Branding for the solo creative

Published:  July 5, 2010
Branding for the solo creative

Branding is a crucial element for any business. Through a brand, a company can communicate who they are, what they do and the services and products they offer to their customers. But what about freelancers, sole business owners and entrepreneurs working across the creative industry? Do the same branding principles apply to individuals compared to a large corporation? And what key factors do creative types need to keep in mind when branding their business?

Copyright Sharon Green

Copyright Sharon Green

Marketing and communications lecturer at the University of Canberra, Kylie Watson, teaches branding and says that sole traders need more than just a brand. “It’s about creating a reputation and identity that has personality,” she said. According to Ms Watson, freelancers and solo-owned businesses need to work harder at building their brand compared to large corporations because they are often limited by a strict budget and a small professional network. “It’s more of a challenge for smaller businesses because they require so much more than just the basics,” she said. But this shouldn’t be discouraging because sole traders have the advantage of adding value to their brands through personality. Freelancers in particular need to think hard about what type of brand they want to portray and the key message reflected. Are you serious, funky, artistic or quirky? “You need to convey this through all aspects of your branding and be comfortable with it,” Ms Watson said. The objective is to achieve brand recognition where the values of a business can be shown consistently throughout everything you do, including special offers and small promotions. “You have to live and breathe the key message of your brand in everything you do,” said Ms Watson.

But why is branding important and why do we need to invest so much into branding? According to Michael Locke, Managing Partner of marketing and branding strategy company Locke, a brand helps to cut through all the ‘noise’. “People identify with more than a name. Your brand should be like a mark or tattoo that provides a sense of ownership,” he said. An effective brand can therefore help a business or individual to stand out from the crowd in any given market. But what additional benefits can one receive from having an effective brand other than generating ongoing business? Building a strong brand that stands out creates an opportunity for growth and adds value to your business. “It’s future-proofing your business,” said Mr Locke. In developing a brand for yourself and your business, you need to think about the personality and attributes of the core message you want to send out to customers. These elements are about creating an understanding of the company and offering an insight into the cultural elements of a business. “The brand is an extension of the person,” said Mr Locke. The key is to remain consistent with your brand in order to build confidence for your customers. Not only will they become familiar with the brand but according to Mr Locke, “you can fuse the market by saying this is what I am and what I can offer.” For freelancers and creative types wishing to sell themselves as a business or professional service, it’s important to consider having a logo or icon and to use it consistently and in a clever way. The logo or icon shouldn’t just be a pretty image; it needs to do more than that. “It should have meaning behind it and it should communicate what you offer,” said Mr Locke. This is how you can give your brand clarity and strength in a competitive market.

Copyright Liquid Creativity

Copyright Liquid Creativity

According to Sue Palmer, Director of Liquid Creativity – a graphic design and branding studio based in Melbourne, branding is the perception and image of your company. It is how you are perceived; who you are and what you do. “Branding can also be quite emotive. It’s that feeling a customer gets when they first discover your brand, see your image or view your website.” Other than promoting business growth or generating more sales, Ms Palmer believes that there are additional benefits one can gain from implementing an effective brand. “It’s about creating loyalty and trust for your customers. Branding can give you confidence,” she said. Ms Palmer believes that it is particularly important for sole traders or freelancers working in the creative industry to dictate their niche in the market and develop a reputation around that specialist area. This can then create referrals based on something that you do particularly well. This means that customers will be more likely to come to you for a service instead of going to someone else. Understandably and all too often Ms Palmer has seen freelancers working across such broad areas because they are afraid to pigeon hole themselves and potentially knock back work. But this doesn’t help to position your brand or your service as the best within a niche area. Customers want to know that they can seek a business with particular strengths and expertise. “It’s important to narrow your market and create that point of difference. Then you will become known for that quality,” she said. When developing a brand, sole traders should also be mindful of making their brand personable. It will be useful to show your personality through your brand, such as including a picture of yourself in your profile, documenting your areas of knowledge and talking about your credentials. “People can then relate and get a feel for what you do. And this creates trust,” said Ms Palmer. Honing in on individual or unique qualities can demonstrate the personality of your brand and what you do well.

It’s important to remember that branding does take time and that building a reputation doesn’t happen overnight. But it is crucial to implement a clear strategy when initially developing your brand. Remember to reinforce your core message in everything you do. This not only helps with keeping the brand consistent but helps to match the brand with your personality. Personality and image combined with clear positioning within your market are key factors to think about when developing a strategy for your brand. “Think about how you want to portray yourself and how you want others to perceive your brand, said Ms Palmer.

For freelancers or sole traders on a budget, there are options for low cost branding techniques. Ms Palmer recommends the following tips:

  • Have a website. It’s important to have a presence here given the rise of digital technology. Websites can be relatively low cost and you can start out with a blog at the outset if funds are scarce
  • Use your contacts to help you out. Do you have fellow designers or illustrators willing to get you started at an affordable price?
  • Create a story around your brand. People will engage if you are passionate.
  • Keep your message specific and simple.
  • Identify what you do differently. What is your style? What do you love doing?

Liquid Creativity holds regular workshops on branding that introduces the idea of branding and understanding what your brand represents.

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2 Responses

  1. kat

    thanks for the post – great info and some really good points that i need to put into action!

  2. I don’t have much more to add on top of Kat’s comments; ditto.

    Everything was relevant to me as a creative who is enjoying using social media to pursue my interests in fashion, food, sustainability and design. Tricky keeping a consistent message but as per your article, I’m going to try make sure personality shows throughout! Thanks Sharon! Xx Cheryl

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