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14.09.2017

How to Promote Your Freelance Brand When You Hate Talking About Yourself


As a new freelancer, one of the most daunting, yet essential, tasks is having to market yourself and sell your services. If this is something that doesn't come naturally to you, you're not alone. Check out these tips for making promoting yourself far less intimidating!



New freelancers often shudder at the thought of having to market themselves. I’ve been a self-employed media and presentation trainer for the past eight years but until June I was always working under another company’s brand. Although I brought in my own clients and work, I still benefitted hugely from the marketing (website, branded documents, blog etc) and corporate identity that covered this arrangement.

I’ve now gone out on my own and am solely responsible for ‘selling’ myself. But, as someone who hates talking herself up, is allergic to compliments and has to force herself to play the SEO game, I’ve had to think hard about how I want to promote myself in a way I’m comfortable with.

So, paradoxically perhaps, here are a few thoughts from my personal experience for freelancers who are also squeamish about promoting ‘themselves’.

1. Go for a concept not a name

Just because you are on your own does not mean your company has to be called www.namesurname.com and your website feature a lot of sepia tone photos of you looking soulfully at your computer screen or looking REALLY important on a TV broadcast or TED style talk.

Equally, it doesn’t have to be all corporate stock shots and no personality.

In my case, I wanted my brand to to be about what I do, not who I am. I was also put off going this route after a client once asked me if ‘Shields’ was a stage name (Apparently I ‘shield’ clients. Geddit? Aaaargh.) This made me laugh but I also found it slightly insulting. (If I were going to make up another name for myself I’d like to think I could do much better than Shields. Think Phoebe in Friends when she decided to change her name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock).

Instead I’ve called my company Red Thread. Partly this is because I did Ancient Greek and Latin at university and in classical mythology Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of red thread to help him find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. So, I wanted to find a use for all those agonising years of study beyond helping people who are stuck at Scrabble or can’t read what’s written on a church wall. But in European culture, red threads are also the common story or idea that run through a piece of literature, political text, corporate speech etc. And I liked this because it’s really what I do: I help my clients work out and apply their common story to media interviews, talks and presentations.

2. Get known as an expert not a player

During the nine years I’ve lived in Brussels I’ve seen some lot more freelance consultants come onto to the scene. Smart clients, with austerity-pressed budgets are also shopping around more. So being boutique is often advantageous as it allows freelancers to excel at a few things and to profile themselves accordingly. If you do a bit of this and a bit of that, it can dilute the brand.

Plus, based on my previous work encounters, I also know that no individual or organisation excels at millions of different things. I certainly don’t, which is why I’ve decided to ditch social media training (That, and because I broke all the advice I would normally give clients about not getting into Twitter fights with shouty caps-locked eggs about Brexit).

Having a niche can also makes it easier to market yourself through content i.e. blogs, media articles, conference speaking slots etc because you can start to get ‘known’ as the owner of a particular topic or issue.

3. Show don’t tell

I know I am not alone in hating 1980s style ‘I’M AMAZING’ self-promotion techniques. But judging from what lands in my inbox on a regular basis, some people still seem to think they are AWESOME and that I am just going to take their word that they are the ‘LEADING’ this or ‘NUMBER 1’ that. And this is in Europe where we’re supposed to be sour and snooty about this kind of chest beating.

Social media may have plunged us into an era of SEO headline chasing and rampant click narcissism but these kinds of emails get automatic deletes from me. It is to be hoped that potential clients (or at least, those you’d actually enjoy working with i.e. anyone with judgment) will almost certainly have similar bulls**t detectors.

Listening to a client’s actual needs, talking about your past experience where relevant and not trying to sell them stuff they don’t need are generally much better tactics for developing long term relationships.

4. Let others do the talking

If not you, then who? The clients of course. So start collecting testimonials from pleased clients as soon as you have a good enough relationship to ask them for one. As with a good LinkedIn recommendation, a testimonial looks professional and credible on a website and in proposals.

Plus, it’s evidence that someone is willing to hire you more than once. If the client can’t or won’t go on the record, then you should at least try to have attribution e.g. Managing Director, Organic Food Company, France. Otherwise, who’s going to believe that you didn’t write your testimonials yourself?

These are just my thoughts, though.

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