When you’re a freelance creative, coming up with fresh ideas and delivering quality work isn’t always enough to stand out from the crowd. It’s essential to also have a solid personal brand.
However, when it comes to content marketing, a common concern many freelance creatives share is that working for brands taints or dilutes their own. Or worse, it turns them into a sellout.
This conundrum recently took the spotlight during a panel discussion I participated in at this year’s FinCon, an annual conference for content creators in personal finance. The topic was how to represent other brands without losing yours, which is something many content creators, particularly in the personal finance space, deal with.
Your personal brand is your own story, message, and values, so it can be tricky if, say, you’re a personal finance writer with your own strong opinions and philosophies about money. For instance, if you’re a personal finance blogger who is against accruing debt, would writing for a site that offers recommendations on credit cards be at odds with your values?
Beyond the personal finance space, this is a point of conflict for creatives who work in a variety of mediums and across different industries. They may feel that working with brands may clash with their own voice, style, and values.
Here’s the thing: If done right, the opposite rings true. In fact, working with brands can actually enhance your personal brand. As a money writer who does a fair amount of content marketing, I’ve found that by working with brands in the financial and fintech space, I can create content that is not only in step with my own brand but that bolsters my message.
I’d say that 90 percent of the brands I write for want writers to pitch unique story ideas. They want to hear what unique angles, fresh approaches, and ideas you want to contribute. When I pitch story ideas, I use it as an opportunity to look for an area where a brand’s message and my own overlap.
For instance, I sometimes mention that I would love to write about personal finance for freelancers. And even though this may not be an editorial objective with a client, I ask them to keep me in mind should things change. These days, I have a few clients where the majority of content I write about is on this topic. And here’s the cool part: More recently, I’ve landed work for brands that offer financial products for solopreneurs because they were familiar with my blog and involvement in the freelancer community. It’s great to get paid for doing something I would do on my own regardless.
Truth: In our modern age, we all do our own fair share of Internet stalking. You bet that editors and artistic directors are scoping out your work and your online presence well before they make initial contact.
I spend a fair amount of time working by myself in front of a computer, and sometimes forget that real people actually read my work. I know I’m not alone when I am surprised by a potential client reaching out to let me know they thought my message or voice was a good fit for their company.
You don’t have to necessarily modify what you’re doing or mask who you are. In fact, brands may hire you in part because of who you are and what you’re all about.
Image attribution: Mohamed Nohassi
How can you make content for other brands that’s in step with your own personal brand? Here are some pointers.
Many companies want to hear your stories and bring your personal experience, interests, and voice to the team. Look for those who want to work with you because you offer something different and will give you more creative agency.
An article in 99U points out that passion projects not only help you grow and develop but can lead to dynamic commissioned projects. There are countless freelance creatives who—through their podcast, blog, or side art project—show what they’re capable of. Sometimes their current client work isn’t necessarily in step with their own brand, or isn’t a strong indicator of their interests or strengths. These passion projects fill that hole. In turn, they may spark the interest of dream clients.
For instance, my friend Saul Colt, a brilliant marketing professional who owns an idea integration company, comes up with sample campaigns for small businesses that may not have the budget for such campaigns. Not only is Colt getting the attention of small businesses and potentially attracting clients, but he’s also showcasing what his company is capable of.
During the panel discussion, my fellow panelist Stefanie O’Connell, a writer and spokesperson in the finance space, pointed out that when working with brands, you should consider the long-term relationship you have with your audience. Would working with this brand deliver value and be a good fit for your audience? Is this a brand that you would be proud to have worked when you look back a few years from now?
O’Connell also pointed out that it was important to work for brands that you get excited about, that offer products and services that you yourself would use. If it’s a company you wouldn’t vouch for, then it probably isn’t a good fit. In turn, you most likely won’t deliver the same zest and create your best work for such a client.
Sure, at the end of the day, these brands are still your clients. I’ve found it useful to think about not only the value you can bring but the value a brand can offer to your own. How can working together benefit both parties? For instance, can a brand’s story help spread your own? Is there a way to tie in their story and values with yours? Will working with this brand help land more opportunities creating content for clients that are in sync with your personal brand?
Let’s say that you have an ultimate fan. And this fan has been following your work from the get-go. If that’s the case, is your body of work—no matter if it’s your own personal passion project or client work—consistent in your message and voice? Aim for this consistency as much as possible. In turn, it’ll strengthen your brand and help land clients that are more in sync with yours.
Working for brands doesn’t make you a sellout. It doesn’t have to dilute your brand at all. In fact, it can be a way to enhance it. In turn, it could lead to more rewarding opportunities that help you thrive and do fulfilling work as a freelancing creative.
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Featured image attribution: Ewan Robertson