Building Your Brand
When I want a soda, I immediately think of a cold, crisp Pepsi. When I shop for phones, I don’t look any further than Samsung. If I need to know some random bit of information, I go to Google.
These brands aren’t just famous. They’re my brands. They’re the ones that I choose to allow into my home, life, and wallet.
What’s so special about these particular brands, as opposed to, say, Coke or Motorola, or Yahoo!?
But still, they’re the brands that I choose. Because I trust them to make quality products and give quality service. And because they’ve never let me down (except in the case of Pepsi Blue…), I stick with them.
Why? Because brands build trust and loyalty among customers.
Don’t believe me? Just walk into any town in Missouri and shout out that you like either Chevy trucks or Ford trucks. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Pandemonium will ensue as every single person in the area vehemently adds their own opinion.
Of course, you’re probably not going to be as well-known as Chevrolet (yes, I have a favorite, too), but a solid brand is an important step to being at the top of a customer’s mind when they’re looking for your particular flavor of service.
Don’t worry. This part won’t hurt. There are not actually any red-hot irons involved anymore.
There are a few decisions, though.
First, you have to decide whether your brand is going to be your name, a pseudonym, or something you’ve made up entirely.
For example, my good friend Sharon Hurley Hall uses her name as her brand. When you go to her website, there’s no question about who you’re dealing with.
Using your own name has an honest feel to it. You’re putting your very name on the line and, if you perform poorly, it’s your name that gets dragged through the mud.
Clients like the idea of working with someone who’s confident enough to put their own name in lights. It bodes well for the quality of their work.
There are thousands of reasons you might want to use a nom de plume. Perhaps you’re on the lam, hiding out from the law because you’re actually D.B. Cooper. Maybe you have other businesses that you don’t want associated with your writing, like your secret side gig in adult entertainment. Or maybe you just don’t want people to know you’re a lady.
Still, the benefits of using a pseudonym are the same as using your own name, as long as you remember to stay in character.
You can’t make the mistake of switching names in the middle of a conversation with a client, or send five emails from firstname.lastname@example.org, and then send the sixth one from email@example.com.
It’ll confuse your client and you’ll lose that all-important trust that you’re trying to build.
I. Am. The Freelance Rider.
That’s my brand.
Even though I’ve never ridden a horse successfully in my life, that’s the name I chose because it’s a (vaguely) clever play on words, and I like knights and stuff. That’s all it took for me to choose it as my brand name.
But it’s easy to remember, isn’t it?
That’s the advantage to having a business name, rather than your own name.
It would have taken me quite some time to remember that I wanted to drink Donald M. Kendall’s Fantastic Fizzy Cola Beverage. But one taste of Pepsi Cola, and I was hooked.
Each method of choosing your brand has its own merits and drawbacks. It’s up to you to pick which one you think will serve your business best.
Your second decision is your logo – your brand image. If your website were a cow, this is where the hot iron would come in. The logo is the design that you would burn into the poor critter’s backside.
Your logo can be anything you want it to be, from a single monogram initial to a complicated Celtic knot wound around a quill pen over a backdrop of the Magna Carta.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in logo design (I have a stick figure, fer cryin’ out loud). Luckily, the guys over at Creative Bloq are. Check out the tens of tips that they have and you’ll be doing alright.
What is it about Chevrolet that makes their logo instantly recognizable? What do they do that tells you at a glance that that car barreling toward you is, in fact, a Chevy?
Everywhere you see those logos, they’re the same. They don’t create one logo for their trucks, one for vans, and one for SUVs. They use the same symbol every time. Everywhere.
If you’re going to make your business a success, you have to do the same.
But brand consistency doesn’t just stop at your logo. It includes your voice, color palette, and even your profile image. Wherever your clients go, you want them to be able to recognize you instantly. The more they see the same face, the more they’ll feel like they know you. And people buy from people they know.
Write a Kick-Awesome Bio
Speaking of getting to know you, your bio is what tells prospects where you’re coming from and convinces them that you’re the person for the job.
There are two schools of thought in the bio department, and I’ll let you pick which one you subscribe to. The first feels that your bio is part of your brand consistency, and all of your professional profiles should contain the same bio. The other school likes to create a unique bio for each venue. They think it helps to tailor the bio to the site it’s posted on and highlight your experience that’s relative to that niche.
Whichever one you choose, the rules of bio writing are the same. You’re telling people about yourself and your business, which means you have some questions to answer.
First, you need to tell your clients who you are and what makes you unique. Fancy-pants marketing types call it a Unique Selling Point, or USP. It’s the thing that sets you apart from the competition. Your USP could be your voice, your knowledge of a niche, or the unmatchable awesomeness of your skills, but it’s got to be something. Otherwise, you’re just another face in the crowd.
Next, you’ve got to let them know what you do. What services do you offer? Don’t go into a lot of detail here. That’s what your Services page is for. But you want at least an overview. Let your clients know what makes you uniquely qualified to provide these services. You could even add a couple of links to examples of work you’ve done. But again, not too much detail. That’s what your Portfolio page is for.
Is there anything you do that your competition doesn’t? For example, have you developed a proprietary method of writing 8,000 words per minute? If so, talk about it in your bio.
If you have a fair amount of experience, mention it. CAVEAT: Never sell yourself short with negative language. “I don’t have a lot of experience in…” “I’ve only been doing this a little while, but…” Always, always, always use positive language. If you’ve only just learned to write, don’t mention it. You don’t want anything in your bio that will make your potential client think “Maybe I should find someone more experienced.”
- Write casually. Don’t use a bunch of hoity-toity jargon (unless your ideal client is a hoity-toity jargon user). Write your bio like you would speak if you were introducing yourself in person.
- Write in the first person. Referring to yourself in the third person is pompous. Don’t do it. Your prospect knows you wrote your own bio. And if I see you use the word “one” as a pronoun, I’m coming through your monitor, so help me…
- Use bulleted lists and short paragraphs. People are skimmers. Help ‘em out.
Depending on your design abilities, this quest’s homework might not take you long. But don’t rush it, because branding is one of the most important parts of building a business.
- Choose the name for your business. If you haven’t already, figure out whether you want to use your name or a pseudonym. Remember, I recommend using your given name, but we all have our baggage. Do what works for you.
- Design a logo. Use Creative Bloq’s advice and design yourself a beautiful logo that you’ll be proud to have representing your brand.
- Write your bio. If you choose to, find every single profile you have on the internet and make them consistent. Otherwise, write bios for every place your presence is felt in the wide world.
- Submit your bio. Upload your bio into the box below to complete the quest and earn p0ints, and get one important step closer to the coveted rank of Duke!
Congratulations on completing the Make a Name for Yourself quest. Don’t forget to submit your bio below. You’re well on your way to having your own duchy!
Every baron must have a tract of land, and you’re no different. Before you can take charge of your career and start earning what you deserve, you have to have a base of operations. In this quest, you’ll learn about what goes into building a website. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have a castle you can be proud of, and be well on your way to becoming a baron.
Why Do You Need a Website?
There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that you don’t need a website. All you need is an About.me page, or a blog, or even just a strong LinkedIn profile. That way, you have something to point clients to and you can show off a little bit of your work.
Those people are wrong.
Imagine you and I are both courting a client for the same blogging job. The client’s narrowed his choices so that it’s just you and me, and in his eyes, we’re equal in every way.
Then he gets to our websites. You have a beautiful WordPress blog at johnsmithwriter.com, whereas I’m sitting at about.me/robertjennings. Which one of us is the client going to think is more professional? Which one of us took the time and invested the money to build a real online presence? Which one of us is getting the job?
In all three cases, it’s you.
Registering Your Domain
Let’s talk about that johnsmithwriter.com. The same school of thought that loves About.me so much will also tell you that you’ll do just fine with johnsmithwriter.weebly.com (or Wix, or Webs, or VistaPrint… you get the idea).
The problem with those names is not just that you look like you’re not into your business enough to invest the $10 it costs to buy a domain. The real problem is that you’re advertising someone else’s business with your domain name. Sure, they gave you a free website, but I guarantee you that they also have a badge at the bottom of every one of your pages with their name on it.
The bottom line is: It’s your business. If you’re not willing to fork over some cash to make it the best you can, you’re going to have a very hard time succeeding. (Also, how’d you get a free membership? I’m not mad, just impressed.)
So, now that we’ve established the need for your own domain, how do you get one? Well, most of those free places up there will sell you one. Don’t fall for it.
Yes. You see, there are four names attached to a domain: the registrant, the admin contact, the technical contact, and the billing contact. When you register a domain with one of the guys above, they tend to put their own name as the admin contact, which basically means that they own the domain you just paid for.
I know from experience that VistaPrint charges you an extra $20 to give you full ownership and the right to transfer to another host.
So, save yourself some trouble and annoyance (and cash) and go to an actual domain registrar. I use 1and1, and I’m pretty satisfied, but I’ve never heard anything bad about GoDaddy. Of course, your mileage may vary.
1and1, at the time of printing, charges about $8 for a .com domain. .Net domains cost the same, and .info costs $0.99 for the first year. The rest of the extensions cost about $10. Don’t forget that these are yearly costs, so you might want to set a reminder.
$8 a year is a miniscule price to pay for a professional-looking domain name.
Once you’ve got your domain name, you’ll need a place to put it. Most registrars have their own hosting platform, but I recommend using someone who specializes in hosting, rather than offering it as a byproduct of what they really sell.
I’m on HostGator (I get a commission if you sign up through that link), and I use the Baby plan, which allows me to have as many domains as I want on my account, and ostensibly gives unlimited storage and bandwidth, but I’ve heard that that may not be entirely accurate.
There’s also the Hatchling plan, which only gives you one domain. I started there, but outgrew it in less than a month. However, if you only intend to have one domain, Hatchling will work perfectly for you. Plus, you can always upgrade later.
HostGator has great customer service and they’ll pretty much walk you through the whole process.
I’ve also heard a lot of good things about Bluehost, but I’ve never used them, so I can’t really tell you anything first-hand. There are tons of other hosting options, but these are the big two. Just Google web hosts and you’ll find billions of them.
Pricing for both of them is fairly comparable, and I’m sure that their services are pretty much the same, as well. Ultimately, of course, it’s your choice, but expect to pay about $10 a month for a decent plan.
There are also a few optional add-ons. I recommend getting SiteLock to keep your site safe from evil. It costs a little bit extra, but it’s worth it.
What about WordPress?
In a word: Yes.
Most (if not all) hosting services provide a site builder that comes with tons of themes and plenty of customization. And I’m sure that a lot of web designers create absolutely beautiful websites with them.
But you’re a writer, and you need something optimized for your blog. More on the blog in a minute.
WordPress can usually be installed with one click (and a little bit of typing) through an app called Fantastico De Luxe. Just click the blue smiley face on your control panel and select WordPress from the sidebar. Then you’ll click New Installation and enter the required information on the next screen. Once you’re done, click Install WordPress at the bottom and you’re set up.
Now, if you go to your site, you’ll see a basic WordPress page with a “Hello World” post and that’s about it.
You can log into your WordPress dashboard by going to yourdoman.com/wp-login.php. From there, you’ll build your pages, write your posts, and manage your comments.
First and foremost, though, you’ll want to change your theme. The default theme is nice, but keeping it makes it look like you didn’t put any time into your design, which makes you look amateur.
How to design a WordPress blog is an entire tutorial (read: book) of its own, but *shameless plug alert* I’d be happy to help you out with that.
Ultimately, the decision to hire a designer or to do it yourself is entirely yours. I did all of the design on mine, and it was only difficult sometimes. But for those of you who don’t feel comfortable, there are tons of people out there who can do it for you, for a price.
What to Put on Your Website
As you can see, my website is pretty bare-bones. A home page, an about page, Hire Me, and my blog.
I don’t feel the need to clutter it up with a million different tabs. If you ask me, less is more. But, others have different opinions, and being handsome only makes me right most of the time. Let’s take a look at the options for pages.
Home. Duh. You have to have a landing page. I don’t recommend using your blog as the landing page, because you want your potential client to be able to tell what you’re about at a glance, not have to sift through tens of blog posts to learn your philosophy.
A good home page has basic information about your business. “This is what I do, this is who I’ve done it for, and this is what I can do for you.” It doesn’t have to be a novel.
Your home page is really your sales page. It should have a link to your Hire Me page with a good call to action. Remember that links that say “Click here” get clicked more often than ones that don’t.
For more tips on creating killer calls to action, click here.
About. Your clients want to know who they’re considering. This is a chance to brag about yourself. Take it. You should list your accomplishments, education, job experience, life experience – anything that remotely relates to the type of writing you want to do.
I firmly believe that strong writers don’t have to be experts, but a little bit of prior knowledge can set a potential client at ease.
Let’s be clear, you can include anything that you want on this page, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. If you’re intending to write articles about gardening, you probably don’t want to mention that every plant you’ve ever laid eyes on has shriveled instantly from plant-death vision. (It’s not my fault, I swear. I don’t know what happens.)
Hire Me. This one is absolutely necessary. How is a client supposed to know that you’re available for hire if you don’t tell them?
Your Hire Me page might look a little bit different from mine. Since I offer services both to writers and real people, I have two separate Services pages under my Hire Me page. If your only service is writing grants for orphanages, you’ll probably only have one page.
The Hire Me page should have a list of your services. A brief explanation of each is optional. I used to have one, but it felt wordy to me, so I nixed it. This one is your call.
Perhaps most importantly, your Hire Me page should have your contact information. Don’t make clients have to work to get in touch with you. Whatever your primary contact method, be it phone, email, snail mail, or carrier pigeon, make sure that your client knows how to reach you.
Put it directly after your list of services, with a good call to action. “Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to hire me for any of these services.”
Contact Me. This one is optional. Yes, I know, it seems like a no-brainer to have a Contact page on your business website. But if you funnel all of your calls to action to your Hire Me page, it serves the same purpose with a better call to action.
Think about it. Would you rather have a client contact you, or hire you?
It’s also a good idea to have your contact information in your header. You can see mine at the top right above the menu, where you pretty much have to look at it if you want to navigate the site. I’m tricky like that.
Portfolio. Unless your primary service is blogging, you’ll want to have a portfolio page. It should have links to things you’ve written if they’re on the web, or a list of articles that you’ve had published in print, sorted by publication.
A lot of people are on the fence about including PDF versions of your articles. Some say that it’s a great way to let potential clients read your stuff. Others say that people don’t like to click on them because they don’t like downloading anything from a source they don’t know.
My recommendation is to put them on there. That way, if people want to click through and read them, they have the option. You’re certainly not forcing them to download it. But that also comes with a caveat. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your link is safe. Villains can plant viruses into your stuff without your knowledge. Don’t forget to sign up for SiteLock, like we talked about above.
Blog. Whether blogging is in your list of services or not, you should maintain a blog. Your blog does three things for you:
- It tells your clients that you know about your niche. It lets them see you analyze new developments, offer opinions, and explain the complicated parts.
- It serves as a portfolio. Your blog showcases your writing style. It gives your client a feel for your voice, which will come through in everything you write, whether you want it to or not. Blog posts also tend to be edited less than other writing, so it gives clients a feel for your raw ability and how much revision you’ll require.
- It shows that you have a constant stream of ideas. This is especially important if you’re looking to write articles or blogs. Editors want to know that you’re just chocked full of new and different stories. If they can work with the same writer on multiple projects, it saves them a ton of time and effort.
Testimonials. If you got ‘em, flaunt ‘em.
Pricing. Again, this one is optional. I recommend that you charge by the project, rather than the word or by the hour. That way, you’re more inclined to write succinctly and not stuff the piece with extra words to squeeze out a few more dimes.
Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to quote prices until you know the scope of the assignment.
To counteract this, I put pricing information on my Services pages. It’s no more than a blurb that says “Contact me for pricing information.” It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just something to let the client know that they need to talk to you for details.
A good website is a must-have. You have to have someplace to send your clients so they can get to know you and make a hiring decision.
To that end, you homework is to build a website. It won’t be easy, and it’s going to cost a little bit of money, but it will pay off in the long run. Here are those steps again.
- Register your domain. Make sure you get something professional, not from a free web hosting service. You have to look like a business if you want to operate like one.
- Sign up for hosting. Again, I recommend HostGator (affiliate link), but BlueHost is good, too. Don’t forget to plan for the future when you’re picking your package. Upgrading is easy, but it takes time that you could be using to build your website.
- Install WordPress. Hiring a designer is up to you, but I assure you that you can do it yourself. Learning enough CSS to edit your theme is easy. I believe in you.
- Build your content. Determine which pages you think you need, but you should have, at a bare minimum, Home, About, Hire Me, and Blog. Put some thought into what you write on each page. Remember that this is your sales pitch, and it may be the only contact you have with a client before they make a hiring decision.
When you’re finished, don’t forget to upload a screenshot of your site below. It’ll net you 50 points and it’s required to move up to the Baron/Baroness rank. Your vassals are counting on you. Don’t let them down.
Letters of introduction are an excellent way to cast your nets to find freelance writing gigs. These types of letters work best for trade magazines and custom publications. Consumer magazines generally expect fully developed queries, and these types of publications are hard to break into when you are first starting out. By using a letter of introduction, you are going to reach out to editors and pitch the best story available: the story of YOU!
Keep a few things in mind when you are crafting these letters. Don’t be afraid to get creative when crafting these letters. You want to stand out from other writers. Be professional but avoid being too business-like. Show off your personality. Use the opportunity to grab their attention and strike up a conversation. Whatever you do, don’t be boring.
Make sure you address the right editor for your pitch. This can get very tricky especially when you are introducing yourself to a magazine publication. Look for what section you would most like to write for and then see which editor is in charge of that particular section. Make sure you address the person by name (no Dear Editor) and the person’s name is spelt correctly. Use the person’s full name if available.
If you are sending a letter of introduction in response to a posted job ad, use the post to your advantage when introducing yourself. Focus on the needs of the person you are writing to and then introduce yourself as one who can fulfill those needs. Provide details on the benefits the editor will receive when working with you.
Unless you have an established relationship with the editor or you know that the editor prefers to be contacted by phone, stick to email. Editors just don’t have the time to answer the phone for every freelance writer who wants to get a hold of them. You don’t want to annoy them and risk your chance of getting that gig.
If you do have some story ideas that you would like to share, go ahead and include them in your letter of introduction. This shows that you are truly interested in the publication and its best interests. However, make sure that your story ideas haven’t already been covered by the publication. You want to show that you have done your homework and can provide them with the missing gaps of information that will be relevant to their readers.
Insert a call to action toward the end of the letter. Asking questions is a great way to get editors to respond to letters of introduction. Ask things like, “May I send you some clips?’ or “I would like to schedule a meeting with you to discuss this further. When would be the best time for me to get together with you?” Make sure to follow up in a week or two if you do not get a response.
By doing your homework, crafting and sending a well put-together letter of introduction, and following up, you can greatly increase your chances of landing a well-paying freelance writing gig. So, what are you waiting for? Go get started!