Last week I wrote about the benefits of a film and video career as an independent contractor (IC) vs. starting and growing a studio. The response was great. Thanks to all who commented on the post or in the Twitterverse. Today I want to follow that up with a topic that I think is vitally important for anyone who wants to make a go at this as a business. That is the importance of building your brand.
Just because you're not building a formal company or studio does not mean you should ignore the importance of branding. In fact, those ICs who fully grasp the importance of it will be the most successful.
What is a Brand
The easiest way to answer this question is to say what a brand is NOT. It is not…
- A logo
- A business card
- A cool website
- A color scheme
- The way you sign your name
- A motion graphic
- Your color grading recipe
- The steepness of your dutch angles or the shallowness of your depth of field
The truth is, a brand is all of those things, and more. It's the experience that your clients have with you, from first contact, to the minute you deliver the final product (and perhaps even beyond). It is what people think of and how they feel when they think of you.
And here's the most important thing you should know about a brand. It's NOT what YOU say it is. A brand is what other people think of you. You can do what you can to influence it. But ultimately, your brand will be what others think.
Building Your Brand
So how can you go about building a brand as an IC? Much of what I mentioned above will contribute to it. Here are my three top suggestions for building your brand.
- Hire a pro. When it comes to creating the graphic elements that will make up your brand (e.g. your logo, website, etc.) hire a professional. Just because you're artistic does not mean you know a darn thing about good design and aesthetics. Do you know what color schemes are the best to use? Do you know what fonts will evoke the feeling you want? I always find it interesting when I hear or read about flmmakers or photographers complaining about the “uncle Bobs” of the world shooting their niece's wedding with their brand new consumer camcorder or DSLR, then those same filmmakers and photographers will be an “uncle Bob” designer. Get someone who knows what they're doing. If money is an obstacle, think creatively. Maybe you can do a trade with someone. Shoot their promo video in exchange for them creating your website, logo, etc. If money is not an object, you could go so far as to hire a full-blown agency to take on your entire branding campaign: from logo to website.
- Embrace your style. Whatever you do, don't try to be the next Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet or [insert your favorite DSLR filmmaker here]. Sure, it's okay to be inspired or influenced by the work of these guys. But don't be afraid to embrace the style you inherently have. You DO have one you know. It is whatever comes naturally to you when you shoot or edit. For me, it's inspirational or emotionally charged work. I know that is my strength. Find your strength and become great at it. There are people and companies out there who want what you have to offer. Be true to yourself.
- Be consistent. A huge part about building a brand is being consistent in that brand. You can't be one thing one week, then something totally different that next. When I go to a Starbucks, I know what I'm getting. Every time, in any location, it's the same. I can trust that I will get the experience that makes me willing to pay $4 for a cup of coffee it costs them $0.40 to make. You need to do the same. Whether it's in how you speak to clients on the phone, your demeanor on a set, how you work with cross-functional teams, whatever. And it obviously extends to the quality of your work as well.
The Brand of You
The last thing I'll leave you with is that YOU are your brand. There is no other person quite like you. Sell that. Make it so that a client wants to hire you not just because of your work, but because it's YOU. Trust will be a big part of that (consistency helps build that trust). Likeability is also part of the equation. All the aspects that make up who you are is something that you need to put out there as the reason you should be hired. I have done a lot of work for and with the professional photography industry, and they have largely as an industry mastered this. When you think about the top photographers in the world, many (if not most) are in essence ICs. But from the name of their business (e.g. Their Name Photography) to how they present themselves, they are pushing their personal brand. If you go the route of an IC, you need to do the same.
Take my good friend Shawn Reeder. Many of you may even know him. Besides being an extremely talented wedding and landscape photographer, he's dabbled in the filmmaking world as well, working with such luminaries as Timescapes creator Tom Lowe. Take a look at the promo video I created for Shawn. See how his personality and style come out. You immediately get a sense of what it will be like to work with him, and you want to get to know him.
My last big of advice would be, get a colleague to make a promo about YOU.
Next week I'll write about the #1 reason it's a bad idea to build your career as an independent contractor and some ways to deal with it.