There are many intangible elements that differentiate one company from another. Sure, products and services vary, but often, the deciding factor on which shoe you’re going to buy, which airline you’re going to fly, or which soda you’re going to drink comes down to the company’s branding.
The same goes for your side project. Branding can involve your project’s visual identity, the way you advertise and market yourself, and your tone of voice and professional demeanor, but in the end, it’s all a means of telling your story and connecting to clients, collaborators, and investors on a broader, if not emotional, level.
While establishing a cohesive brand for your side business can help you grow your venture into a larger, more lucrative endeavor, it’s not for everyone.
Below, we sort through the pros and cons of devoting your time and energy to branding your side hustle.
When branding your freelance business makes sense
Below, we outline three important factors to consider when branding your side hustle: awareness, trust, and connectivity.
1. Grow awareness around your work
One major reason companies devote so much time and attention to their brand is the concept of brand awareness, or the idea that if people know your company and associate positive thoughts with it, they are more likely to do business with you. You can’t buy a product—or use a service—if you’ve never heard of it. In fact, a Nielson study found that 60% of consumers would rather buy a new product from a brand they already know than switch to a new brand.
2. Increase legitimacy and trust
Clients and collaborators are more likely to work with someone who has a professional and cohesive website, business card, social media channels, or other marketing initiatives than someone whose branding feels less-than-trustworthy. A 2019 study published in the Current Journal of Applied Science and Technology found that “brand trust is positively and significantly related to brand commitment,”—i.e. a credible and dependable brand attracts more business.
3. Connect to clients better
At its core, branding is storytelling. In 2021, a group of researchers published a study in the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing that links this kind of business storytelling to engagement, and ultimately revenue. “Story content is positively related to…the personal connection an individual feels toward a firm’s products,” the study says. “Personal connection is essential to customer engagement.”
When branding your freelance business makes less sense
In contrast, here are three considerations when deciding whether it's worthwhile to brand your side business: costs, longevity, and privacy.
1. Time, energy, and costs
While crafting a website, every detail matters.
"Look realistically at the time, effort, and money you can dedicate to creating your brand before deciding to move forward."
Designing a logo, printing business cards, recording podcast episodes, and managing social media strategies can all help your side project flourish, it also takes a lot of time, uses lots of creative energy, and can get expensive.
Look realistically at the time, effort, and money you can dedicate to creating your brand before deciding to move forward.
Not all side projects are meant to last forever. Perhaps you’ll devote enough time and energy to your hustle to turn it into a full-time gig, or maybe you’ll let it go, moving on to other, more exciting endeavors. If you’re in the early stages of launching your side project, it might not be worth expending the energy to develop a brand.
Branding involves putting yourself out there. And while you can decide how much you want to center your brand around yourself as a person, committing to a brand means relinquishing at least a little bit of digital anonymity.
If this gives you pause, you might not be ready to commit to fully branding your side business.
How to brand your freelance business
Even if you’re not ready to commit to fully branding your business, there are a few low-lift measures you can take to set your side project apart from the others on the market. We outline three of them below.
1. Understand your goals—and be able to verbalize them
Building any brand starts with understanding who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to lose sight of your objectives and purpose, especially when you’re a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur taking on a lot of work and trying to carve out your niche. Gather your mission into a succinct and direct personal branding statement. Hone your elevator pitch. If you keep your mission top of mind, potential clients and collaborators will, too.
2. Create consistency
Creating a clean and distinct logo to use on your website, emails, and social media pages is a sure-fire way to keep your branding consistent, but if you’re not ready to team up with a graphic designer or print out business cards, you should still take the little steps to keep your brand’s image steady.
Hone your brand’s voice and use it in all professional correspondences. Use the same font and color scheme across your website, portfolio, and social media profiles—studies have shown that a distinct color palette can increase brand recognition by 80%. A 2021 report by publishing software Marq found that consistent branding can increase revenue by 10–20%.
3. Do your research
Every person to ever create something—artists, writers, founders, front-end developers—has been inspired by someone else, and developing a brand is no exception.
Research others in your field to see what their brands look like. What do you like about them? What would you do differently? Research is also a great way to get a feel for what makes you different: a key aspect to understand as you hone your project’s identity. These steps will prepare you to fully brand your project when—and if—the time comes.
Authenticity is key when branding—or not branding—your business.
At the end of the day, your business and your brand should be a reflection of you and the work you’re doing. According to a 2019 survey, roughly 90% of consumers say they heavily consider authenticity when deciding which businesses to support.
Whether you’re diving head first into your brand identity or just dipping your toe in, if you tell your story authentically and consistently, others will listen.