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By Lynne Gowers on 31st July 2015
Starting your own freelance business can be one of the most exciting steps you take in your professional career. For many, the prospect of casting off the shackles of their office jobs and forging their own path will be a dream come true, allowing them to seize control of their destiny and really make something of themselves.
However, there’s no denying that putting yourself at the mercy of market forces can be a pretty intimidating step. Whatever your chosen industry, your new business will need to compete with a huge number of established rivals, including other freelancers and much larger companies, all of whom will have much more developed reputations and experience than you will.
To make your business brand stand out in the midst of all this noise is undoubtedly a real challenge, but there are a number of basic tips and key principles that freelancers can follow that can really help them to get their names out there and give their business the injection of momentum they’ll need to thrive in the long term.
What’s in a name? When it comes to the world of business, the answer is “quite a lot”. While most people try not to judge books by their covers, the cold fact of the matter is that the majority of us do, meaning your business’s name will play a key role in making a good first impression.
As such, it’s important to try and pick a snappy, clever and communicative name that will stick in the memory, roll off the tongue and give the reader an insight into the kind of business you run.
Meanwhile, for those who prefer to use their own name as their brand, coming up with an artful motto or tagline to give an impression of your capabilities and skills can really pay dividends. Once you have a potential client’s attention, you can begin trying to impress them in other ways.
While it’s impossible for every freelancer to have a selling point that’s genuinely “unique”, it’s still of vital importance to define to prospective clients exactly why they should choose your business and services over those offered elsewhere.
Perhaps your USP is the specific combination of skills you can provide, the area in which you specialise, or the level of experience you can boast? Or maybe it’s that you’re one of the only people doing what you do in your local area? Whatever it is, your USP should be front and centre when it comes to selling your brand.
Let’s be blunt: it’s the 21st century, so it’s no longer an option for your company not to have its own website, regardless of how ostensibly low-tech your business model might seem. The internet now plays such an important role in brand engagement and discoverability that a failure to invest in a proper company website would be a fatal and unforgivable mistake.
As such, it’s vital to treat the web design process as a key priority, developing an easily navigable, informative site that tells customers exactly what they need to know about you and your service.
You should also remember that a website’s look can be an important part of your overall branding, so make sure you develop a visual identity that’s appealing to look at and that ties in with your other design ideas.
Are you familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch? If not, you ought to be. It’s a short summary of your business, service or product that quickly summarises its key points and value proposition in around a minute or so – roughly the length of an elevator ride.
Even if you’re not likely to be bumping into important would-be investors in lifts any time soon, it’s still important to acquire this skill. After all, if you’re not able to communicate your USP in a digestible way, there’s a good chance it’s being lost on potential customers.
As a start-up company, you’re not going to be able to spend millions on lavish cinema adverts or billboards, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to market and evangelise your brand.
Old-fashioned methods such as cold approaches and leaflet-posting can still be effective in many cases, but others will find that online tools will deliver the best results, whether this be through email campaigns or the use of social media to reach out to new clients and create highly personalised engagement with existing ones. Blogging can also be a great way to demonstrate your thought leadership and give a taste of the expertise you can offer to paying customers.
It’s important not to confuse “standing out” with “standing alone”. By getting too focused on ploughing your own furrow, you’ll miss out on crucial networking opportunities that could lead to joint contracts, collaborative projects and peer-to-peer recommendations in future.
As such, you’d be well-advised to put yourself out there and reach out to other people operating in your sector, fostering positive relationships with those you work with in order to build your reputation and make sure you’re someone who is spoken of in positive terms by others in the industry.
You can’t let your levels of effort drop once you start landing your first few clients. After all, customer service is just as important for freelancers as it is for any commercial entity, and providing a good experience might make the difference between a one-off contract and a long-term professional relationship.
Be courteous, responsive and professional in all of your dealings with clients, work proactively to help them solve their problems, and show an interest in making sure your work delivers on its intended goal. Going the extra mile in this regard will do wonders for your fledgling reputation and can really help word-of-mouth to spread quickly.
And last but not least….
Ultimately, the success and failure of your freelance business comes down to this. You can have all of the flashest branding and the slickest approach to PR, but your company will never stand out if you can’t deliver the goods – at least, not for the right reasons.
Getting all of these other aspects right will play a big part in helping you make the biggest splash possible, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to make sure you’re always delivering the very best work you can, and looking for opportunities to learn, grow and improve. If you can combine all of these elements at the same time, then your business will truly be one for the ages.
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