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Branding Tips for Creative Freelancers

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The brand word gets thrown around too much. What does it actually mean when you’re a freelancer in creative work? If you’re a photographer, art director, graphic designer, video producer or editor, how do you establish your brand versus that of other folks who use the same tools you do and have similar skills?

Why You Think People Hire You

Most freelancers promote themselves with the skills they think people are looking for. Their websites show software mastered and lists of equipment owned. That’s fine. But this is just the basics. Loads of your competitors have these skills. What clients want to know is what PROBLEMS you can solve for them. So to properly brand and sell yourself, you need to consider what sets you apart.

Why People Actually Hire You

When pitching yourself, describe the personal attributes and abilities that make you a good problem-solver. It might be your positive attitude, your communications skills, your ability to work with challenging personalities, or your ability to lead a team. This is your unique brand value, and that’s what you need to be promoting!

What About My Portfolio?

More and more, prospective clients want me to show them a video that is pretty much like what they want to hire me to produce. This is a tricky problem. I’d love to show them my skills as a director and concept creator for a wide range of productions. But they might not understand how a 5-minute video about a hospital is relevant to their 1-minute opener for a corporate event. So I post custom links to Vimeo–sometimes even password protected–so they can see just the  projects that connect to the problem they want to solve. And I sometimes have to generate a set of brief storyboards to convey my concept for their project. More on that in a future post!

For more about branding, follow my tweets @brandbuzz or join me at NABShow where I’ll be speaking about Essential Business Skills for Freelancers at Post/ProductionWorldatNAB

Freelancer Tips Amy DeLouise

 

 

 

 

Handling Disgruntled Customers

Oakes Red - IMGP1335 s.cThere are three kinds of unhappy customers. The ones who let you know about the problem right away. The ones who tell other people they are unhappy, but avoid telling you directly.  And the ones who are mostly happy customers and have only one issue they are unhappy about, but this is the only thing they communicate about with you, so it seems like a much larger problem.  It’s really important to discern which kind of customer you are dealing with before you can help them.  And especially in these days of social media, when a problem that is small can become exponentially larger due to word of mouth.

Learn About the Problem

If you are hearing about the problem from someone other than the customer, or through a group venue such as social media, seek out the customer to discuss the issue directly and privately. You can still make some kind of public response when all is resolved, but don’t duke things out on your Facebook page.

Really listening is key. This means a willingness to see the issue from their perspective and problem-solve in a way that ensures they will still be your customer. Okay, in fairness there will be rare instances in which you need to “fire” your own customer because, as it turns out, their goals and your mission/brand promise actually just don’t fit. But this is a rare instance. More often than not, a disgruntled customer will become less frustrated just through knowing you understand their pain.  By listening you can also discern if this is a generally happy customer (and not over-react) or if there is a big issue you need to address with a full-court press. And when you listen, be sure to share with colleagues (as appropriate, depending on sensitivity) within your organization so they understand your brand values when it comes to problem-solving.

Find a Solution

The worst thing you can do to a customer is make them find their own solution. This happened to me recently with the Smithsonian Institution, an organization of which I’m highly supportive. My family joined about a year ago because we live in Washington, DC and visit the museums regularly.  We received the magazine immediately but never got the membership card, so we had to sign in at the information desk every time we went to a museum—several times a month–for a “temporary card” in order to enjoy our membership benefits. This got tedious, and yet no one suggested how we could solve our problem and get a permanent card.  Finally, one day I walked to the Smithsonian’s main offices to ask for help. I was sent to another building. Then from that building, back to the first one. And so on. It was starting to look like a Marx brothers movie, but not as funny since I had kids in tow. Finally, a woman at the main office handed me a sticky note and said “call this 800 number and maybe they can help you.”  I recently spoke to a helpful customer service rep there and we’ll wait to see what happens.

Communicating About Problem-Solving

A lot of organizations do a tremendous job of communicating about their mission, their brand values and their goals, but do a terrible job of telling customers about how they solve problems. In the more customer-driven environment of today’s economy, customers and prospective customers want to know that you can solve their problems, even if they don’t have any right now.

You can communicate about your problem-solving in a number of ways. It’s a great blog topic. It’s worthy of a line or two in your monthly e-mail or memo to customers. It’s even worthy of mention to your own staff, so they understand a model of successful problem-solving. Do you have a good example of communicating around problem-solving in your organization? Or a problem-solving disaster? Please share…

Does Your Board Support Your Brand?

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This past week I spoke on a teleconference workshop about tools to engage boards to supporBarn in the Palouse- s.ct fundraising auctions. Many of the 50+ organizations who signed up indicated that their board members are not fully engaged in outreach events and fundraising. Does this mean they have the wrong board members? Do they need to define roles and expectations?  Or do board members actually need some training? I find it’s a bit of each. Whether you are a for-profit or nonprofit, your Board of Directors is a critical component of how you connect to the communities and constituencies you serve. They need to be supporting your brand in multiple ways. How can you help them do this?

Board members need to know their financial role.

As we all know from the recent financial meltdown, governing boards were blamed for taking their eye off the ball. What are you doing to be sure your board knows its role and its responsibilities when it comes to fundraising and financial oversight?  Prospective board members should be clear on the requirements of their role. They need to know the hours of the commitment, the dollars they will be expected to give or raise, and how they can help you propel the mission.  They also need to feel comfortable with nonprofit financial statements, which can look very different than corporate ones.  New board members should have an orientation to remind them of their roles and help them with tools in the areas where they are the least comfortable (i.e. making an “ask” for your organization). Even experienced board members need refreshers, especially if you have an important event coming up or a major campaign.

Board members need to see the goalposts.

Board members need more than the annual report. They need specifics.  If you’re holding an auction, what is your fundraising goal? What happens if you don’t meet it?  What are your most important programs? What outcomes will determine your success?

Board members need to learn about your brand.

Board members are obviously committed volunteers, but sometimes they are connected to your organization through only one pathway (i.e. a child with a disease that you are trying to cure, a son at your school, as a professional member of your association, etc.)   They need to be briefed on the big picture about your brand promise to all of your “customers,” including the experience you promote for your donors, your staff and your other volunteers.  They need to be able to easily talk about your “elevator pitch” and connect it to their own experience with your organization.   Give them talking points. Let them practice on one another.  This way, your board members can be better—and more comfortable—cheerleaders.

Board members need recognition.

Board members need more than their names on the masthead. They need to be publicly thanked when they do a good job of supporting your mission. When involved board members receive thanks and recognition—whether it’s for a report well-researched or getting out more volunteers for your walkathon—then other volunteers are more inclined to give you their time, talents and money.

Engaging boards can be a challenge, but it’s one worth the effort. When they are part of a team with staff, the winner is your mission.  Do you have a good story to share about supporting boards? Please share it!

I Hate Website Contact Forms: A Dent in Your Brand

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I know, I’ve really avoided launching any blog posts with the words “I hate.”  But GF3, s.c.2this one really gets me, for some reason. In our brave new age of social media, increased transparency, and communications efficiency, those little forms that you get when you click “Contact Us” really bug me.

I recently went on a nonprofit website to find someone in the communications department I’d met at a party. I thought I’d do a simple click and send her a quick note. Instead, I got The Form of Doom.  This is a great nonprofit, doing great work, helping needy children all over the world. And I was stopped in my tracks. Suddenly their brand didn’t seem as good. I know, it’s not fair, but it didn’t.  Suddenly they seemed possibly elitist, or at least not friendly and not reachable.  If I were a donor, would I be thinking “hey, maybe there’s another nonprofit I can contact more easily”?  I don’t know, but I might.

Contact Us forms are the last vestige of Web .5 in a Web 2.0 world.  Originally, they were designed to “capture user information” and help protect executives new to email.  But now, they just seem like speed bumps—annoying and messing up my car.  It’s not like people can’t find you these days. I located the nonprofit communications executive I’d met through Linked In, where we happily connected, conversed and exchanged email addresses. But that was, like, six steps from how I should have found her with a simple link on her organization’s website.

Brands are affected by many customer experiences.  We build up our expectations of a brand, and then we expect all interactions with the brand to deliver on the “brand promise.”  When a communications transaction between entity and user does not meet the brand promise expectations, we are at a fork in the road and we may choose another brand instead.  Websites are no longer sign posts.  They are interactive communications tools with your current or prospective donors, customers or volunteers.  Check around and see if yours is welcoming them to your brand on every page, or if you still have a few of the old barriers around.

Know any other Brand Barriers or have a different view of Contact forms? Please share them!

Re-Branding Your Nonprofit

AIG CEO sunflower-1Edward M. Liddy recently admitted to Congress, “I think the AIG name is so thoroughly wounded and disgraced that we’re probably going to have to change it.” And so begins a re-branding process that starts with re-naming several subsidiary divisions, the way Philip Morris became “Altria.”

But how useful is re-branding if the underlying brand promise is still broken?

A true re-branding process can only be successful for two reasons, and often both exist: 1) the organization is delivering a different brand promise than what it is widely known for and needs to correct this mis-impression, or 2) the organization has decided to change–usually expand–its mission.

A Re-Brand Mini-Case Study

In the non-profit and public sector world there are many examples. A great re-branding example is Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland www.imaginationstage.org . Once known as the Bethesda Academy for the Performing Arts, the group founded by Bonnie Fogel in 1979 had a unique and much-needed focus on arts for children, including accessibility for deaf and disabled children. As the nonprofit expanded its offerings, encompassing original plays and musicals performed with and for children of all abilities, the “Academy” title seemed to no longer fit. This was in 2000, right about the time that the group was also outgrowing its two locations in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
So as part of a major re-visioning project, Bonnie led her organization through a challenging but ultimately rewarding fundraising and strategic planning effort that resulted in a custom-designed new home in downtown Bethesda–public transportation accessible–with a new name that fit the breadth of dynamic arts programming they provided for children: Imagination Stage. Today, the group reaches thousands of children through programming in schools, professional performances on its stages, classes and workshops and is embarking on expanding its reach further through new technologies.

What Comes First in a Re-Brand?

Re-branding is always an act of imagination. The question to ask if you want to re-brand is “will this propel our mission?”  Or, in the lingo of branding, “does it help us better deliver on our brand promise?”  In the case of AIG, the brand promise may still be broken.  So re-branding can only begin with internal restructuring–mending the cracks in the brand promise. Simply changing externals like name and logo won’t cut it.

For nonprofits, donors, volunteers and the public need to have confidence that you will provide the value they expect and deserve.  Here are three things to focus on in a re-brand:

1) programs and services: are they consistent with our mission/vision?

2) governance, strategic plan/fundraising plan, and staff-board relationship: do these support our programs and services?

3) externals: do our name/logo/tag line help people understand our mission, vision and value to our community?

So many organizations start a re-branding with the externals.  Starting on the inside first will help you pave the way to succeed.

Do you have a great re-branding story? Please share with us!