into a full business and transition from an I brand into a Corp.
And as you see this isn’t very specific, after all it cannot be as every field and client is different. One needs to apply this on per situation basis.
Ideally we could custom tailor everything for every client but that would not be very time effective and fortunately it is usually not necessary.
All photos were found in google search. All rights belong to the owning websites referenced below.
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Linked content is for convenience only and is not mine.