Building a strong, well-known, trustworthy brand isn't easy and avoidable mistakes could be hurting your brand and costing you clients.
It doesn’t matter what branding approach you use — branding the business, you as the expert, or the thing you’re selling. What matters is that every action you take on behalf of your business moves you closer to the goal of becoming a recognized authority in your niche. If you can do that, you can position your services as being the best choice for your ideal clients.
Unfortunately, building a strong, well-known, trustworthy brand isn’t easy.
It takes time, effort, perseverance, determination, and aligned action taken consistently over time. While it can take months and even years to build a powerful brand, it only takes one wrong move to create a negative brand experience that undermines your credibility, sabotages your reputation, and sends would-be ideal clients running to your competition.
The pressure is on when you’re freelancing because everything related to your brand and business sits squarely on your shoulders, including the ability to acquire new clients. That’s why I’m sharing all of the biggest branding mistakes I see new freelancers make.
Common Freelance Branding Mistakes
Heads up! This post focuses on the negative — everything you may be doing wrong. But please don’t get frustrated or beat yourself up if you discover that you have made or currently are making some of these mistakes right now.
For the record, even as a professional graphic designer and web designer, I’ve made all of the mistakes I mention at some point in my career. The good news is that with the right information, resources, and support, the mistakes are easily avoidable for new freelancers, and easily fixable for freelancers who have been around a while.
Now, onto the mistakes and how to avoid/fix them…
Mistake 1: No Clear Brand Identity
Without a clearly defined brand identity in place, it’s nearly impossible to take purposeful, meaningful, strategic action. When you start marketing before defining your visual brand, your position in the market, or your message, you’re basically guessing. You’re trying anything and everything and copying others with the hope that something will feel right.
There’s just one problem: Brands that lack clarity lack confidence and consistency.
If you don’t have a clear brand and guidelines to provide constraints around visual design and messaging, every typeface and color palette becomes a bright shiny object distracting you from consistency. And every compelling blog post, podcast episode, and social media post you come across “inspires you” to shift your message and tweak your business model.
When you don’t know who you are, you copy others and try on their clothes, hoping that something fits just right. Unfortunately, because they’re not your clothes, they’ll never fit just right. So you end up feeling like an impostor and constantly second-guessing your decisions.
You can always tell which freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners don’t yet have clarity on their brand identity. They’re the ones constantly changing things up, redesigning their site, and confusing the heck out of you because there is no consistency in their message, visual design, and actions.
The easiest way to avoid or solve this problem altogether is to define your brand:
- Uncover your passion and superpower
- Choose a specialty (what you want to be known for)
- Identify your core values
- Pick a niche and learn about your ideal client
- Create your brand personality, voice, language, and messaging
- Design your brand logo, typography, color palette, and supporting visual elements
Then, document everything in a brand design style guide and a brand communications style guide. Style guides provide guidelines and constraints for how your brand shows up in the world and ensure that everything created for and on behalf of the brand remains consistent — and consistency is what builds brand equity.
Mistake 2: Bad Design
A difficult-to-use website… Low quality, amateur visual design… Mismatched, low-quality stock photos and stock illustrations… A poor user experience… All of these things negatively affect brand perception and perception is reality.
- If you look cheap, people will feel like your product or service is low quality.
- If your site is difficult to use, visitors will give up and go check out your competitors.
- If you can’t even be bothered to create a quality website for your business, how can you expect prospective clients to believe that you can create one for them?
The design of your visual brand — everything from your business cards to your social media cover images — matters.
Bad design damages credibility, erodes trust, and hurts revenue.
DIYing your design when you’re not a designer, or hiring an inexperienced amateur to save a buck, can have long-lasting ramifications on your ability to generate quality leads and attract quality clients. It’s like investing thousands of dollars in a fabulous new website and using Microsoft Word to “make a brochure” to promote it.
Mistake 3: Unprofessional Errors And Typos
Nothing can make you look like an amateur faster than simple mistakes that could have easily been caught with a little bit of effort.
- Proofread and edit your writing
- Read your copy out loud to test the cadence and flow
- Check your design work and triple check your code
- Test forms, click links, and make test purchases
Recently Google’s John Mueller answered a question about the impact of poor HTML, spelling, and grammar on search rankings. As reported by Search Engine Journal,
bad spelling and poor grammar can impact rankings because it’s a quality issue that impacts users. For the same reason, auto-translated content that results in awkward grammar would also have a tough time earning a good ranking.
“We try to find really high-quality content on the web and sometimes it can appear that a page is lower quality content because it has a lot of… grammatical and technical mistakes in the text.
I would almost say… spelling and grammar are probably, for most websites, a higher priority than broken HTML.”
— John Mueller
Bottom Line: Fix typos and grammatical errors on your website as soon as you find them.
Mistake 4: General Messaging
When you’re not specific with your words and you try to appeal to everyone with your brand messaging, you end up appealing to no one.
For someone to slow the scroll, stop in their tracks, and pay attention to what you have to say, they need to feel like you’re speaking directly to them.
When an ideal client reads your sales copy, they need to:
- Feel like you get them; as if you’re reading their inner-most thoughts.
- Understand that you’ve been in their shoes and feel their pain.
- Connect with your message on an emotional level and trust you.
- Believe that you can help them find the best path forward.
- Identify as a perfect-fit client and feel inspired to take action.
Look, it’s okay to be good at more than one thing and do more than one thing. It’s okay to even be a generalist, as long as your marketing isn’t too general.
Let me explain…
When you try to be all things to all people, you dilute your message and diminish your authority.
The reason everyone tells you to pick a specialty and define your ideal client is to make it easier for you to keep your branding and marketing consistent, clear, and focused. It’s to help you build a rock-solid reputation of excellence so ideal clients can easily identify as an ideal client and say, “That’s for me!”
- Pick one thing to focus on and specialize in — one thing you want to build your reputation around and become known for — and build all of your branding, marketing, and messaging around it. That one specialty is what will attract new clients.
- Once you’ve got their attention and they decide you’re the right one to help them achieve their goals, share everything else you can do — all of the supporting services you offer — and increase the value of that client.
With this approach, you lead with your specialty and once you have a new client hooked, you follow up with additional services. This is how multi-passionate entrepreneurs and freelancers build strong brands.
Mistake 5: Complicated, Hard To Read Copy
This tip is easy: Keep your copy simple!
Making sure your copy is easy for people to read and understand is just as important as writing interesting, helpful, and entertaining copy.
- Neilsen Normal Group shares that you should aim for an 8th-grade reading level if you are targeting a broad consumer audience.
- The UK the central government encourages copywriters to aim for a readability level of age nine.
- The WCAG guidelines state that website copy should not require a more advanced level of reading than a 7th-9th grade equivalent.
- The United States Federal Plain Language Act explains that you should write for your audience.
What does that mean for you? If your website copy is too complex or hard to read, you could be alienating leads and losing clients. If visitors have to use a dictionary, thesaurus, or Google search just to understand your copy, you need to rethink your copywriting approach.
Readability refers to how easy your website copy is to read. To improve readability:
- Break long sentences with complex structures into short sentences and bullet lists.
- Keep the line length short and always left-align large blocks of copy.
- Take your audience’s current level of knowledge into account and use language they understand and feel comfortable with.
- Steer clear of lesser-known words — choose the short word over the long word and the familiar word over the unique word.
- Avoid industry jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords unless your audience is already savvy with those terms.
Legibility refers to the clarity of typography and content design — how easy it is for people to distinguish characters and words. To improve legibility:
- Stick with clean, clear serif or sans serif typefaces for your headline sand body copy.
- Use larger default font sizes so no one has to squint, pinch or zoom to read your copy.
- Place copy on a plain background that doesn’t interfere with the copy.
- Create high contrast between the color of the copy and the color of the background.
Mistake 6: Inconsistency
When you fail to walk your talk and introduce inconsistencies to your brand, you undermine everything you are working to build: your reputation and your brand equity. When your branding and marketing are inconsistent, it makes you appear unprofessional, uncommitted, and even untrustworthy.
Building a brand means being consistent in terms of design, messaging, and behavior.
The visual design and voice of your brand must be recognizable across every platform:
- Your website, business cards, email newsletter, and social media cover images should look like they belong together.
- Your avatar should be the same on all platforms.
- Your marketing message and bio should tell the same story everywhere you use them.
The action taken on behalf of your brand must align with your brand values, personality, and promises. Your audience may question your authenticity and honesty if:
- You boast about a six-figure income, yet panhandle through a go-fund-me campaign.
- You build your brand on love, light, and kindness, yet trash-talk others on social media.
- You claim to have all of the answers to long-term, sustainable business success but have only been in business one year.
- Your about page talks about only working 3 days a week and living a freedom-based lifestyle, yet you complain about working 16-hour days on Twitter.
- You say that you publish your email newsletter every Wednesday but go months without sending anything.
Ick! Gross. I might have just thrown up in my mouth a bit…
If you want to grow a powerhouse brand that is recognized, remembered, respected, and referred, earn it by showing up consistently and aligning your behavior with the reputation you are building. People want to associate with positive people and they want to do business with people they know, like, and trust. Walk your talk and make the decision to hire you easy.
Mistake 7: No Follow Up Or Follow Through
Getting more clients is the number one objective of freelancers and small service-based businesses worldwide. After all, there is no service business without clients to serve and clients first start as leads.
Yet many freelancers don’t take potential projects, offers, and opportunities seriously and they forget to follow up. Those that are chasing their tails from not having any business systems and processes in place also make promises and forget to follow through.
So what happens? They lose the project and they don’t get the client.
When you’re first starting out, you need to follow-up on every opportunity and lead that comes your way and follow through on every promise made. You need to take advantage of every possible chance to gain experience and build your portfolio.
Then, as you gain experience and identify your niche, you can create a follow-up and lead response plan and systems to effectively manage inbound leads. This way you can focus on only those leads that are a great fit.
You Must Invest In Your Freelance Brand
If you want to stop chasing prospective clients and get them to chase you, you need to build a strong brand and an undeniable reputation as an expert in your niche. Avoiding these branding mistakes will give prospective clients everything they need to self-identify as an ideal client. It will also ensure your brand is positioned as the best choice, not just another choice, so you can easily close new sales and get all the clients you need.
And don’t think for one second that you don’t need to invest in your brand.
It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to freelancing. It doesn’t matter if you’re just one person. It doesn’t matter if your freelance business has loads of referrals. It doesn’t even matter if you’re booked solid with a waiting list.
Every business owner must invest in their brand to shape market perception and solidify its authority reputation.
You must pay attention to everything from the brand experience and day-to-day actions to your brand’s messaging and visual design to the language used and the quality of product produced. Otherwise, you may find yourself making some of these mistakes and unknowingly sabotaging your brand and your ability to acquire new, high-quality clients.