You hear all the time if you are a freelancer, that you are essentially the business. Not only are you all aspects of it, but you are also the face behind it. But how much of that face is actually yours, and how much of it is a sort of compromised professional persona that may not be a fully representative of you? And if you are in fact, partaking in this sort of professional facade, just what are the implications of this behavior? Does it speak more about you and your professionalism, or does it speak to the market that you are operating in?
In the interest of full disclosure I am going to out myself and announce for the first time, that I am one of these freelancers who dons this public persona that is a watered down version of myself, and I do it, because of the possible client blowback. This often doesn’t amount to much more than biting my proverbial tongue when it comes to social media environs, but it is a compromise that I recognized being made, and one that got me thinking. Are we all, to a degree, playing a role in the interest of appearance for potential clients? And how much of ourselves are people actually wanting or expecting us to reveal about who we are through our business?
The blogosphere is loaded with posts warning about business faux-pas that occur via the various social media outlets, which prove that some people give no consideration to the effects of their online interactions. But as a freelancer, these interactions can be crucial for the ability of your business to thrive, so paying special attention to them comes highly recommended with this territory. Hence the facade of professionalism to help act as a sort of safeguard. For me, I established a personal blog years ago, complete with a podcast and a twitter account that I pretty much keep separate from my freelance business life. This affords me an outlet free from possible clients that may be turned off by my personal views and politics shared through these outlets.
But what does it all mean?
For those of us who work with a professional alter ego, we have to learn where to draw the lines, and when we take on branding our business, those lines can become blurred. Again, for effectively building a personal brand, it has to be just that, personal. But how much of you should be included in the mix? Because just like the blogosphere being loaded with posts telling you to be aware of the weight your online conversations, there are a number of posts highlighting the importance of freelancers building themselves into the brand.
However, just like a talkative stranger we meet who will unload a decades worth of baggage and poignantly personal experiences on us in the span of ten minutes in response to the kindest and most rhetorical of acknowledgments or greetings, we do not want to put too much out there. Let us be honest for a moment, though most who populate the web may agree with the notion that we want to know who is behind the scenes of our favorite brands, we only want to know so much. Not that we are shallow, but I think that most of us want to know them to a degree, but we want also want to some aspects of them to remain a bit of a mystery.
Now I cannot speak for everyone in this case, but from others I have spoken with in the community, we do like some of our favorite branded freelancers to leave a bit of who they are to the imagination, so that we may fill in the gaps ourselves or leave them blank if we so choose. But why is this? Is it so that we may continue to paint them in a certain light, that we may find a bit more favorable? For whatever reason, because we want them to remain somewhat more approachable or higher on the pedastal we have them placed, we want some of who they are but not all of it. Perhaps it is simply a T.M.I. situation and we would rather remain somewhat in the dark.
Any way you slice it, the pie comes up portioned to serve in doses not as a whole in order to be more palatable to some (in my case, potential clients who do not care to, nor need to hear my political opinions and stances because they are not relevant to the task at hand.). Now this is not to say that our personal politics and morals, even if they are kept to ourselves, cannot guide or steer us in our choices as to which clients to take on and which to pass by. That is one of the great things about being a freelancer, you have the right to refuse your services to anyone for any reason without compromising your stances or your professionalism.
As a vegan I would never do design work for any company that uses animals or animal products as part of their business model, but that does not mean that I would openly be disrespectful when declining the work and risk damaging the reputation of my business. I would kindly thank them for their consideration but tell them that I cannot work with them at this time, perhaps even recommending other freelancers that I know who may not have these same hangups as I do. So even if we keep part of ourself buried behind a mask of professionalism, it does not mean that this part of us becomes compromised. It is still there. It still guides us.
So as you set out to brand your freelance business, it is relevant to keep these kinds of considerations in mind. It may be necessary for you to draw these kinds of lines so that you know just where your brand stops and you start. In the interest of business preservation you might not want to take full advantage of the ‘be yourself’ freedom that so many turn to freelancing thinking it offers. You have to remember that there are still expectations that others will have that could potentially impact your brand construction, so even in this case, it is not all about you.
So what are the expectations?
There is no way to overstate the importance of your brand, so making sure that you give it every thoughtful consideration is vital, and part of that is taking on other perspectives for a sort of informal Q&A. So it becomes necessary that you explore the expectations that will be placed on your brand to help you effectively decide how much of who you truly are should play just how much of a role in your brand. Essentially helping you to gauge how much of a personal injection to put in your brand and how much of a professional face to paint over the issue.
Now expectations will naturally vary with the freelance arena in which you hang your hat, and the individual experiencing your brand, but there are a few that are universally applied.
One major expectation that people will put upon your brand, is one of originality. They expect you to craft an individual and unique brand, and this idea would certainly lend itself to and lead towards putting some of yourself in the mix. But there are other ways of garnering an original label for your brand, beyond making it all about you, so there is still a line here to consider.
Some Level of Professionalism
This is another major expectation that is often placed upon your brand from various directions, so maintaining some level of professionalism is usually a good idea. This can definitely help your business be taken seriously, and may also impart to some a sense of reliability. This is a consideration that tends to point towards scaling back a bit on the personal, even if it is just a little bit.
Given that you can build your brand in whatever direction you wish, one expectation to keep in mind is certainly its ability to clearly communicate everything your business represents. So however much of yourself you incorporate into the brand, make sure that it does not muddle up the message that is communicated to your audience and potential clients. The more professional you make your brand the clearer the messages taken away from interactions with it may be.
Whichever mix you end up with in your brand, know that another common expectation that most of the populous it’s positioned to impact will place on it is consistency. So no matter how much you and how much professionalism is added in to fill out your brand, make sure that you continue to keep up that mix and not veer too far from its established path once you have gotten going. This shift can really mix up the reception you get from the following and the reputation you have built for your business.
Perhaps it is the hippie in me that always tends to push for balance, but I honestly believe that in this instance striking for that balance of personal and professional backing for your freelance brand is the best area to aim. But I am sure that others will draw different conclusions and wherever you land in this discussion, I would love to hear your thoughts below in the comment section.