Why Playing It Safe With Your Brand Is Hurting Your Chances of Long Term Success

Summary: This article looks at how playing it safe with your own vanilla branding could be the key aspect preventing you from attracting more of your right clients, reducing the clients who cause you the most stress and harming your chances of long term freelancing success.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email with the title, "Wow, arrogance!"

I knew it wouldn't be good.

It was from a freelancer - let's call him Guy - who proceeded to tell me how arrogant the copy on our website was, how the design hurt his eyes and how our prices were effectively a rip off.

He then pointed me to a thread in a pretty popular forum started by another chap - let's call him Steve - who had tweeted me previously saying how shocked he was by our site (meaning the prices).

Naturally I headed on over to the forum and was greeted by 12 or so messages started by the very same Steve who had incited a number of other forum members to criticize our site - the design, the copy and once again, the prices - without any kind of constructive feedback.

Fortunately, there's a happy ending to this story. After a day of back-and-forth via email with Guy and several posts on the forum thread, the tide of opinion turned in our favor.

Guy became a big fan, apologized for the unprofessional nature of his original email and posted supportive comments in the forum. A number of other commenters also jumped back in to the thread to agree with the reasoning and strategy behind our site, which I'd shared in my replies to the detractors.

The original person who posted the comments ended the thread by attempting to be constructive, stating that he didn't like the way he was now being portrayed as the bad guy and suggesting how we should improve our site.

Not a bad day's work but obviously not the planned day's work!

Here's the moral of this story: If some people hate what you do and how you do it, you know you're doing something right.

Confused? Let me explain...

One of the biggest mistakes many freelancers make with their branding is to play it safe. Instead of making a clear statement and crafting a brand that really speaks to the people you want to work with, you create something that's plain and vanilla, hoping it will speak to everyone who comes across your work or your message.

A plain-vanilla brand may be OK. But if it doesn't speak strongly enough to your ideal clients, then you have a problem.

To increase the number of prospects who hire you and - and, more importantly, to increase the number of "right" clients you work with - you need a brand that converts someone from an interested prospect to someone who eventually becomes a raving fan of you and your work.

People ask us how we get prospects who've never met us, spoken to us or even emailed us, to hit a "Pay Now" button and pay 100% upfront to work with us. This is how:

1. Identify who you want your brand to really resonate with. You could go with the most common advice, which is to focus on a specific market sector or industry. Or you could try focusing on clients who share a similar set of core values with you. This may seem a bit touchy-feely. But if you work with people who share the same beliefs, ethics, morals and values as you, you tend to find that you're working with people who "get" you and value what you can do for them.

Our approach: We decided we wanted to work with fun, friendly, laid-back people who appreciate quality and good value when they see it and don't quibble (too much) over prices. We know that are clients are usually tech-averse and need (and value) additional hand-holding. They're the kind of people who appreciate that, as professionals in our field, we know our stuff. So they leave us to get on with it, without feeling the need to micromanage or query every decision we make.

2. Craft a brand that appeals to these people. This includes working on:

  • Your visuals: Your logo, font, brand colors and imagery
  • Your brand voice: The language, copy and jargon you use

Our approach: We went with a colorful, retro visual brand and infused the site with fun, informal and chatty copy. We kept things simple, didn't over-explain our services and avoided technical jargon as much as possible. This meant that we had to leave out some of the details of exactly what our services entail. But while we know these details do add some value, our clients won't necessarily know what they mean and therefore won't care. Which means it's not part of our value proposition.

3. Go "all in" with your branding. The goal is not to create a brand that offends anyone - that was obviously not our intention either! - but to create a brand which truly and strongly connects with your ideal clients. They need to know that they've found the right place and the right support when they land on your site. They need to identify with you, your work and your approach so strongly that they'd be ready to hit the "Pay now" button (figuratively speaking) without needing to email you.

4. Answer all their questions and their objections. If you want only serious buyers to contact you, your website must address and answer all of their questions, concerns and potential objections. This means you need to know ahead of time what these potential questions and objections are, and you need to make sure that you cover them all. A well-written FAQ page works well for this.

How do you know what these questions and objections might be? Take a look back over the past 7 to 10 emails from prospects who contacted you about your services. What questions did they ask? What likely objections can you identify? Why didn't some of them hire you? If you look closely enough, you can usually identify some recurring themes and patterns. These are the questions and objections you need to address on your website.

Yes, the suggestions I've outlined here will undoubtedly cause you to turn some people off. But that's OK. It means that you've got a strong identity, a clear brand voice and a good opportunity to resonate strongly with your right people.

Your Assignment

Take some time to go through the four steps I outlined above. Start by defining your ideal client and defining the language, approach, visuals and potential objections this prospect would have upon entering your site.

Ask yourself: How can I connect with this individual? What will cause him or her to feel like they're in the right place? What will get them to take the next step in your sales process?

Lea Woodward is a seasoned freelancer. She is the founder of Kinetiva.com, Location Independent and writes About pages for a living at DotNetConnector.com