What do you make of “personal brand”? Does it have a place for freelancers looking for more work?
Lots of freelancers everywhere
Dear freelancers everywhere,
I’ve made a unilateral, editorial decision for this newsletter.
Each week for the last four weeks, I’ve answered real questions from real freelancers about real situations. The goal is to avoid generalized (and nearly universal) questions like “how do I find more clients?” and “how do I make more money?” But, as I’ve started hosting a Twitter Space each week, I’ve realized how often those questions come up.
All of that preamble is to say: I think the “big” questions still hold a place in this newsletter, every five or six weeks.
So let’s start with a biggie: personal brand.
Those two words probably evoke one of two responses: eagerness to hit your first 5,000 followers, or an eye roll and a snort.
I’m not here to pass judgment on either response.
I’m just here to share my own experience—and I’d be lying if I said personal brand didn’t have a major impact on my freelancing career over the course of a few years. Even prior to launching Beam Content, all of my new clients came from inbound requests and referrals, all by way of social media.
So, is personal branding worth it for freelancers?
The short answer is “yes”—but I have the longer answer, followed by a couple of caveats, below.
The longer answer: “Yes, but set some ground rules for yourself.”
I’ve distilled my approach to social into my five personal rules.
Take some of it, take all of it, take none of it.
Before we get too far along, here’s the twist: I don’t really have a social strategy. My “editorial calendar” is a notes doc on my phone and a screenshots folder on my desktop. I don’t schedule things out or plan things in advance.
I either post things as I go, or write them down for later. (That’s why you’ll see two or three posts from me in a day; a big no-no according to all the LinkedIn gurus.)
If anything, it’s good old-fashioned relationship sales, with some memes and screenshots thrown in for good measure.
These “rules” just help keep me grounded.
Rule #1: Keep it focused
For me, that means asking myself a single question: is it about content marketing, freelancing, or writing?
Then don’t post it.
(Unless it’s funny. Always post the funnies.)
Look: I’m 30, and really only about 5 solid years into my career. I’m not going to try to give out career advice. I’m a content marketer, not a copywriter. I’m not going to try to give out copywriting advice. I have a passing knowledge of sales after a couple of years in the space, but I’m not going to try to give out sales team advice.
You get the picture.
At the risk of sounding like a grouchy get-off-my-lawn type, let me say: write about, and post about, what you know.
But it’s not just that. It’s also about being known for a particular thing. If you cast your curation net too wide, you might have a post or two catch some attention, but you won’t be consistently engaging with who you want your community to be.
Find the handful of things you want to talk about and are equipped to talk about.
Then talk about them.
Rule #2: Keep it balanced
Here’s the hard truth: there’s no strategy for going viral on LinkedIn or Twitter.
The dumb meme that takes me 30 seconds might get 100k views.
The in-depth content strategy post that takes me 30 minutes might get 5k views.
But that’s OK. More than OK, actually. It’s a good thing. One gets reach, while the other gains connection and trust.
It’s good to have both. You can really only gather new connections with views, but you can really only get value from your social presence with thoughtful comments, messages, and follow-on calls.
Not every post needs to be a well-thought-out, polished playbook designed to show how smart of a freelancer you are. Conversely, not every post needs to be an appeal to the masses (or, in less generous terms, a desperate attempt to game the algorithm and rack up views on views on views on views.)
Just, y’know, be you.
Rule #3: Keep it real
Speaking of Mr. Rogers-esque cliches: please, for the love of pod, don’t make up stories or blow ho-hum everyday occurrences out of proportion.
(Haven’t seen this in your own feed? Check out LinkedIn Lunatics on Reddit.)
On the flipside, you’ll see overly stuffy, academic language or try-hard Canva images from folks thinking they have to impress their CFO or VC audience.
Avoid both ends of the spectrum like the plague.
I’m not just talking about avoiding stuffy, academic language or using emojis. I mean make it personable. I share raw screenshots. I poke fun at myself. I share what I’m learning and what I’m struggling with.
In other words: don’t take yourself too seriously.
Poke fun at yourself.
Share raw screenshots.
Share what you’re learning and what you’re struggling to understand.
You’re here to have conversations, not to pretend you have all the answers.
In general, my posts come down to:
- What I’m working on
- What I’m reading about
- What I’m thinking or learning about
- Who I’m talking to (and what we’re talking about)
Rule #4: Keep it meaningful
I like 1,000 likes as much as the next guy, but the real impact of social has been in what comes in-between social posts.
Less personal branding, more personal connection, plz.
For me, social posts are often just the gateway to some awesome DMs and Zoom calls with freelancers, marketers, agency owners, and other tech pros. Sure, maybe I’m less protective of my calendar than others, but I really think it’s these non-public conversations that have led to the referrals, sales, exposure, and trust I’ll get into below.
None of that happened in the comment section—much less on a post with tens of thousands of views. Keep the cumulative effect of your social presence in mind and look for opportunities to follow-up on meaningful conversations.
Sift for those opportunities.
Remember: if you have time to post daily, you have time to respond to messages and help where you can.
Rule #5: Keep it in perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the vanity metrics of LinkedIn and Twitter. That’s why I try to bring it back to the real “why” behind spending a not-small amount of time on social.
I’m not looking for millions of impressions and thousands of engagements.
I’m looking for value outside the feed. Think things like:
- Requests for work
- Networking opportunities
- Invitations to collaborate or contribute
- Opportunities to help other freelancers
Sometimes I get a referral from someone without even knowing about it. Sometimes a freelancer DMs me who’s a great fit for what we’re doing. Sometimes a networking call turns into a content partnership. Sometimes I get encouraging messages from freelancers about my content. Sometimes I get invitations to join a podcast, an event, or a roundup.
I haven’t tried to quantify the return, but I do know it’s compounding. And it’s not all about Twitter and LinkedIn, either.
So, again, is “personal branding” worth it to freelancers?
I’d say yes—with two caveats.
Caveat one: don’t lean on it for all of your biz dev as a freelancer, especially early on. Getting results takes longer than getting ranked on Google, and we all know how difficult that can be if you don’t already have the Domain Authority.
Caveat two: don’t overthink it. Post daily, post weekly, whatever. Just post:
- What you’re working on
- What you’re thinking about
- What you’re talking about with others
That’s where I’ll leave it.