The Dangers of Personal Branding
Establishing a brand when you’re a freelancer is a great idea. You create an image about who you are, what you stand for and what you promise to customers. A brand provides consumers with an image and a set of emotional and mental associations that represent you – and that’s what you sell.
Your brand influences people and their decision to work with you based on their perceptions of your image. They may need a page of sales copy, but they’ll want to work with you because you convey a brand image as being the superhero of sales copy, able to vanquish any argument and rise to glorious conversion victory! Or, perhaps your brand image conveys sharp corporate savvy, the ability to hone in and target sales like an archer hitting the bulls-eye every time.
No brand? All you sell is a commodity, just words on paper. Pretty worthless, if you ask me.
Like a Virgin?
The problem with branding is that you have two very simple choices: You can brand personally, or brand your business. Most freelancers and creative types leap to the first. “I’m the artist here! It’s all about me and my name. I’m the one doing the work, and people should recognize me. Just look at Madonna! I am my brand!!!!”
That’s quite valiant, and it’s all very nice, but it’s a dangerous line of thought.
Personal branding can become a restrictive cage. It can turn into a prison, more limiting than Alcatraz. It can create extra work, marketing issues and a ceiling on growth. It can even sometimes create a guilty conscience and issues about morality and ethics.
Not fun, that.
Working For the Chain Gang
You aren’t Madonna. You aren’t Rembrant. You aren’t Dan Kennedy. You aren’t Steve Jobs. And let’s be realistic – right now, you’re a freelancer trying to earn a living. That’s what counts.
Of course, your brand can certainly help you earn that living. You can be successful, yes. It’s also very easy to develop a personal brand – you are who you are, right? No act, no show, no required ‘brand policies’, no fear of slipup. Personal brands are easy to create, easy to promote and easy to keep up over time.
A personal brand also helps you in other ways. The more popular and famous you are, the more opportunities come your way. You want and need those opportunities, so you do have to have an image working for you.
I’ll repeat that: You need an image working for you – because you don’t want to be working for you forever.
All You Need Is Love
Customers don’t want anyone else but you – and that’s a good feeling, when you are your brand. You’re famous! You’re popular and they love you. Everyone knows your name. But a name’s no good when you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted, you can’t get sick, you can’t sell your business, you can’t take on partners, you can’t have a family emergency, and you can’t get help.
A personal brand traps you into always being present in your business. You will be at the mercy of your clients and your career. Step away, and no one can replace you, not even for a vacation. Your business crashes. Work caves. It’s the end of the gravy train.
You have to do everything, all the time – or you have to lie about who’s really doing the work that you’re tired of doing so that you can get a break or pursue other projects.
You are it. There’s no one else.
“Oh, well, that’s alright, James. I don’t want to do this forever. I don’t want to have a business or hire other people. I don’t want to be big. I’m quite comfy on my own, and I really don’t want anything more than this.”
Really? You have a crystal ball to see the future? You’ll never change your mind? You’ll never have an accident, fall sick or burn out, develop RSI, need extra income, desire multiple income streams, decide to grow and expand, or want to change careers?
You’ll never want a business that makes money for you while you work less? You’ll never want to sell your venture for a tidy profit? You won’t have kids that may want to continue your business for generations to come? You’ll just dissolve a great asset and lose out?
Do you really want to decide today what the rest of your life will be like?
What’s in a Name?
A business brand offers you a plan B and a backup safety net. It gives you a way out, an open window through which to slip free, an exit strategy and options for the future.
Personal branding doesn’t offer you that at all. It’s not scalable. You can never do more than your own capacities allow you to do. You can only take on as many clients as you can do the work. Limiting, don’t you think?
Of course, there’s also the problem of reputation. A personal brand means that it’s all about you. Your values, your beliefs, your stances, your policies, your promises. You, you, you.
That means your personal reputation is at stake. One bad day, one slip, a job gone sour, an unhappy client spreading rumors, and your reputation is tarnished. The damage lands squarely on your shoulders, your integrity and values come into question, and you can find yourself bearing the brunt of negative associations with your name.
Not your business name – your name.
Of course, the debate about whether to brand personally or as a business rages, and there are people who take both sides. Most opt for personal branding, because it’s fast and easy.
But do you want to be fast and easy, or would you rather be free and clear?
About the Author: James Chartrand is the branding expert and copywriting gunslinger over at Men with Pens, where you can get more great freelancing advice on how to earn a decent living online.