Defining you, the brand (Part 2 of 2)
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: May 6, 2008
How do you define and promote your own brand?
Photo by Kay Day at work, defining her brand!
When I first began to freelance, there really wasn't a lot of competition. But I lived in a small Southern state so that also meant a limited number of publishers. I made a list, targeting newspapers, magazines, trade associations and government agencies. I sent each a letter of introduction and followed that up with a phone call. With each contract sealed, I built a structure based almost entirely on customer service. What my editors needed I gave. I recall my mother's admission to the hospital for emergency surgery. I took my work to her room, set up my electric typewriter in the corner and met my deadlines in between helping her. The nurses thought I was nuts. My editors thought I was the next best thing to a Pulitzer Prize.
Despite giant leaps in technology, not much has changed. Most of the editors I work with now send me recurring assignments. My whole approach still centers on customer service. But I won't last long in this business if I depend exclusively on existing accounts. I still focus on marketing and promoting my brand. I'm not an expert on a particular topic, so I pitch my abilities in research, analysis and access to information. I might not be able to expound on the intricacies of inert ingredients in a generic drug, but I know exactly where to go to find an expert who can. But if I don't tell potential clients about my service, it's not likely they'll find me. If you take the advice from part 1 of our branding article, you've already come up with a written plan. It bears repeating this is key to achieving your goals.
Tools for branding you online
One of the most effective tools I use is my Web site; the second most effective is my personal blog. On my Web site I list some of the places where my work has appeared, along with a photo, bio and sample articles. In addition to that, I pay for a freelance marketplace listing at Media Bistro. After some trial attempts at blogging and experimenting with different hosts, I started my blog The US Report. The response has been very gratifying. One of my most stable and pleasurable accounts came to me because an editor liked to read one of my earlier blogs.
There's an underutilized tool for bloggers or anyone who has a website. Google Webmaster Tools service provides more information than you can possibly absorb, but even applying the basics to your site will result in your content showing up more often in searches. The service is free. There are simple codes you can apply to your header and there's a simple verification process as well. Spend some time exploring this service because you will certainly see benefits. Reading posts at the Google webmaster help group alone is equivalent to a course in online media.
If you blog, posting daily content, at least on weekdays, is a must. Other tools can also help gain exposure for your site. Among them: widgets like Sphere and Add Me, participating in social communities, reading marketing blogs, and joining a professional writers' organization. Widgets are fairly simple. You go to a site, copy some code provided, and paste it into your own pages. There are hundreds of widgets, so you have to find what's best for you. Sphere and Add Me have served my own purposes very well. If a reader clicks on the widget icon, they may submit my content to a community like DIGG or email it to their friends.
Other branding strategies
I haven't relied completely on the Web, however. For my books, I used printed bookmarks and postcards announcing their release. If I ate at a restaurant or dropped by a coffee shop, I left a bookmark on the table. Shameless, maybe, but it's effective and cheap. If I have an important event, I send a news release. I spent many hours searching the Web to build my own media contact list, but on occasion I've used services such as PR Newswire. I've come to know a few people who like my writing via my blogs. Those readers have sent many book buyers and readers my way. I also try to answer every email, and many of those come from aspiring writers. Some slip through the cracks but I do answer most even if my response comes weeks after the initial email shows up in my inbox. I remember what it was like to be a newbie; that memory keeps me humble.
I also notify arts organizations, community and other civic organizations when I'm doing an event or publishing an article related to their field of interest. You'd be amazed how appreciative a wildlife agency is when you write an article about the endangered Florida panther or the importance of protecting our rivers. These groups may cite or even link to your related content.
Remember to mention your clients
Another tactic I employ stems largely from practicality. When I speak or write, I also make people aware of what my clients offer. I always do this with full disclosure. But if I'm speaking to a group of writers as I frequently do, it makes sense to tell them about The Writer. If I'm addressing a group of freelancers who want to learn more about marketing, I point them to Beneath the Brand where there's tons of free information about all matters related to marketing and advertising. If I want to sell a client on my reporting skills, I'd include work done for wire services agencies and daily newspapers like The Florida Times-Union. If I want to point someone to the most objective and widely respected national news site I know, I suggest they read The Christian Science Monitor. Your clients are a reflection of your talents and skills. By sharing their stories with others, you are enhancing the benefits you provide the clients.
Compared to my early years in freelancing, the competition is very stiff today. Some days it seems everyone wants to be a writer, or at the least, everyone wants to be able to call herself a writer. But most successful writers learn a secret early on. Compete with yourself, and do that by increasing the quality of your services, by comparing past and future services, and by staying on top of what's happening in your profession. If you do that, some simple marketing efforts will suffice, and your brand will gain as much-or as little-recognition as you are willing to work for.
Defining your brand (Web Savvy) Pt. 1
Google Webmaster Tools
Beneath the Brand
American Society of Journalists and Authors
- May 6, 2008
In our next Web Savvy, we take you into the wild and sometimes wacky world of blogging. What blog host best suits your needs? How do you deal with angry commenters? How much time does it take to be a pro blogger? Join us for answers to these questions and more.