There’s been some serious changes in the gig economy and freelancing in the last 15 years.
Since the government didn’t really do headcounts on freelancers and free agents until more recently it’s hard to get hard data on growth save for the last few years.
But it’s definitely growing. In 2005, one of the earliest useful studies found that “contingent” workers accounted for roughly 4% of the workforce population. Now that we’re more accurately tracking freelancers we’ve found that in 2013, the number of businesses hiring freelancers online increased 46% and payments to freelancers increased 37% year on year. In 2016, they made up around 35% of the workforce.
It’s estimated that the majority of the workforce will shift to independent contractors by 2027.
What that means for freelancers is a hell of a lot of competition coming down the pipe. In order to stand apart from the growing competition in the gig economy you’ll need to get super creative with your marketing and adopt a visual branding strategy.
What is a visual brand identity
Your brand identity is really how your audience perceives you. So, while your logo is a visual element it’s not the focus of your brand.
Your visual brand identity is about how you present yourself at all times. Your visual brand identity is influenced by a lot of things, including:
- The content you share on social media, especially visuals
- The logo you use
- The color choices and palette you use on your site, as well as font weight and the mood of your site design.
- The tone and the way you engage your audience
Your visual brand is the sum total of everything your potential clients see when they look at you. The elements come together to paint a picture or tell a story about you and your place in the industry and what they can expect from working with you.
The good news is it’s incredibly easy to build a strong visual brand.
Why visual branding is effective
A lot of marketers settle for a single image to represent their brand, which is great start to building a visual brand as consistency is important. Beyond that many freelancers try to sell their services with wordy emails, non-engaging posts, and walls of text.
This is where the integration of more visual content can help you stand out, tell your story, and connect with more prospective clients.
Whether you’re talking about general marketing campaigns or branding, visuals have a notable impact and are highly effective at capturing attention.
In fact, 74% of marketers use visual assets in their marketing. Visual assets are popular because when people hear information they only retain a fraction (around 10%) of what they hear. However, when you pair that information with relevant and engaging visuals people retain up to 65% up to three days later.
Data shared by Buffer shows that social content across Twitter and Facebook gets exponentially more shares and engagement when visuals (images and video) are included.
Even emails with video get more opens (19% more) and engagement (65% lift in click throughs)
Visual branding won’t just turn heads; it steps up engagement and ensures you’re more memorable than all the other freelancers trying to connect with the same client.
But not just any approach to visual branding will be effective.
Think about it like the marketing you do. You can’t just launch a random campaign or write a blog post and expect a flood of highly targeted traffic. Visual branding is no different.
You need the right visuals.
How to make your visual branding stand out
Of all the perspectives on brand recognition and visual branding I’ve read, I’ve always appreciated that from John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing. In an article on LinkedIn Pulse, John shares, “No matter how great your business and messaging are, let’s face it, visuals are usually the most effective way to capture your audience’s attention and build brand recognition, provided you’re implementing these visual aspects correctly.”
He gives simple, succinct advice on how to make your visual brand stand out:
Be memorable – Aim to make your visual brand so strong that your audience can glance briefly at the visual elements and know exactly what they’re looking at, even without any context. For example, the image to the right doesn’t have any copy, but avid social media users would know instantly that that’s the Instagram logo.
Be unique – It should truly stand apart from the competition. Now, to truly be effective with this, you must have a deep understanding of who the competition is and what their visual brand identity looks like as well.
Make everything match – Each element of your visual brand should be cohesive and tie together effortlessly.
An always-effective approach to being both memorable and unique is to build your visual brand around your story.
Use storytelling for more effective visual branding
Your narrative is something no one can take from you. It’s unique to you and that automatically sets you apart from every other freelancer out there.
But in order for it to become an effective part of your brand you have to recognize that your narrative doesn’t have an off switch.
For example, Sujan Patel maintains the narrative that he’s adventurous. It’s part of his brand, and he works that into his visual branding with endless repetition – because it works, and it’s part of who he is.
Once you’ve established your narrative then incorporate it into everything you do. It should be as consistent (and as consistently used) as the defined colors and other elements in your visual brand.
Here’s why: messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more memorable than general statements of fact.
There’s science behind that:
When people process facts, there are two areas of the brain which are activated – the Broca’s and Wernicke’s area. When a story is told other areas of the brain come to life including the motor, sensory, and frontal cortex.
These extra parts of the brain allow the listener to turn the story into their own ideas, to relate to them, and experience what you’re sharing
Since 50% of our brains are wired to receive visual input it makes sense to tell your story as part of your visual branding, and to incorporate it consistently.
For Björn Forsberg, founder of FORSBERG+two, a development and design studio focused on Shopify apps, sharing his story was the key to networking and building a powerful brand.
“Participating in my community and sharing as much as possible has had the biggest impact on building my brand,” said Forsberg. “I’ve looked more at building relationships, sharing knowledge, and learning what I can from others. So, I’ve written blog posts, spoken at Shopify meetups, and done a few podcast interviews telling my little story, which is a personal one.”
Sharing your story helps connect you to your people and reinforce strong connections. Couple that with visuals and you have a far more memorable and impactful brand that will capture the attention of prospective clients.
Once you’ve got your narrative down it’s time to strengthen that visual brand.
Creating a strong visual brand
Any search on building a visual brand will reveal countless articles recommending the same things you need to consider for a strong visual brand.
- Create a solid logo that represents you
- Develop a consistent color palette
- Pick the right font
Building a strong visual brand that stands apart goes a bit deeper.
As a freelancer, the importance of your brand is critical because you are your brand. A logo is important but people will connect to a face a lot faster than they’ll connect to your log.
Branding yourself as an individual, and reinforcing that brand, means working in everything about you to develop a much broader layer of trust.
Visualize your personality
This is where a lot of freelancers struggle. How do you visual an intangible thing like a personality? It’s even more challenging in an online world where you’re not interacting with clients face to face.
Even when you use images in your brand marketing you still have to rely on text to communicate.
Make that text work for you and tie your personality and style into it in creative ways. Visual references add depth, tone, and a level of personalization into anything you share.
I love the creative treatments Barry Feldman gives to his personal brand.
In addition to consistent facial branding the style, color, and fonts he uses align with his personality – he’s fun, laid back, but serious when it comes time for it. From email signatures to social profiles the self-proclaimed ‘online marketing super freak’s’ branding is consistent, stylized, and personable.
Make the tone match the visual
To further strengthen your visual branding you need to deliver on what you brand is establishing. The tone of your communications, emails, social posts, visual shares, and more all need to match your visuals.
This isn’t just about consistency, it’s about connecting you with the right people while automatically disqualifying the wrong kinds of prospects.
Tone is critical, especially once you’ve set a certain expectation with your visual branding. Imagine a character speaking in your place rather than you. How would you want them to sound, act, and carry themselves in a conversation?
How should they sound, and how should they reply to a prospective client?
Konrad Sanders, founder of the Creative Copywriter, recommends developing an axis that can help you identify the subtle differences in your tone.
Here’s an example:
Tone isn’t black and white, and this can help you decide what that character sounds like (and what you should sound like) when prospecting.
It’s worth mentioning here that it’s far easier to identify your natural tone and stick to that as opposed to developing a false persona. When it comes to consistency it’s second nature to just be yourself.
Kurt Elster, founder of Ethercycle, has worked to incorporate his tone and personality into his visual style and personal brand.
It’s become a powerful tool for growing his business and his take on tone, personality, and voice is spot on.
“Some people will be like, this guy is a cornball,” Kurt says. “And they’ll unsubscribe from my newsletter. That’s fine because we weren’t going to get along anyway. The more of my personality I’ve worked into my business and the more open I’ve been, the better it gets,” Kurt explains. “I’m separating the wheat from the chaff — some people will be like, this guy is a cornball, and they’ll unsubscribe from my newsletter. That’s fine because we weren’t going to get along anyway. The more of yourself you put into it, you find your tribe that way.”
Brand relevant to your niche
So many freelancers specialize to work with a specific industry, or niche within an industry, and neglect to take advantage of that.
The clients you want work within that niche for a reason – often because they’re passionate about it. You can put your brand to work by incorporating niche-specific elements into all of your visual branding. When prospective clients see the relation between you, your brand, and the niche they’re trying to service it will make you far more memorable.
That includes creating visual brand treatments around things like static social images, infographics, slide decks, video clips, gifs, proposals, site and blog design, profile images, cover images and more.
Simplify your visual brand presentation
It’s easy to get carried away with visual branding and create a cluttered mess. Your visual identify shouldn’t be complicated – keep it simple to avoid confusing your audience. Regardless of the creative you’re working with you should remove elements that don’t contribute to your goal or your brand.
The best kind of visual branding will effectively communicate who you are and what you do with solid imagery and your value statement.
Ashley Ambirge of the Middle Finger Project makes it clear that she doe business differently and the visuals support that message.
It’s also clear that she’s probably having a hell of a lot more fun than others in her vertical.
without the aid of clutter. If it takes all of those things to get the point across about who you are and what you do then you’ll fail to connect with your prospects.
Make your visual branding simple and easy to understand.
Develop a consistent visual identity to grow your freelance business
While visual branding is crucial to setting yourself apart from other freelancers it’s vital to remember that you are not your logo. Your logo is one element of your brand but alone it has no intrinsic meaning. As you develop your personal brand and identity your customers will eventually recognize that over all things.
They will come to associate your brand and who you are with your logo (and other visual elements) and transfer perceptions accordingly.
Brand for yourself using strong visuals, a tone and personality that is relatable, and carry an air of authenticity as you engage with prospects. Use these tips along with branding best practices to build your own visual brand identity guaranteed to win you more clients.