The internet has evolved the freelance marketplace in unprecedented ways. Freelance websites allow anyone to connect with a staggering amount of specialists to find the one which suits their needs best. According to Wikipedia there are over 12 million freelancers on Upwork alone, which makes standing out from the crowd a daunting task.
If you’re a freelancer, you can’t realistically expect to always be the best at everything, nor be the only person offering your services. It is imperative then, to identify what it is exactly that makes you different from everyone else and also be able to communicate that with your branding strategies. This all starts with analyzing the market, your competition, and most importantly yourself.
Below I will outline the 3 best ways to differentiate your brand as a freelancer, but before you do that, you must figure out what makes your services different in the first place. In other words, what is your unique selling proposition?
Identify your unique selling proposition
Your USP will be the key to distinguishing your brand from the sea of other freelancers vying for your potential client’s business. Are you simply more skilled than other freelancers? Perhaps you have extraordinary customer service or lighting quick turnaround times? Without knowing exactly how you differ from your competition, you run the risk of appearing generic and mediocre. Once you’ve identified your strengths, you can then work them into a cohesive brand strategy that helps set you apart.
So, how exactly do you do that? Here are three ways that I’ve found to be most effective:
There is no one in the freelance marketplace quite like you. This is a fact regardless of your level of expertise. While it may be tempting to be a generalist and to go after every type of project imaginable, this will not help you create a unique brand identity. By specializing your talents you stand out from the jack-of-all-trades that crowd most freelance markets.
Figuring out what to specialize in can be a challenge, but it’s one worth pursuing. Look to your own past experiences and personal interests and leverage them to offer services that are uniquely yours. For example, if you worked in construction before you started as a web designer, your experience puts you in a unique position to build websites for construction companies. You’ll know first hand what those companies need and will have a better understanding of the image they are trying to portray. Word of mouth will take hold and you will begin to be known as “the” freelancer to hire if you need a construction website.
If you have a hobby that you are extremely passionate about, consider tailoring your brand around it. Perhaps you’re a writer who golfs five days a week. By seeking out jobs that center around golfing and consistently delivering high-quality content, you can begin to corner the market. Your passion will shine through your writing and other golf enthusiasts will respond to it more than they would a generic piece written by someone who clearly doesn’t play the sport.
By specializing you can command higher pay, tailor your marketing towards a specific group, and greatly cut down on the research you would need to do as a generalist. It is important to realize, however, that by specializing you open yourself up to any slumps within your chosen niche so be prepared to quickly pivot if you find yourself in a shallow market with too few prospective clients.
One way for your brand to stand out among the competition is by offering your services at a price not typically seen from other freelancers in your domain.
If you are an exceptional designer with many years of experience and the quality of your designs reflect this, it may be prudent to offer your services at a premium. By charging more than your competitors, you send a clear message that you are simply better at the job than the vast majority and by hiring you the client is putting their project in the hands of a true expert.
Let’s take an instance we can all relate to. A great example of this strategy comes from the car company Tesla. Having recently debuted in the mid 2000’s, most consumers weren’t sure what to make of the upstart car manufacturer. Thousands of curious people flocked to Tesla’s showrooms and website trying to get a glimpse of the futuristic vehicles. Tesla’s cheapest car – the Model S – ranges in price from around $65,000 to over $100,000 putting it on par with luxury brands like Mercedes and BMW.
This higher price point immediately tells a potential customer that Tesla is a luxury brand built for successful people with all the bells and whistles to match. Their branding started with their price structure and it makes them stand out from the majority of car companies.
If your service is better than your competition, then charge more for it! It may seem counter intuitive but this will pique people’s curiosity and make them more interested in checking out your portfolio, leading to more work.
Alternatively, you could offer your services at a discount. Offering a similar service at a cheaper price is basic business and will obviously appeal to clients that may be cash-strapped. It’s important that you don’t go too low but if you can find the sweet spot between price and quality, you can make up for the lower wages by attracting a higher volume of clients.
However, try to think outside the box. Perhaps as a freelance writer, you offer your first few articles at a discount. Or maybe as a full-time designer you give the client an option to choose a pay structure that works for them, whether that be weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly. Simply by changing the way you charge for your services you begin to distance yourself from those who follow industry standards and further separate yourself from the competition.
Form a partnership
It goes without saying that the more problems you can solve for a client the more you increase your value. If I’m in the market for an SEO expert, the odds of me needing someone that deals with WordPress development or social media marketing is pretty high. By finding other freelancers that complement your skillset and forming strategic partnerships, you enable yourself to offer service packages that the vast majority of your competition will be unable to.
This is a powerful unique selling proposition and is something that most freelancers are simply unwilling to do. Once you’ve found another freelancer you’d like to partner with and they agree to work with you, draft up a contract that covers things like deadlines, compensation, and how to divide the workload. Try to limit misunderstandings by coming to a clear agreement about who is responsible for what. While this may seem like a pain, it will ensure that your partnership is built for the long haul.
As freelancers, we tend to live in our own little world. However, a little team building can transform your brand from run-of-the-mill to something truly unique in the marketplace. The great thing about a partnership is that you don’t have to be as nervous about the jobs you take because you have partners that can shore up your weaknesses and cover your blind spots. This allows you to bid on more jobs and directly increase profitability.