Knowing how to create a strong brand is incredibly important whether you are a freelancer, own an agency, or have just graduated from school. In fact, for many web professionals, their business brand IS their personal brand since they are usually the sole provider of services to clients.
Web designers, developers, SEO experts, online marketers, and other Internet careerists have to make sure that their brand stands out in a unique way. After all, they are competing with thousands of others advertising their web services online. Another part of building a strong brand is the ability to connect emotionally with prospective clients. This way, clients feel more of a connection and even an investment in you, and therefore are more likely to turn to you when they need your services.
But a brand is not built by simply laying the groundwork, putting the pieces together, and then letting it sit. Creating a brand that is memorable also requires consistency and marketing, both of which you can actually do even on a tight budget and with limited time.
Below are the steps you will need to take in building your brand. If you already have one started, the points below are an excellent checklist you can use to make sure that your brand has all of the right pieces in place. Or you can use this list as a reminder of important pieces for helping develop clients’ brands. Learning how to create a brand initially can seem overwhelming, but if you work on a little at a time, eventually you will have a brand standing on a strong foundation that powerfully impacts the right prospects no matter where they encounter you.
Carve Your Niche
One of the first steps in creating your brand is to figure out what niche you want to advertise for yourself. This is especially important as a web professional, since there are so many fields within the industry. The problem that many web professionals have, however, is that they are experts in more than one area. For instance, you may know WordPress inside and out, but you may also be a killer C++ programmer. You need to pick one to brand yourself with, and include extra skills in an “other services” category on your website. If you don’t focus your brand, then you won’t be memorable nor stand out from the crowd.
Determine Your Audience
Another important first step is determining your audience. Who needs your services? Would large corporations, small businesses, or startups benefit the most from your skills? Start with a very general description and then fine tune it from there. You may need to do some basic research to get started.
For instance, let’s say that as a WordPress expert you have a good idea that most of your clients will be small businesses, nonprofits, or startups. But you can’t just stop here. You will also want to know their struggles, their goals, and any other defining elements. Why would a small business want or need your expertise? Startups may need you to help them get an excellent website up and running quickly and on a small budget. Others may want to keep you on retainer so that they can call on you whenever there is a problem with the site that is beyond their capabilities. Established small businesses may need you to fine tune their website or transfer their self-made design onto WordPress for a better website with CMS or even build them a native app.
But you will want to get into their heads a bit more than this. Let’s look closer at startups and their core problem. Say that your startup client needs a professional website with CMS, but they have a limited budget. Can you as a WordPress expert solve their problems, especially the small budget one? As a service provider, you have to dig deep and know what problems you can solve for your audience. Then you can better connect with them and stand out from the crowd.
Define Your Image
Cranial Link places their mission on their website.
Your image reaches beyond your brand niche and what you do to your business vision and personality. First of all, your vision is your mission statement. It’s a broad statement that sums up your goals for your business, usually in one or two sentences. For example, your vision may be to become a leading edge WordPress expert who can quickly and efficiently build unique and professional WordPress websites for small businesses and startups.
The personality part of your image is a bit tricky, for it depends on your audience. You need to ask yourself how you want your audience to see you, but you also have to keep in mind how your audience wants to see you. Large corporations may connect more if you maintain a professional appearance, while small businesses may like a more personal, even witty, feel. Just make sure that the personality you want to portray is a legitimate part of your real persona. If you find yourself constantly humoring your friends and acquaintances with your dry humor, this may be something you can incorporate into your image.
Be sure that your vision/ mission statement fits with your personality. They need to flow together to really make your brand memorable.
Pick Your Angle
Shokunin states their angle immediately on their website.
Choose how you want to present yourself to your audience. What makes you stand out from the rest of the web professionals within your niche? How are you solving your client’s problems differently than your competitors are solving them? This is why it is so important to really know your audience and what core problems you can solve for them. In the example above, if you know that the core problem for startups is a cheap but impressive WordPress site, then your angle could be low cost but high quality.
Some more examples are that you may be able to program faster than others, providing a lightening speed turnaround at a lower price. Or you may have an eye for creating unique touches that really makes a client’s website an original work of art. Or maybe you maybe you value spending time to really get into your client’s heads to know exactly what they need to reach their own clients. If your brand involves a team of professionals, you could advertise that you provide the complete package at a bundled price. Just keep in mind that you need to find something unique about yourself, and it should be a pitch that hasn’t been made – or at least make a more common pitch in an original way.
Fine-tune Your Voice
By “your voice”, I am referring to the tone of written communication, such as website content, tutorials, posts, Facebook comments, your portfolio, brochures, and anything else that is connected to your brand. So, if the brand image you want to portray is a professional WordPress expert with dry humor, then all of your writing needs to reflect this. If you want to be viewed as highly professional, you may want to keep sarcasm out of your tone.
A word of caution: it is endearing to have a stylistic voice in writing, but don’t ever let, say, a sarcastic or humorous tone go so far as to cause offense with clients or your audience of prospective clients. And be sure that your audience won’t question your expertise nor the ability to be focused and do a job well. A hard-working, genuine, polite, and genius web professional that doesn’t mind showing his humorous side is much better than a sarcastic, humorous blogger who may or may not be able to focus.
Once you have set your niche, audience, image, angle, and voice, you will be much better able to choose the visual elements that make up your brand. Choose colors and font styles to use in your brand materials that you can consistently use across the board. Always use colors from a set color scheme and fonts styles from your chosen typography so that your audience will recognize you no matter where they encounter your brand. Take Coca Cola, for example. While they have updated their brand look throughout the years, every piece of public brand material they have ever produced contains some brand marker, such as their font style or the famous red color.
Choose your colors and typography carefully. It may help to do a study of color meanings. Once you have a main color or two, then you can use a color scheme tool such as Kuler or ColorLovers to help you pick the rest of your palette. But always stick with a main two or three that clients can rely on.
With your fonts, make sure to choose ones that accurately portray your voice and angle. If you want to be seen as lighthearted yet reliant, choose a font that includes some playful edges or curves but that has mostly normal edges. Also, make sure your fonts are optimized for web, mobile, and print for easier transition across the board, such as the ones in this excellent list from Aaron Kitney on Creativebloq.
Create a Logo
Just as with choosing colors and fonts, creating a logo requires an analysis of what will portray your image to your audience the best. Keeping it simple is always a best practice, since a minimal design will look good no matter what size you need it to be. Remember that on a business card, your logo will be quite small, but on your website, it may be several times larger.
If you tend to be more of a developer and much less of a designer, you will definitely want to hire a professional to create your logo. Crowdsourcing such as through DesignCrowd is always a cheap route to go, or you can use the logo creation tool on Squarespace. While only very basic logos are possible, it still helps if you have a low budget and just need something simple to help you stand out in a search for a job or to get your freelancing career started.
Once you have your entire brand designed, put it everywhere! And keep it consistent and seamless across multiple media. Your social media, website, portfolio, blog, business cards – print and digital should look the same. You may also want to consider a responsive or adaptive website design for your business to further keep your brand easily recognized on both desktop and mobile devices. And don’t forget to place your brand in the footer of client websites.
Another consideration to make is to link everything that you can. On your website, include links to your social media pages. If you write articles for other blogs, include in your bio your Twitter ID, your website name, and a Google Authorship link on your name.
The last thing that freelance designers or developers want to think about amongst several client projects in the works is keeping up with their brand. It can be extremely time consuming and exhausting, but only if you try to handle it all manually. Social media management tools such as HootSuite and SproutSocial allow you to schedule posts ahead of time and see analytics of different social media accounts.
One of my favorites for Twitter is Tweepi, which allows me to easily Follow back, Unfollow, and manage followers in an easy to understand list layout. Albert Costill provides some excellent reviews of these tools plus seven others in his social media management tools roundup on SearchEngineJournal, so be sure to check it out to find the right one for you.
One Step at a Time
Don’t let the daunting task of learning how to create a strong brand prevent you from ever formally forming yours as a web professional. Take it one step at a time. And also be realistic with results and know that it takes a long time to build up your brand. If you have a strong start, though, you won’t have to do any back tracking. You can continue slowly but surely moving forward in designing a powerful brand that accurately portrays your image and connects emotionally with clients.
Do you have any tips for web professionals in how to create a strong brand? If so, please share with the rest of us in the comments below!