Trying to be all things to all people is never a good strategy as a freelancer.
But most of us are guilty of it.
It’s hardly surprising, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to work if you’re not sure where the next pay-check is coming from.
But if you keep doing this, you’re going to get into a negative spiral where you’re stuck accepting too much low quality work. You’ll have to burn yourself out to make ends meet.
Lots of freelancers fall into this trap, before eventually giving up.
The key to avoiding this trap lies in telling the right stories and in setting yourself apart from your competition.
Doing this will help you to attract more of the right work, and grow your reputation as an expert in your field.
So let’s go through five different ways you can stand out from the competition as a freelancer!
Step 1 – Develop your vision
First, spend some time identifying, crystallising and really focusing on the work that you should be trying to do.
It’s about finding your freelance sweet spot – this is the work that you should be doing – which is going to have a real purpose for you while earning you money as well.
This is the kind of work that is aligned with your values, that will make you feel tested and challenged.
But, how do you figure out and find this work? We recommend using a great framework called Ikigai.
Basically, if you can find work that you love, are good at, that the world needs and that people will pay you for, you’re onto a winner.
We have a full guide for freelancers on how to find your Ikigai that will help you to dive deeper into the framework and use it effectively.
Another good exercise here is to think about where you want to get to – what would be your dream job – and then trace the steps backwards to where you are now.
This will help you turn an intimidating, fuzzy dream into a series of actionable projects, steps and goals.
A lot of freelancers skip this because they want to just get straight into client work. But that only leads to getting lost in the day-to-day business of client work, without any direction or strategy to help grow your freelance business.
So spend a bit of time to develop your vision instead of rushing to get every possible project, and your future freelance business will thank you.
Step 2 – Set creative limitations
Creative limitations can be your best friend when you want to stand out and develop your own style.
When you start to consciously restrict yourself, you actually develop a unique style and people start recognising your work because of it – and start hiring you because this is exactly what they want.
A brilliant example of this is Jack Butcher, who set himself a limitation to creating only black and white graphics to visualise famous business quotes and advice.
He uses only one font, always a black background and white geometrical shapes to present the idea behind each quote.
His very minimal, simple design has become his signature and you can tell its his work without even reading his name.
Within months of consistently posting, his business skyrocketed. So setting those limitations in his work actually helped him expand and grow his business.
Another good example is Alli Koch, a muralist from Texas who is famous for her black and white floral designs.
Step 3 – Position your services as a solution to a problem
Every product and service solves a specific problem. Your freelance services are no exception.
So think about the actual benefits you bring to your clients.
Maybe you write copy for sales pages that helps them convert more visitors into customers – and therefore, earn more money.
Maybe you are a social media manager who runs social accounts for clients, making sure clients who don’t have enough time to do it themselves don’t miss out on getting exposure from social media.
Take your time here, and think about what problems you are solving for your clients with your services. It’s helpful to know who you want to attract here, and who’s your audience – you can read more about this here.
Step 4 – Become a storyteller to market your services
Stories resonate with people – this is how humans have transferred information, ideas and knowledge throughout generations for thousands of years.
The reason stories work so well is that they hook the brain, create curiosity, and hook people into what you are saying. They are the best way to communicate a lot of information quickly – even instantly.
Many freelancers miss out on the opportunity to use storytelling when they are selling.
But the story can help you stand out from the competition now and in the future.
Always remember, people work with people – and if you can communicate more genuinely, more authentically, and get more of your meaning across to people, then you don’t have to worry about the competition at all.
How to use storytelling to stand out as a freelancer
A great storytelling framework has been widely popularised in the business world thanks to Donald Miller, who explained it thoroughly in his book Building a Storybrand.
It works like this:
Imagine your client is a hero in a movie.
They are facing a problem – a challenge they struggle to overcome.
Fortunately, they then meet a guide who calls them to take action and overcome the challenge they face.
The guide is by their side, helping them to successfully overcome the trouble and get their happily ever after.
In this imaginary movie – you will play the role of the guide. It’s your services that help the hero (your client) take action, solve a problem and improve their lives.
Your job is to use your experience, authority and expertise to help the hero win the day!
If you look at films, you find this story structure everywhere.
Think, Frodo and Gandalf, Obi Van and Luke Skywalker.
Thinking this way helps you to make a key switch in perspective.
Loads of freelancers view and talk about themselves as heroes. But this isn’t interesting to your clients. They are busy, and hearing about how great you are is of no interest to them.
So make it about them, and how you can help them solve their problems.
Don’t forget to bring storytelling into how you communicate
You can use these ideas anywhere where you communicate. Aim to bring storytelling into how you talk, write and communicate.
You can use it in your marketing, outreach, freelance pitches – and anywhere else you communicate with clients.
In previous articles, we have explained how to use storytelling to craft the perfect pitch, and how to implement the framework to build a website that sells.
So dive deeper by checking out those articles, and of course, we highly recommend listening to Donald’s book on audible as well (you can get it for free here).
Following these steps will help you to build your reputation, sell yourself more effectively, and grow your freelance business by positioning yourself as an expert at what you do. We talk more about all of this in Freelance Bootcamp – my popular course designed to help you grow fast and earn a living doing work you love.