Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: personal branding

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian IT Contractors relating to personal branding.

Does Calling Yourself a ‘Freelancer’ Hold You Back?

This post by Susan Johnston Taylor first appeared on the Freshbooks Blog on September 28th, 2016

Does Calling Yourself a ‘Freelancer’ Hold You Back? One of the perks of freelancing is choosing your own title. So, what exactly should you call yourself? A freelancer, an entrepreneur, a small business-owner, something else?

In my experience, solopreneurs who choose not to self-identify as freelancers tend to fall into one of two main camps. The first camp chooses some other title to post on social media, print on their business cards and use in their elevator pitch (for instance, “independent web developer,” “creative director for hire” or “entrepreneurial journalist”).

Or they set up a business (for instance, “Sam Smith Media, LLC” or “The Red Pen Unlimited”) officially or unofficially that de-emphasizes their solo status and allows them to call themselves the owner, CEO or similar. In that case, maybe they plan on eventually scaling up to include others or they want to give the impression of being a larger company so they can attract bigger clients.

Here’s a look at the advantages and disadvantages of calling yourself a freelancer.

Advantages of the ‘Freelancer’ Title

Clarity

In certain circles, people will know immediately what you’re all about if you call yourself a freelance web designer or a freelance copywriter. They may not understand what you mean by a “web design ninja” or an “independent content marketing strategist.” That’s especially true of LinkedIn profiles. No client or employer searches LinkedIn for people with cutesy or creative titles like “copywriting maven” or “SEO guru,” so in that context, you’d want more a straightforward professional title that makes it clear what you do.

Camaraderie

Freelancers are a pretty rad tribe of free-thinking, creative people. Self-identifying as a freelancer means you’re part of that community and gives you the ability to tap into the collective wisdom of the tribe through online forums, in-person events and the like. Of course there are also forums and networking events for people who self-identify as solopreneurs or small business-owners, but freelancers tend to share some similarities that they may not share with the broader community of small business-owners who have brick and mortar locations or employees to manage.

Disadvantages of the ‘Freelancer’ Title

Lack of Respect

Alas, some clients just don’t respect freelancers. They may pay their freelancers late (or not at all) or email them at all hours of the day or night assuming the freelancer must have nothing better to do than wait at the client’s beck and call. Calling yourself something other than a freelancer could help establish yourself as a legitimate business entity deserving of greater respect.

Negative Associations

The term can have negative stereotypes for those who assume that a freelancer is someone who couldn’t hack it in the corporate world or who loafs around in pajamas watching daytime soap operas. For most freelancers that isn’t the case, but using a term other than freelancer could help bypass some of these misperceptions and position yourself as a bona fide professional.

Self-Perception

Aside from how others treat you, calling yourself a small business-owner or a solopreneur could also shape the way you think about your own work. If you view freelancing as a casual thing you do in between full-time jobs, you may not behave like a business or charge what you’re worth. But if you think of yourself as a business, then you’re more apt to get agreements in writing, send professional-looking invoices and take other steps that establish you as a business.

Possible Limitations

Some creative professionals grow from freelancing on their own to subcontracting work to others or even creating a virtual digital agency with multiple contractors or employees. If you see yourself as a digital agency of one, then that could create a smoother transition into a larger business in the future. Branding yourself as something other than a freelancer means you won’t have to rebrand when you decide to expand or change how you think about and describe your work. Of course, scaling up isn’t for everyone. Some freelancers are happy to remain a company of one.

Distancing Yourself from Your Work

Some solopreneurs choose to incorporate as a business to provide an extra layer of protection in case there’s a legal dispute around their work. Also, some freelancers define themselves by the success or failure of their work (an unhealthy, but all too common mindset). Using a business name other than your own name could also have the psychological benefit of reminding you that you are not interchangeable with your work.

In my case, I vary my word choice depending on the context. If I meet fellow freelancer, I’m apt to self-identify as a freelancer as well so that we can find common ground. If I’m hobnobbing with other solopreneurs, I might self-identify with that group. Ultimately, I think behaving like a business-owner is more important than what you call yourself.

About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter @UrbanMuseWriter.

 

100 Web Design Tools that Anyone Can Use (Infographic)

Personal branding should never be taken lightly by any IT professional. Depending on your region and your skill, there are often hundreds of other independent contractors out there who you compete against for work. You need to stand out to recruiters and employment agencies as their top choice and, when you interview with a recruiter or client, you need to leave the best impression. One element of personal branding that we’ve discussed throughout the Talent Development Centre is your online presence and, more specifically, creating a personal website.

To create the perfect personal brand for yourself as an independent IT contractor, you may want a specific look and feel on your website. Unless you’re a designer or find the perfect template, that exact image could be tricky to attain. Instead, have a look at this infographic from Illustrio which gives dozens of  helpful tools (some even free) that will help you design the perfect website.

100 Web Design Tools that Anyone Can Use (Infographic)

The Biggest Business Website Fails and How to Fix Them

This post by Susan Johnston Taylor was originally published on the Freshbooks Blog on July 19, 2016

The Biggest Business Website Fails and How to Fix ThemNowadays customers expect small businesses—everything from solo practitioners to mom and pop contracting companies—to have an online presence. With free and inexpensive tools available online, you don’t need to be a website wizard to set one up.

Despite the relative ease of setting up a website, there are several potential pitfalls that could turn away customers rather than draw them in—by “draw them in,” we mean drive business conversions from your mere online presence. Here’s a look at several business website faux pas, along with tips on how to fix them.

It’s Jargon-Heavy

Some businesses use very technical language or industry jargon to describe themselves and what they do. Avoid this temptation and keep the language as simple and digestible as possible. Instead of saying “We leverage industry-leading, best-in-class pest-mitigation techniques,” choose simpler language like “We’ll rid your home of ants, cockroaches and other pests.” The latter also focuses on the benefits the customer will enjoy: a pest-free home!

It has the Wrong Focus

Your website shouldn’t just trumpet your accomplishments and certifications; it should demonstrate how you can help your potential customers. Rather than focusing on your extensive list of credentials, focus on the people-aspect of your business.

What are their pain points? What unique benefits can you offer that will make their lives easier or better? How can you speak their language and show that you understand their needs?

It’s Missing a Call-to-Action

Don’t make site visitors guess what they should do next; give them clear instructions with an obvious call to action button or hyperlinked text. For instance, encourage them to download your free ebook, book a free consultation or contact you for more information. Without these prompts, your potential customers won’t be prompted to move forward with your services, and you won’t get the business conversions you’re looking for.

It’s Not Mobile-Friendly

The number of global mobile users now surpasses the number of desktop users, according to comScore. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you could be missing out on potential business. If you have animation, large images that contain text or a site navigation that isn’t responsive on mobile phones and tablets, that can frustrate potential customers. Particularly in today’s mobile-driven world, you should have a mobile-first approach when building your website.

It has a Confusing User-Experience

Your site’s navigation should make it easy for users to find what they need, whether it’s a list of services, business hours, staff bios or contact pages—all within a few intuitive clicks. If it’s too hard to contact you, they’ll be apt to look elsewhere and you can lose their business.

Consider including a contact page as part of your site’s primary navigation and posting your phone number in a prominent place on every single page (the footer of the web page is typically where your traffic will look to for site navigation). If you provide useful and accessible information, it can also reduce the number of phone calls asking for basics like business hours or whether you provide a certain service.

It has Looping Background Music

Websites that start playing music automatically (and non-stop) as soon as you load the page can annoy your customers. They may be browsing your site at work or another place where loud, unexpected music is disruptive. In addition, added features—like music—can lead to slower loading times throughout your website. So instead of using music to set the mood, visually capture your audience instead. Choose images, fonts and colors to illustrate your desired brand and vibe.

It has Poor Image Quality

Blurry or pixelated images scream amateur hour. Smartphone cameras have come a long way, but if you still can’t get high enough resolution images, consider investing the money in professional photography or at least locating some royalty-free stock images for your site. And if you decide to take your own photography, images taken on a smartphone are typically suitable enough for website quality.

It has a Hard-to-Read Typeface

You want your site’s text to be readable on desktop or mobile so visitors can easily gather the information they need. Dark text on a light background is generally easiest to read, while light text on a dark background can prove trickier. Colors can display differently on varying devices depending on their screen settings, so aim for contrast. Different shades of the same color (for instance, a light pink background with darker pink text) may not read as well. If your traffic is distracted by your font style and color from the get-go, they may not even give your services a chance.

It’s Visually Cluttered

Big blocks of text and lots of images can overwhelm website visitors and detract them from your content. Use subheadings and bullet points as appropriate to make your text more readable and easy-to-follow. Also, include white space to give your text and images room to breathe. White space around your call-to-actions can also help them stand out. Here are instructions on finding your site’s text/HTML ratio.

It has an Outdated Template

Make sure you update your website on a regular basis. If customers come to your site in April and you still have a banner ad for a holiday sale, it doesn’t leave the best first impression. Make a more positive impression by regularly updating your website and removing any time-sensitive promotions as appropriate.

Also, keep an eye out for broken links. If you link to a vendor who goes out of business or you change the navigation on your own site, ensure you remove old links so that visitors won’t be redirected to a 404 page.

By keeping your target customers’ needs in mind and providing a good online user experience, your website will make a strong impression for your business and will allow customers to look up your information anytime, anywhere.

About the Author: Freelance journalist Susan Johnston Taylor covers entrepreneurship, small business and lifestyle for publications including The Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and FastCompany.com. Follow her on Twitter@UrbanMuseWriter.

Tips for Women in IT to Appear More Confident (Video)

There is no argument that female independent contractors working in technology face more challenges than their male counterparts. From the loneliness of being a minority to the proven pay gaps, IT is not an easy industry for women. There are many theories as to why this could be, none of which we’ll discuss in today’s post. Instead, we’re going to help minimize one challenge by sharing some advice to help female IT leaders improve their communication.

This helpful video we found from Forbes points out body language mistakes that some women make. Specifically, it provides four tips to help a female IT contractor appear more credible, powerful and confident, either when meeting with a recruiter, discussing business with a client, or leading a team through a project.

Never Say These 6 Words in an Interview (Video)

Independent IT contractors spend a lot of time in interviews — with clients, with recruiters, with end-users — and each of these interviews are often when you’ll set a first impression. Due to the high-pressure nature of them, especially job interviews, we tend to use vocabulary that comes easily and naturally to us. This is when words sneak into our sentences that affect how a listener perceives us.

It takes intensive practice and comfort to avoid all stutters and small miscommunications, but this video from BI Success suggests 6 words to start eliminating in your vocabulary which will make you sound smarter. This is not only great advice for job interviews, but also for your everyday professional life.

Build Your Reputation by Commenting Online

This post by Mark Swartz was originally featured on Monster’s Career Advice blog

Build Your Reputation by Commenting OnlineYou have knowledge to share and want to build your professional reputation. Except writing lengthy online posts isn’t your strong suit. So creating a blog probably isn’t right for you.

How then to share your insights and opinions in short bursts? Easy. By commenting on other people’s posts. It’s a dependable way to get your name out there.

Commenting could become an integral part of your career social media strategy. Find the right outlets and watch as your profile rises.

Reasons To Share Your Knowledge And Opinions Online

You may already have a social media routine for building your personal brand. Or you might just be getting started. Either way you should consider being a commenter.

By making brief, perceptive remarks, then attaching your name to all your posts, a variety of readers will come to associate you with interesting content. Your entries may be locatable by search engines. Plus along the way you’ll meet new online networking contacts.

Comments Should Be Concise

As a commenter, you’ll be responding to other people’s posts by adding your own take. Each entry you create could expand on the poster’s content or give your opinion on the subject.

Comments are usually short. Anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph is the norm. If you go longer than that on a regular basis, edit down (or maybe start a blog of your own).

Categories of Outlets For Commenting

There are two primary categories of outlets for posting comments. One is on blogs by other people, groups or organizations related to your field of specialty. The other is on similarly related discussion forums and message boards.

Blogs are periodical. Entries are published either every day, every couple of days, or less frequently. Normally they might attract several replies if any. The more popular blogs can get dozens of responses to new posts.

Discussion forums and message boards work another way. They allow people to create “discussion threads” based on particular topics. Sometimes no one contributes to a new thread. Or over 100 replies and a dozen sub-threads could get posted.

Where To Find Commenting Outlets

For blogs and forums/boards in your profession or industry, start with your industry or trade association. They usually provide space for commenting. However you often need to be a paid-up member of the organization to participate.

Don’t fret if you aren’t. Professional forums can be found on the big social media sites. Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, host “Groups” oriented to all kinds of professionals. Google and Yahoo host varied Groups as well. Joining is free. A group may be open to the public, or require joining first.

In addition there are search engines that track blogs and online discussions. Among the more popular ones are boardreader.com and omgili.com. Use them to locate outlets that have pertinent topics.

Some Do’s And Don’ts Of Commenting

Always keep in mind that what you write reflects on your personal brand. Also ask yourself this: do you hinder of help your company’s brand? Employers may see your comments and judge you accordingly.

Don’t rush in and post before you’ve surveyed the landscape. What style are other commenters adopting? How many words are they using when they reply?

Your Insights And Opinions Matter

You needn’t be a noted thought leader to comment. What readers look for is stimulating feedback. As long as you refrain from unnecessary controversy, and are adept at using Spellcheck, you can begin.

Commenting can help you get known as a Subject Matter Expert (SME). Why should this matter to you? Because when it comes to online job networking, employers consistently seek out SME’s!

The Importance of Certifications for IT Professionals

Brendhan Malone By Brendhan Malone,
Vice-President, Central Canada at Eagle

The Importance of Certifications for IT ProfessionalsI recently came across an article from Global Knowledge listing the 15 Top-Paying Certifications for 2016. It brings some very good discussion points to light.  Should we certify? What are the most marketable certifications?  What certifications look to have future relevance?  The article is especially useful as it ties a monetary figure to each certification.  Although many other variables exist in that figure, it gives us a good idea of the relevance and demand of the skill set and certification.

To certify or not to certify… that is the question

The answer in most cases is yes, yes, and yes.  This is true for both full-time IT professionals as well as independent contractors.

For independents contractors, the goal is for your consulting business is to be seen in the marketplace as a trusted partner.  Certifications go a long way in establishing credibility in your business offering. We hear the term “building your brand” often in today’s business environment.  Part of any strategy of building your brand is building trust in your capabilities through experience, references, and… certifications. Being current and up-to-date in your certifications shows that you, as an independent contractor, are aware of the current and relevant technologies, and that you are invested in being as up-to-date as possible in the ever changing marketplace.

For full-time resources, it is absolutely critical that prospective or current employers know that YOU are invested in your career and advancement of your skills. A mistake employees often make is that they are waiting or expecting their employer to initiate skill development, training and certification discussion.  While some employers do a better job than others with professional development, the onus is on YOU to initiate these discussions and formulate a strategy for development.

So which certification is right for you?

The answer to that question lies in your area of expertise, but the list in the article referenced above can surely help you see your best options. One certification that I did not see on the list, and perhaps it is because its popularity has been more recent, is that of a Certified Scrum Master.  Thousands of companies are moving to an Agile or Agile-based methodology and this certification becomes more valuable by the day.  For more information on the Scrum certification, have a look at Scrum Alliance and the Agile Advice blog.

Do you have any certifications or are you working towards one right now? Do you have any recommendations for a new IT contractor looking to improve their competitiveness? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

3 Key Phases of Building a Personal Brand

This article by Sarah Green original appeared on the .Me blog on October 16, 2015

3 Key Phases of Building a Personal BrandA brand can be anything, a single letter, a word, an idea, a symbol, a mix of colors, a sound, a name, a person. A brand can also be something that is not so clear and tangible, like respect and reputation. The latter may particularly relate to professionals, who aim to build a recognizable name for themselves in order to improve their career prospects and promote their skills.

If you feel you belong to this group, you need to understand the essences of brand building and the associated phases that translate into discovering, creating, and maintaining a successful personal brand.

  1. Discovering who you really are

The first phase of creating a personal brand is discovering who you are underneath (all the other brands you are wearing). In order to do that, you need to try and strip yourself of all subjectivity, put your ego on hold, and do a realistic self-assessment. The starting point of this process is indeed self-awareness. Even the ancient Chinese philosopher and poet, Lao Tze knew the importance of this:

At the center of your being you have the answer: you know who you are and you know what you want.

Try to delve into the deepest corners of your persona and uncover what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, and what truly motivates you to push forward. Put all these things on paper, connect the dots, and you’ll get the most honest picture of who you really are and which sides of you would help nudge your career in the right direction.

  1. Having a clear Vision of what your future Brand should be

Once you have rediscovered yourself, you need to organize your thoughts, plans and skills to create a clear picture, a vision, of what your brand should represent and how it will separate you from everyone else on the market. This phase is rather important as during this stage you need to realize what you can uniquely bring to the table and in what way your brand will stand out from the crowd. And the crowd is HUGE.

The flip side is realizing how exactly you want to be perceived by others. Remember, you are merely a creator of your brand, it is up to the others to make it happen. You need to create your own vision, that vision needs to turn into a mission, and finally, with a lot of hard work and a little help from Lady Luck, that mission will turn into a successful brand.

Of course, you also need a well-organized plan. This is when you will want to think both big and small picture, so make sure you create a long-term vision but also develop those little steps which will help you get there. According to Neil Patel and Aaron Agius, the authors of The Complete Guide to Building your Personal Brand:

The foundation of personal branding rests on authenticity, the ability to tap into your genuine, humble, and individual human qualities from which your identity, personality, and character stem.

Wise words coming from wise men.

  1. Go out there and stay Visible

The marketing phase of building your personal brand is crucial once its foundations have been set. Yet, maintaining a successful personal brand is perhaps even trickier and more difficult than creating one.

In order to stay in the spotlight you need to do everything in your power to increase your visibility in your given field. Make sure you continue to develop your brand by attending industry conferences and by participating in as many professional forums as you can. Grow. Start your own blog, choose a remarkable name for it and widen your professional network through writing articles or blogs about your skills and your expertise.

What steps have you taken to build your personal brand?  Share your experience in the comments below.

Freelancing 101: Professional Networking Made Easy (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a post originally published by Justine Smith on the FreshBooks Blog August 19, 2015

Freelancing 101: Professional Networking Made Easy (Part 2)Imagine waking up one morning, checking your email and finding several new leads from interested prospects. Now, imagine experiencing that every morning.

How can this happen? Through the power of professional networking.

When you take the time to build a strong network, that investment will bring results. People start seeing you as an expert and will come to you for services, whether you’re a writer, designer or massage therapist.

But this only happens through successful networking. A strong strategy is a must for keeping you and your business top-of-mind when new opportunities arise.

In the article below, you’ll find a few no-hassle, professional networking tips for freelancers. Use them to build your network, acquire new business and establish yourself as the go-to authority. Let’s dive in…

Craft a Comprehensive Marketing Toolkit

This toolkit will serve as your go-to resource when you land new leads during networking events. It’s essentially a pre-packaged form of sales collateral. Keep some copies in the car or carry some on-hand to make sure you never find yourself without your toolkit when the moment to exchange information strikes.

Ok, so what goes in this pre-packaged marketing toolkit?

Good question. You’ll find an array of choices for printed marketing materials. Some of these include:

  • Business cards
  • Post cards
  • Flyers
  • Booklets
  • Brochures
  • Calendars
  • Greeting Cards
  • Stickers
  • Newsletters

As a freelancer, you can use one or all of these items to creatively promote your business. But for the purpose of this package, try to keep things simple.

Business Cards

This is a no-brainer. Every professional at a networking event will carry a handful of business cards. In fact, you should too, above and beyond the ones you include in your networking toolkit. Then, when someone needs your number, just hand over your business card and set up a time to chat.

But what if a prospect wants to learn more about what you offer? When this happens, it’s time to hand over a bit more information. Your business card is your foundation, but let’s add to it a bit…

Brochures

In addition to the business card, include a brochure that highlights your services, capabilities and accomplishments. If you want, you can even take things a step further by offering a simple discount within the brochure.

When creating your brochure, keep these tips in mind:

  • Write to your target audience.
  • Share benefits, not just features.
  • Get a professional design.

Remember, you want to pass out this toolkit and let it do the selling for you. Do everything possible to create good, high-quality marketing materials.

One Miscellaneous Item

Round out your marketing toolkit with one of the materials left on the list above. This is a miscellaneous item by default, because different materials will work better or worse, depending on your industry.

For example, here are a few different ways you could use this third part of the package:

  • Music Teacher: Include a flyer that features an introductory discount for new students.
  • Writer: Use a newsletter to show off your writing skills.
  • Designer: Print a cool sticker that showcases your best design capabilities.

Once you have the package completed, it’s time to get out there and start building your professional network. Don’t be afraid – everybody gets nervous about networking, but preparation is the key. When you use this system, you’ll make the entire process as “no-hassle” as possible.