Does a freelancer really need a brand, identity and/or logo?
January 8, 2008 12:21 PM   Subscribe

This one's for the Mrs: As a successful freelancer in a creative industry (writing-ish), is it enough to have a decent website and nice business cards, or is it worth it to a hire a graphic designer to come up with a business "brand" or "identity" for you? (And what should this involve besides just a logo?)

From a quick glance around, this service seems to start in the $thousands. There are always higher levels to aspire to, but still, it ain’t chump change, and marketing/promotion for freelancers seems so amorphous (Do I need it? Did it help get me more/better work?) How can you tell if the payout will be – or was – worth the investment?
posted by gottabefunky to Work & Money (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm self employed in another field -- Mac IT support/consulting -- and although I didn't hire someone to do my branding, I have a design background and went through the trouble of being anal about my branding, website, etc. I scoured typefaces and purchased a couple that I thought fit well, etc. I was anal about the copywriting and so on, as well as the kerning of the fonts on my business cards and such. So I did what you're considering, but without spending money (aside from the purchased fonts).

It hasn't really made much of a difference, aside from a couple of people (designers, of course) complimenting me. After I was already onsite anyway. So I'm not really sure it made that much of a difference.

Of course, it depends on your field, whether your competitors tend to invest in branding and design, and that sort of thing.
posted by CommonSense at 12:38 PM on January 8, 2008

If she's already successful without having a professional identity package, then apparently the answer is "it's not worth it."

I'm a freelance translator, and for a very long time, I designed my own website and cards; these generally got favorable reactions. Then I married a graphic artist, and she designed the current iteration of my cards. I still do my own website.

You can definitely get design work done more cheaply than $thousands. You could probably find some fresh-out-of-design-school (or still-in-design-school) designer to do it for a couple hundred bucks, and they'd be happy to have a new portfolio piece. Then again, you're getting a novice who may be eager to try out whacky design-school concepts on you.

IMO, the only freelancers who would need a really slick, professionally designed identity package are those who are so well-known that their name is practically a brand; for them to hand out thermographic cards from insty-print would cause instant cognitive dissonance and loss of credibility. For the rest of us, as long as you haven't gone out of your way to produce eye-poison, something standard should be fine.
posted by adamrice at 12:41 PM on January 8, 2008

I say it's not worth it. Right now, your brand is YOU, and that's what your clients are interested in buying. A strong brand might entice clients to pay a premium for you, but operating as a freelancer, you should be able to have some control over that anyways. I get nearly all of my work through personal contacts/recommendations, and those people just want to know that I'll do the job well and on time -- they're not too interested in lofty, long-term aspirations when they're paying me by the project. If you're already projecting a professional business image (with site and cards), I think that's enough to make you stand out from a lot of the competition.

In theory, if you were to ever start offering services as a small business, then it might make sense to create a broader branding umbrella that all your employees could stand under -- more so than just a logo, it should be a cohesive look and feel to all your marketing materials and keeping everyone on the same page as to how you conduct business.
posted by acorn1515 at 12:44 PM on January 8, 2008

I second adam's suggestion to get a student or recent grad looking to build her book and make a few bucks to do this kind of work for your wife. If you (or she) are/is competent at this kind of thing, that's all you need at this level, but if you don't feel that you can take on this project, by all means spring for some design assistance from a young, eager designer.
posted by Mister_A at 12:56 PM on January 8, 2008

I agree with the above posters here...the whole point of branding is to create an emotional aftertaste, as Zefrank once eloquently put it. Your portfolio and reputation should be much more worth the focus when attracting new customers in my opinion. Since you're in the creative industry already however, see if you can come up with something on your own too. With enough patience (and fonts) I'm sure you can come up with something professional looking on your own too...even with freeware image manipulation programs like, gimp, or photo filtre.
posted by samsara at 12:57 PM on January 8, 2008

Though I'm a graphic designer, I agree with everyone who says it is likely un-needed. If she gets most work through word of mouth, even less so.

HOWEVER I will make a case FOR it. If she starts soliciting clients or has to do RFPs and such, having all her stuff hang together nicely adds some class and strongly says "I'm a Professional". If she were to suddenly have the opportunity to pitch to a big client and want to put the best foot forward, it is nice to have it done before (when you have time).

A few things that I think a package could include:
- business card, letterhead, and envelope
- Invoice sheet and Proposal sheet
- Label (to be put on large packages and / or folders)
- Website

I don't think it would NEED to have a logo and I certainly wouldn't call it an Identity ('cause telling someone you want them to develop an identity for you is like saying HEY! I GOT LOADS OF CASH!) It is more of a unique look and color scheme that can be applied to things.

You definitely can get it done for less than thousands. Fresh outta school, maybe...though it is going to be much rougher. (Maybe, instead, ask the professors?).

More likely: Ask around, try and find an independent guy/gal. See if they'll work in trade. I'm sure many would be open to it. In any event, make sure you see a portfolio and ask questions.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 1:03 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

what should this involve besides just a logo?

A brand or identity can be as simple as using the same fonts or colors to make all your materials, or it can be pretty much as complex as you want. You absolutely should be doing this in some capacity, but you probably don't need to hire someone else to do it for you.
posted by kidbritish at 1:12 PM on January 8, 2008

I think it would be worth it for her to find a freelancing graphic designer who has a decent portfolio, time, and a need for work to design these things for her. It doesn't have to cost in the thousands, and there are plenty of talented designers out there who just need to expand their portfolio.

I suggest going to and posting a project for designers to bid on.
posted by katillathehun at 1:41 PM on January 8, 2008

I have my own business in a creative industry (writing-ish as well) and one of my best decisions was to spend $2k on a professionally designed web site and logo. The main reason: It lets me charge a lot.

A clearly professional site says, "I am a professional worthy of respect and a respectable fee." It scares away the cheap clients that you don't want to work with and reassures the more professional clients who understand that good work comes at a price. As a result, you spend less time talking to prospects who are a bad fit and more time working on high-paying projects for clients who treat you right.

That $2k was 4 or 5 years ago, so it would be more today. I got a professionally designed, unique site that emphasized my brand personality, and a logo. I wrote the copy for the site and placed it in the design. The site paid for itself easily when I started getting much more professional clients. My clients are other businesses, not individuals, but I think the principle is probably the same.

I got business cards separately from the same designer; I "designed" my invoice myself using the logo she had created. The very few times I use letterhead I just include the logo in the Pages or Word file, rather than using printed letterhead.

I went with a local designer who I could meet in person. More recently, I had an online logo firm create a logo, and I highly recommend you avoid such firms. Their portfolio looked good, but actually working with the guy was dreadful. He actually created a logo by typing the name of my business and adding a smiley icon at the end. Like this: BusinessName:) He wouldn't refund my money even though I was within the two-week grace period. A big lesson for me.
posted by PatoPata at 3:52 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I worked as a freelance copywriter for several years and always maintained an online portfolio, with matching cards and stationary. I put together some comps, keeping things very simple, then had some graphic designer friends critique and make suggestions. But other than that, I haven't worried about "developing a brand." I think it's more important to present myself professionally and let the work speak for itself.

Alternatively, here's a rather dated, but very good article from a 1997 issue of Fast Company.
posted by slogger at 4:33 PM on January 8, 2008

Think of branding as another word for consistency in this case. Everything coordinates look-and-feel wise. The cards complement the web site, which complements the print materials, etc.

Part of the reason brand consultants charge so much is because it's typically a long and involved process, with various people in the organization offering all sorts of input on what the business is about, values, mission statements, etc. Sort of a forced collective period of introspection and dialogue with the consultants.

It sounds like she's a one-person show, so this exercise would be rather pointless and expensive.
posted by Atom12 at 6:48 AM on January 9, 2008

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