Freelancing can be testing, but recognisable and memorable branding can sometimes make the difference between being called for a job and being forgotten. Here are five key areas to remember when considering how your personal brand appears to others.
The tips are aimed at freelancers but are of course relevant to all journalists.
1. Brand yourself online
Websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, Vine, Instagram – these are just a few of the options available in the sea of social media and hosting platforms available as ways of self-promotion.
Some may be more appropriate than others – a fashion journalist will have more to share on Pinterest or Instagram than a political blogger, for example – but the important theme is to be consistent in you branding across each.
For most aspiring freelance journalists this will mean your name, so choose a particular format and stick to it, advises Jo Payton, a successful freelancer, lecturer and trainer.
Choose an avatar, or profile picture, and a colour scheme for your website or blog that suits your field and make sure these elements and motifs remain consistent across your digital footprint.
Have a background image on your website? Use that everywhere – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, anywhere that lets you customise your public facing profile page. Check out these guidelines on choosing the right image size for different social media sites.
And, to give your online profile an added lift, you can have photo byline appear alongside any articles you wrote in Google search results.
2. Brand yourself offline
Having a branded online presence is a plus, but carrying that over to the offline world can only bring more positives and give people more cause to remember you.If you walk around with a diva-ish brand then that's never going to work and will turn people off your personal brandJo Payton, lecturer, trainer and freelancer
Make sure your business card includes any relevant digital information, and also include the same fonts, colours and branding elements you chose for your digital appearance.
People tend to look at business cards they have collected on the way home from events or conferences, so give them something to make yours stand out, Payton says.
And make sure it says what you actually do. Putting a name, address, phone number, website, Twitter handle, Google+ account in the hands of a Fleet Street editor is a useless achievement if that person draws a blank as to why they are holding it.
Payton goes as far as to print a short paragraph on the back of her business card so the recipient can have no doubts as to what she does and, more importantly, what she can do for them.
She also says that freelancers should "live the brand they have created" and present themselves in a similar fashion, as long as it still maintains an attraction for those you are looking to for work.
"Your personality and the way you present yourself is so important," she says, "and being polite, courteous, going the extra mile – all that makes people come back to you and commission you again.
"If you walk around with a diva-ish brand then that's never going to work and will turn people off your personal brand."
3. Find a niche
Having a speciality, something that you can demonstrate a deep knowledge of and expertise in, can be invaluable to an editor. Many columnists, commentators and respected journalists have not come from a journalistic background at all, but have fallen into the career after spending much of their working life in a specific field. Their expertise becomes useful to a newspaper or site looking to put a story into context and they find a wider audience for their knowledge.
This knowledge and expertise can be part of the personal branding of a freelance.
Susie Boniface, who rose to prominence under the guise of the Fleet Street Fox, had the inside scoop on the UK's tabloid newspapers and she strongly believes the branding played a big role in the rise of her pseudonym.
She also points to Guido Fawkes, the political blogger, who has repeatedly leaked the inner workings of political machinations on his blog.
Both were able to tell a story which no one was was willing or able to tell and both created pen names and personal brands that carried resonance in their particular field.
Fleet Street Fox has a tabloid colour scheme and notions of nocturnal naughtiness, while Guido Fawkes makes an immediate connection to the gunpowder plot and the disruption of Parliament.
"Blogs have to stand out from the crowd so you have to find something unique for you," Boniface told Journalism.co.uk. "One thing you've got going for you that no one else has got that you can exploit."
"If you want to blog you need to have a reason to be doing it, have a unique selling point and have some skills."
A more recent example is the meteoric rise of Brown Moses as a cited expert on the Syrian conflict and chemical weapons.
Brown Moses, the pseudonym of Eliot Higgins, with its Middle Eastern undertones and echoes of salvation, began blogging in 2012 and has been credited by the BBC's Stuart Hughes with breaking "more stories than most journalists do in a career". After a certain amount of digging, he turned out to be an unemployed young father from Leicester who took to the subject with vigour and showed innate and immediate journalistic nous.
All freelancers and journalists positioning themselves within a niche can learn from their lessons. Susie Boniface, Eliot Higgins and Paul Staines would not be in the position they are now had it not been for their branding and commitment to a specific topic.
4. Don't rule yourself out
Not everyone's chosen niche has the benefit of blowing up into a national story, so Payton says freelancers should maintain a blog to demonstrate expertise in addition to a well-rounded skill set as a journalist.Branding is all about consistencySusie Boniface, the Fleet Street Fox
The blog part of the website can be regularly updated to engage with the audience, and the rest of the site can serve as a window into your skills as a journalist. Qualifications, training, examples of work, testimonials, pictures, and more can be included to demonstrate suitability for a range of relevant journalism jobs.
We flagged up the sites of five freelance journalists some time ago. You may also benefit from integrating a portfolio site into your website. Here is Jo Payton's site and blog as an example.
5. Be consistent
"Branding is all about consistency," according to Boniface. Just as publications need to know their audience and cater for their tastes, freelancers need to be consistent in their approach to editors.
"You need to know who you're talking to, what you're talking about and why they'll be interested in it," she says.
And even if you are are currently working somewhere, maintaining your online presence through Twitter and a blog is important as it shows you can consistently turn out work on a subject, and that lays the groundwork for your next job, says Payton.
"There's nothing worse than an online presence that isn't maintained," she says. "The whole point in having a blog is that you're showing an editor that you can commit to something, that you can come up with really creative ideas all the time and the same with Twitter."
Creating an online presence and then abandoning it is almost worse than not having one at all, she says, and bookmarking snippets of inspiration with a platform like Delicious or Evernote, taking 10 minutes to turn them into a blog post at the end of the day, and even spending an hour or two coming up with witty, pithy tweets to send out through the week can all help to maintain this.
"You are not going to be a failure if you don't put that extra time in," Payton says, "but if you want to be really successful, the really successful journalists out there are the ones that are saying 'every hour of every day I'm going to update my Twitter, update my blog, update my website and make sure all my current work is on there'. If you make excuses then you're only letting yourself down and you're not going to be as successful as them."
Jo Payton and Susie Boniface will be included in a podcast on the subject of personal branding for freelancers tomorrow.
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