As a freelancer and small business owner, your livelihood is built on relationships. You tend to meet clients through word of mouth and referrals, two places where first impressions matter. It’s natural that you might censor your controversial opinions and strong stances to avoid dividing your prospective client base.
But what if speaking your mind could actually help you grow your business? Through my experience as a copywriter and consultant, I’ve learned what kind of messaging works and what has brands treading water.
What works is authenticity.
The Magic of Customer Alignment
Think about a favorite client or two that you’ve had. Why did you love working with them so much? Because of their industry? The paycheck?
Probably not. For freelancers driven by impact, our favorite clients typically stand out because the process is enjoyable. They respect our expertise and work with us in a way that’s satisfying. In short, they share our values.
We’ve been taught that our target audience consists of people who have a need that our business addresses and are willing to pay for it. While that’s true, I’d like to propose an addendum: Your target audience consists of people who have a need that your business addresses, who are willing to pay for it, and who share your values.
When you work with clients whose values align with yours (or if you prefer business speak, when you achieve customer alignment), the entire process of working together is transformed. You and your client have a deeper connection, which facilitates you doing better work. You both are deeply satisfied by the experience and the end results. They adore you so much that they refer you to their like-minded connections. Suddenly, your business is growing and you exclusively serve clients like them. You feel fulfilled in your work rather than drained.
This is the dream scenario for a freelancer, and I think it’s possible for everyone. The key is communicating authentically so you can attract your ideal clients.
Why Brand Authenticity Matters for Freelancers
We connect with people most when they’re being their authentic selves—we identify with the challenges, vulnerabilities, and flaws. Think about your favorite character in a book or TV show. Why do you love them? Usually it’s because we see a bit of ourselves, and usually what we see is some imperfection.
This same idea applies to brands. By showing up authentically in your brand, you offer your audience a point of connection. For some people, that means incorporating self-deprecating humor and levity into their messaging. For others, it means losing the Instagram-ready impression of perfection and getting real. However you do it, communicating with authenticity in your business is far easier said than done for the same reasons it’s effective: it’s vulnerable.
Brand authenticity is especially salient for freelancers because our work is grounded in personal relationships. This means our brands need to resemble people more than corporations. Plus, as solopreneurs, we are our business. People can tell if we’re not being true to ourselves.
This is not how we’ve been taught to market our businesses; this is not what Coca-Cola and Amazon are doing. That’s because what works for giant corporations doesn’t work for small businesses built on relationships. Demonstrating humanity does.
An Argument for Ruffling Feathers
If being authentic in your communication is dipping a toe in the water, sharing your opinions on controversial issues is diving in headfirst. Daunting as it might feel, this is exactly what your brand needs.
Being bold about your opinions allows your clients to self-select. The ones who agree will stick around—they may even double down on their support for you. The ones who disagree will find a reason to say goodbye, saving you time from discovering that they’re not a good fit.
This is where you get to exercise your power as a business owner. By declaring what’s important to you and empowering people who share the same beliefs, you have a say as to who succeeds.
For example, one of the values most central to my business is sustainability. I want to work with clients who are advocating for sustainable environmental solutions. On the homepage of my website, I list my values and sustainability is first. I’m a member of 1% for the Planet and have the logo in the footer of my site. Demonstrating my commitment to sustainability tells a fast fashion brand that we’re not a good fit before they even hit the contact button. That company doesn’t get the benefit of my products, services, or community.
On the other hand, a brand that values sustainability sees these things on my site and knows I’m an ally. They reach out and I take them on as a client. Not only do I work my tail off for them, but I also connect them with people in my community who can help them grow. They walk away from our interaction with messaging that helps them succeed and more talented folx in their corner. Our partnership has furthered their business, and in doing so, helped shape a sustainable future.