The argument suggesting that freelancers should create a personal brand tends to focus on marketing factors. But, a personal brand can do so much more than give you a marketing uplift. It can liberate you and your work. A personal brand can help curb feelings of insecurity and fear that you have in creating and selling yourself as a freelancer.

My first experience as a freelancer was in 2012. I’d recently completed an MA in Translation and set out to become a freelance translator. Prior to the MA, I’d worked for four years in sales, first on new business development, followed by a position as an account manager working with large national accounts. I enjoyed what I thought was relative success in sales. Because of this experience, I had planned on the fact that sales would form a strong part of my armoury as a freelancer. I may have been inexperienced as a translator, but I would have ample experience in winning new business.

The sales experience was advantageous, but it was nowhere near as beneficial as I thought it would be. I found the difference astounding between selling someone else’s products and selling my own services. There was a level of security in selling for someone else. No matter the potential or actual rejection, or the criticism of the product I was selling, it wasn’t personal. When I approached a sales meeting, the fear of failure was never an issue, because I never found the thought of rejection to be a judgment on me or my abilities. This ensured that I would go into meetings with confidence, which is the most important trait to have in sales. If I wasn’t confident, it wasn’t through fear of failure.

Selling your services as a freelancer is a different beast. The professional, full time freelancer has gone all in, so it’s probably a given that they enjoy what they do. The profession takes up a great deal of their life, through work, study and personal development. It forms part of their identity. It’s therefore only human to take your work personally. When you do that, fear of rejection and criticism is raw and real, and it can be debilitating. The fear is more harmful than the rejection itself.

Fear affects the confidence that you have when you sell your service. If you’re a low key, introverted type of personality (which I am), the prospect of self-promotion is an unnatural one. When selling products for a large corporate, I had no problem in boldly backing my product and its capabilities over the competition. That’s something which I couldn’t do as a freelancer, if anything I found myself going the other way and playing myself down. This wouldn’t happen in writing. In emails and website copy it’s much easier to be objective and sell yourself. But in person I always found myself playing down my abilities and achievements, because that’s what I would do on a personal level.

The fear of being exposed didn’t allow me to sell my services confidently. Prior to a meeting or networking event, my anxiety, the experience of failure before it materialises, would kick in. My personal fear that my Spanish comprehension wasn’t good enough would cloud my judgment and ability to sell my services, leading me to play down my ability in the heat of the moment. The thought that the person in front of me would discover my own worthlessness as a translator and give me that look of part pity, part rejection, seemed a lot worse than walking away without the businesses because I didn’t sell myself well enough. I could deal with rejection through poor sales skills, but not because I was an inadequate translator. Sales wasn’t personal to me and I knew that I was good at it. Translation was personal and the fear of exposure and rejection was a direct threat to how my friends and family defined who I was, the person who’d left his steady job to retrain as a Spanish translator.

Not only did the fear affect me during the sales process, but when I did win work, it continued to play in the background. The fear of a project manager or proofreader discovering my work to be inaccurate was stopping me from doing great work. I was a Spanish to English translator, but because I went into translation several years after having studied and lived in Spain, my Spanish was a little rusty when I started training to become a translator. As a result, my Spanish comprehension was my sensitive area. It was the part of my work which I felt wasn’t good enough, and as a result the area of my work which I feared would get exposed. This fear leads to poor translation, because I’d constantly second-guess my judgment on my interpretation of meanings and nuance in certain situations, and I’d lean towards sacrificing style to the detriment of the text. I’d be so concerned with making it clear to the proofreader and project manager that my comprehension was sound that I’d sometimes sacrifice my judgment on the true nuance of a sentence for fear of making a mistake.

A personal brand changes your mentality

Introducing a personal brand helped to gradually change this mentality. The main problem was that there was no line between my ‘self’ and my work. It was all one. Therefore fear of rejection and criticism of my work felt no different to a personal rebuke. For any professional, I don’t think this is a healthy environment to work in. For a professional working in a creative environment, it threatens to kill your work. You can never do great work with fear playing out in the background.

You can’t get rid of fear. What you can do is find paths to combat it. One of these paths or techniques is creating a personal brand. A personal brand can help to create a clear line between you and your work. Through a brand, you can begin to build a persona that fits the professional that you want to be. Through personal branding, you can cut your personal emotions and fears from your work. That doesn’t mean you have to completely change who you are when you’re at work, but with a brand, you can start to get in the mindset that, between 9 – 5, you’re the professional, not the ‘self’.

You can build that professional up to be whoever you want it to be. Think of yourself as an actor. Ricky Gervais looks like David Brent, sounds like him, and shares many of the same mannerisms. But, Ricky Gervais isn’t David Brent. You can take this same approach to your work through a brand. If you can do that, I find it much easier to deal with the fear, because I immediately drop a lot of baggage. It’s not me in the firing line, it’s Curley (as a brand). My website says it, my writing says it, my email has the brand, my business cards, stationary, etc. I can work without fear. It doesn’t bother me if someone rejects or criticises Curley’s work. I can look at that criticism objectively, decipher anything constructive, and move on. I can also get closer to selling my services objectively too.

Come 6pm when I’m done, I can leave everything in the office. Curley is done working for the day, now I as Liam, as the real me, can spend time with my family and not dwell on any negatives from the day. Putting all the marketing benefits of branding aside, that feeling alone is worth the investment in a personal brand.

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