Many designers of all disciplines make their living as freelancers, and more people across all industries are choosing freelancing for the flexibility and independence it offers.
To set yourself up for freelancing success — particularly as a designer — you need to create a brand identity for yourself.
Whether you’re a recent graduate, pivoting to self-employment, or an experienced freelancer looking to update your image, put your best foot forward and take your own branding as seriously as your client work.
Launch Your Own Brand Identity for Freelancing
For a freelancer, a brand identity is a manifestation of your personality, your skills, and your values.
Your brand conveys how you want the world to perceive you. It is the context through which your peers and potential clients get to know your work, and it is the foundation upon which your reputation is built.
Creating a brand identity from scratch may seem like a challenging prospect, but with these tips, you’ll learn how to create a brand infused with your unique personality.
While these recommendations are targeted specifically to design professionals, the general concepts apply to freelancers in any industry.
1. Build Your Brand’s Foundation
To start, set aside some quiet, relaxing time for introspection and brainstorming.
Ask yourself questions like: What inspires me? What excites me? What am I proud of? What is my collaboration style? How would my friends describe me? Make a list of the words and phrases that capture your personal and professional essence.
Once you’ve gotten some thoughts about yourself on paper, it’s time to look outward. Study the brands you admire and write down their defining characteristics. Reverse-engineer the things that make these brands special, and figure out how to put your own personal twist on it.
Visualize the clients you hope to attract. What kinds of problems do they have that you can solve, and what will they be looking for when they hire a designer?
Once you’ve finished brainstorming, you’ll have a big messy soup of words and phrases. What next?
2. Distill Your Brand’s Essence
It’s time to take the raw material of your brainstorming session and turn it into a professional bio.
A good professional bio isn’t just a list of what you’ve done: it’s your story. Your story will of course include the basics — your name, your skills, your education, your experience — but don’t be afraid to share your personality as well. Do everything you can to infuse your bio with the underlying passion that motivated you to choose design as your career.
Don’t worry about making it perfect right away. Just start writing. It’s easier to start with something too long and edit down than it is to try to nail it perfectly the first time. You can edit and ask for advice from friends later.
It’s a good idea to develop two bios: an extended version of 500 words or more, and a short version not much more than 200 words.
After you’re happy with your bio, take that story and distill it into just one sentence. This tweet-worthy distillation is your elevator pitch, that ready-to-go saying that tells the world exactly who you are and what you do.
Finally, distill that single sentence ever further into just a few words: this is your tagline.
Now, based on everything you’ve written, it’s time to decide on the most important aspect of all: your name!
Many designers use their given name as their professional identifier, but you should also consider branding yourself as a business rather than an individual. Imagine if things go terribly right: in several years, you might have a team of people working for you! Choosing a business name is more brandable and growth-friendly.
It’s important to choose a brand name that is easy to spell, easy to say, and with all relevant domain names and social media handles available. A handy tool to help check name availability across multiple social media platforms is Username.social.
“But every good .com name is already taken!” you say. Fear not: you no longer need to secure a .com name to build a credible brand. In fact, you may be better off using a new top-level domain. Since they are newer, more specific, and have fewer overall registrations, it’s far easier to secure a good name when using an nTLD. For designers, the natural choice is .design. For other industries, there are tons of applicable TLDs: .art, .shop, .dev, etc.
3. Design Your Brand’s Visual Identity
Well, that’s a lot of writing for a designer. Ready to play with colors and shapes again? Now’s the time to let your bio, tagline, and professional name inspire a visual look and feel for your brand.
Think back to the exercise where you considered your favorite brands and your ideal future clients: what are their tastes like? Are they edgy and modern, or traditional and familiar? Take that inspiration and put your own individual spin on it.
Once you’re happy with your visual identity, don’t hold back. Carry it through everywhere: put your name and logo on stationery, letterhead, invoices, and don’t forget the promotional swag!
Make sure that you bake your domain name into your visual identity so that people can easily find you online. This is particularly effective if you are using .design because it is much easier to integrate your business name into a domain name.
4. Build Your Website
You’ve got the words, and you’ve got the visuals. Now it’s time to fire up the browser and build the website of your dreams. (And of your clients’ dreams, too!)
With a .design domain name, your potential clients will understand who you are and what you do before they even get to your site. But when they get there, you’ll want to wow them with the professionalism of your brand and the uniqueness of your portfolio.
Your website should include your bio, a description of the professional services you offer, your contact information, and social media links.
Of course, the centerpiece of your website will be your design portfolio. To win clients, you need to make sure your work is presented in the best possible context. To enhance navigability, you may want to organize your portfolio in subsections that showcase your different skills, industries, or business specialties.
For designers with professional experience, you may also want to include more about past clients, awards you’ve received, and media mentions.
Also, make sure you include a blog so that you have a way to regularly update your website with fresh, new content. This is important for SEO — more on that later.
5. Perfect Your Portfolio
For freelancers, having a solid portfolio is an important tool to win new clients, and a .design domain name is the natural fit to showcase your digital portfolio online.
The brand identity you’ve developed gives context and structure to your portfolio, and helps your prospective clients understand and appreciate your work.
However, if you’re just starting out as a recent design graduate, you may not have a long list of impressive clients or a ton of professional work to show off in your portfolio. Don’t let this stop you from showing the world what you can do. Build your portfolio to attract the clients you want to have!
If you don’t have a lot of experience yet, you can hone your skills and build out your portfolio at the same time by working on mock projects. Just imagine your dream design job for your dream client, turn it into a creative brief, and dive in.
For inspiration to develop your design portfolio, check out this handy creative brief generator featured on rooki.design. You can generate random project briefs by choosing the industry and the type of work: for example, a logo for a retail store; packaging for a technology company; a website for higher education.
6. Search Engine Optimization
As you build out your website, be sure to bake in search engine optimization techniques so that your content has the best chance of being discovered.
A .design domain name is ideal for facilitating strong SEO because the “design” keyword is already included. However, you’ll also want to focus on more advanced techniques.
One of the most important things you can do to improve your SEO is to register your site through Google Search Console. It’s the official way for you to share your sitemap with Google so that the most current version of your site is indexed. They also offer educational resources to help you learn more about SEO and improving your Google search ranking.
It’s also important to ensure your website is accessible for people of all abilities. You can check the accessibility of your website here: https://www.experte.com/accessibility
SEO is a huge topic, so be sure to seek out additional resources, like this article about SEO strategies to grow your design business.
7. Build Your Professional Social Media Presence
Instagram is still one of the most important social networks, particularly for designers. And of course you should have profiles on the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and fast-rising TikTok.
While social media is vital for brands to engage directly with their customers and clients, remember that social media profiles are not enough to support your brand entirely. You need your own .design domain name to have your own internet real estate that you control, and where you can send all your social media leads to convert them into clients.
Here’s another way for your website to enhance your social media presence: instead of using a generic service like Linktr.ee for your “link in bio,” consider building your own custom link page. You’ll get people onto your own site more quickly, and it looks much more professional in your bio.
8. Networking: Spread Your Brand Far And Wide
With all your branded assets on the internet, now it’s time for you to focus on networking. The more you connect with your designer peers and industry professionals who may be looking to hire, the better your chances of generating a regular stream of freelance clients.
Be sure to research professional organizations relevant to your industry. North American organizations include the GDC (Graphic Designers of Canada), RGD (Association of Registered Graphic Designers), and AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts).
You’ll also find great networking opportunities in more informal digital communities like Slack channels, Discord groups, subreddits, and more. Be on the lookout for word-of-mouth opportunities and do some internet searching to find communities where you feel comfortable and welcome.
Another key part of networking is creating guest content for other websites. This will help you develop your authority as a design professional and improve your SEO, because you’ll be creating more inbound links back to your .design homepage. And your .design email address and domain name will look innovative and memorable when they’re included in your contributor bio.
Persistence Pays Off
All this hard work creating a brand identity for yourself will set you up for success as a freelancer in the design industry. You’ll still have to practice patience and persistence — it might take a while, but don’t give up! Your dream career as an independent freelance designer is within your grasp.
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David Gold is a Marketing Content Specialist at Top Level Design, the registry for .design, .gay, .wiki, and .ink. David is passionate about developing creative strategies for making the internet a more expressive and inclusive space.