Gemma Church is ‘the freelance writer who gets tech’. A web development contractor and journalist, blogger and writer for the science and technology sectors. www.gemmakatechurch.com
As the contracting space gets filled with ever more highly skilled individuals, how can you stand out from the crowd?
Writing a killer CV and clocking up a raft of experience may not be enough to get the job offers rolling in. A personal brand widens the net so more companies understand who you are, what you do and why you’re the perfect fit for a job.
The premise of branding yourself can seem a little strange at first. Here are a few steps to help:
Who are you?
When I set up my science and tech writing business, the first few months were tough. My first website failed to explain who I was and why I was different. I was left floundering in a sea of low-paid and non-techie writing orders.
So, I shifted my focus and came up with the tagline "The freelance writer who gets tech”. When branding myself I identified my strengths, interests and, most importantly, my USP, which is that I’ve actually worked in the science and tech sectors that I write about.
Setting the tone of how you want to do business is very important, as Paul Allington, owner of software development house, The Code Guy, explained: "Everyone in business is nervous for the first time you go into a pitch or meet a client for the first time - every business has a different culture, and just like in normal life, you have to play to that culture. Trying to gauge this from a brand is a challenge if the brand is fairly generic, faceless and ‘corporate’”.
The most important premise is to be true to yourself, Paul said; "That’s how I came up with the brand I have – when I hand out a business card, whoever it goes to, it gets a smile, shoulders drop and you can see that initial nervous tension just fade away and suddenly you’re having a conversation with a person, not a suit. My brand is made up from three components – being a geek, never wearing a suit when doing business, and tea – lots of tea!”.
It’s obviously a formula that works as Paul was named "Freelancer of the Year” at this year’s IPSE awards. However, once I had identified my brand’s personality, it was time to find a designer to make sure that this came across in the visuals of my website and other media. I learned that consistency is key and I use the "freelance writer who gets tech” tagline in everything I do.
Who are you targeting?
The next step I took was to identify my target audience. I sat down and asked myself questions like: who do I want to connect with? A trick I learned is that the key component here was to look at my competitors, to see what they are doing well and identify any gaps in the market.
This is where I found a crossover with my writing and web development work. A staple requirement on most job specs is "good communication skills” - working as a freelance writer had given me plenty of measurable experience to demonstrate this point. It also added further skills to my CV - I was able to proofread and edit technical documents, or work as a link between the development and marketing teams, as an example.
This unusual mix of skills - a developer who is also a writer - made me stand out to the CIOs and IT leaders I had identified as my core audience.
What’s your plan?
Once I had a USP and a target audience, I needed to know how to connect the two? Word of mouth as a specialist IT freelancer was my strongest ally. That almost goes without saying in the contractor market (pardon the pun).
A strong social media presence is also important. For me, Facebook was a huge failure - it did not match my core audience and I quickly closed down my branded page. However, if you’re a Facebook developer, it’s an obvious route. LinkedIn and Twitter have been great ways for me to reach out, network and pitch for work though - you just need to try a few platforms and see which works best for you.
I realised that my I should try to write a blog on my website in order to improve my SEO and get people interested in me. I first found out which media sources my audience used, researched the types of content they provide and pitch ideas to editors. For example, I now write on a regular basis for a science publishing house, specialising in simulation software used in the engineering space. This has opened the doors to other simulation software companies who are looking for freelance technology writers. The work has snowballed, all because "I’m the freelance writer who gets tech”.
Once I had a personal brand, I knew it was vital to maintain consistency throughout and keep networking to drive engagement and interest in what I did. So I began to blog, tweet, post and comment on other market leader’s posts regularly to achieve this.
Your personal brand will become your calling card, and will also connect you with clients who are a natural fit to your way to working. Paul added: "I very early on recognised that I was far more successful in doing business with people when I was just me…not a suited version of me. The brand is what really helps with this – people know what to expect when they come for meetings, or when I’m there. No one even questions the fact that we’re all in odd socks and not wearing any shoes”.
"Some clients love coming for meetings as it’s an opportunity to leave their jacket and tie in the car and to come and have a relaxed chat. This is where I’m at my best, and it’s the brand that’s been created that facilitates that,” he added.
If you feel that now is a good time to make the move yourself, you can call our New Business Team on 01253 362062 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.