Managing your personal brand

Every experienced freelancer knows that their reputation is their most important asset. Regularly deliver quality product to clients and they’ll tell their friends. Those friends will become prospects that can potentially become new clients for you.
The trouble is that social media makes reputation management something of a minefield. An innocent or off-the-cuff comment made in one forum can end up being used in a completely unexpected way.
So, what are a few things you can do?
1. A decent profile photo
Don’t underestimate this. Two sayings come to mind: First impressions last; and a picture tells a thousand words.
When you add a photograph of yourself on a social networking site where you connect with other professionals, I’d suggest using a conservative headshot. While that picture of you holding a cocktail might reflect your sense of fun, that’s not why clients hire you. There’s nothing wrong with having a picture of you smiling without a drink in hand.
The obvious exception to this is if you work in an industry that is less conservative, where a more casual photo fits in with the industry. But I’d still suggest avoiding a photo that is too casual.
2. Your written profile
Most social networking sites allow you to post a description of yourself. Typically, you get to do a short, one or two sentence, summary followed by a longer, more detailed, description.
If you have accounts on multiple sites, then I’d suggest keeping the description consistent so that your personal image is reinforced by repetition. Also, although I’m not an SEO expert, using the same words will have some benefits when people search for you.
3. Be proactive
I’d suggest searching for yourself with Google, Bing and Yahoo! regularly. It’s normal behaviour to check on potential staff and contractors by doing some web searches before hiring. Make sure that the search results that point to you don’t have any hidden or unexpected surprises.
The other benefit of this is you can find people who are impersonating you online. You may not think this is a big deal but I recently found a Twitter account that used the name of one of my blogs and a copy/paste of my Twitter profile. Although there was nothing too malicious in it, I don’t want anyone pretending to be me and potentially damaging my reputation.
4. Branding
There are literally thousands of books written by expert marketers on branding. A brand is a representation of you that is meant to quickly, clearly and unambiguously tell people what you’re about without them needing to “figure it out”. When someone sees the McDonalds brand on a restaurant, they know what to expect.
When you’re starting out, the way to represent yourself online is part of your brand. If your website is a cacophony of different colours, riddled with spelling errors with no clear structure it tells potential clients what to expect from you work.
Present your online presence the way you want people to perceive you.
5. A few basics
For most freelancers, their name (and everything it represents) is what you’re presenting to the world. For some, we use a company as the brand and image. I think freelancers, particularly those with some entrepreneurial spirit need to work on both.
There may come a time when a potential client wants to work with something more than a sole operator. For those occasions, registering your own Internet domain name is cheap and easy. You can then hook that domain off something like Google Apps so you can have your own, personalised email address and not whatever your ISP allocated or a Hotmail. Yahoo or Gmail account. For $10 per year, it’s the cheapest way to look like a big company I know of.
Setting up even a simple website is worth doing. It provides a central place to share information about you and your business (keep it consistent with the rest of your online profile) as well as some expanded information.
What do you do to manage your personal brand? Do you have a plan or do you just wing it?

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