Freelancers are rapidly taking over a major segment of the American economy. The idea of working in the office from 9 to 5 is giving way to flexible employment opportunities where individuals are free to shape their own schedules and pick their projects. The heady freedom isn’t exclusive to freelancers, though. Employers can now handpick writers, designers, and virtual assistants from this growing pool of applicants. To succeed, freelancers need to do everything that they can to stand out.

The Pool Is Growing

An independent study conducted by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk revealed that freelancers make up 34 percent of the United States workforce. Of these, 40 percent are independent contractors. Another 27 percent are moonlighters, 18 percent are diversified workers, 10 percent are temp workers, and 5 percent are freelance business owners. With 21.1 million Americans working as independent contractors, there’s serious competition for the best jobs.

Freelancers are optimistic about the future. Forty-three percent of these individuals expect their income to increase over the coming year, while just 11 percent expect it to decrease. Word-of-mouth and personal contacts are the most popular means of acquiring new jobs. Sixty-nine percent of freelancers say that social networking has drastically changed how networking happens. Whether freelancers are getting gigs through smart social media marketing or through a friend-of-a-friend, how they brand themselves can have a big impact on their overall success.

Facebook Isn’t as Powerful as You Think

LinkedIn Logo Tiles

Image via Flickr by nan palmero

Casual freelancers may think that a Facebook presence is enough to keep them afloat and help them turn their names and faces into recognizable brands. While Facebook is undeniably popular, it isn’t really the best medium for conducting business, particularly for freelancers. It’s notoriously difficult (and expensive) to make business posts visible to all your followers, so even if you’re putting forth great effort, the result can easily get lost in the mix.

LinkedIn is better suited to freelancers, offering an environment where everyone is there on business. If you’re going to push your brand in only one place, this is the best choice. Twitter is a close second as long as you use it properly. Never buy followers or go on a following rampage hoping for a follow-back. Twitter is only as good as the connections that you make, so make sure that you’re collecting authentic ones.

You Need to Stand Out

In the competitive freelance market, it’s important that you brand your services and give them a distinct look and feel. Whether you’re promoting your sleek modern Web page designs or your witty writing style, there’s a unique angle for you to push. Fortunately, the Internet offers several flexible ways to build a brand.

Creating a logo for your freelancing services is a smart first step. Your logo can become a universal image that you use across multiple platforms to identify yourself. You’re probably not the only Amy Smith in the world, so your bold red logo will help assure potential customers that they have the right Amy as they move from your LinkedIn profile to your Twitter account.

Clients May Google You First

Google Search Results Page

Image via Flickr by jacilluch

Personal networking will build the foundation for your freelancing business; however, as word of mouth travels, you’ll find many customers look you up through Google before they bother giving you a call. Branding is essential for these potential clients because they’ll get to know you through your online presence and business brand before they meet you face to face (or email to email, as the case may be).

Go ahead and Google yourself to see what your clients are finding. If your LinkedIn presence is no longer enough to drive your brand, building a website is the next step. You can use your personal freelance site to display your best work, list your services, quote prices, and share industry news. Keeping a blog on your page is an excellent way to establish yourself as an informed industry leader in your particular niche.

Protecting Your Assets Is Important

A limited liability company (LLC) or other such business formation may help you establish your freelance business for tax purposes, but it doesn’t offer umbrella protection for your brand. Registering a trademark can protect your business name and logo so that other entities cannot use it. This is important in the freelance sector where you’re fighting hard to stand out as an individual. Fortunately, registering a trademark is relatively simple. You can trademark both your business name and your logo. You’ll get broader protection by registering these separately.

If you’ve put in years of hard work building a name for yourself, you want to make sure that another professional in your field can’t lure confused customers away by presenting a similar brand. Apply for the proper legal protection for your branding efforts.

Differentiation Is Better Than Mimicry

We’ve come a long way from the early days of the Internet when personal Web pages were built with cookie-cutter templates. While you can still build a basic profile with a free template and minimal knowledge of Web design, you’ll find that differentiation is the best way to grab your audience’s attention. While professionalism has its place, there’s also a great market out there for big personalities that stand apart from the crowd.

Maintaining a strong personal brand also involves a careful balance of stability and innovation. If you change your brand image too often, your customers won’t recognize your look or logo. Pick a style that resonates with what you’re offering, and stick with it. Within this style, however, you need to keep your profile, portfolio, and social media accounts updated. Regular tweets, blog posts, and updates will show your clients that you’re as busy as ever and always ready to take on something new.

The growing freelance marketplace makes it possible for ambitious individuals to make a profitable career out of working from the couch. If you’re ready to join the ranks of the self-employed and try freelancing yourself, begin building your brand early so you can create a strong and identifiable message that will follow you throughout your career.

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