It's much easier (and mroe fun!) to build an audience and attract your ideal clients when you know what you stand for. But figuring that out can be tricky. Gill Hill is a brand voice expert, copywriter and editor, and on this episode she shares the secret to authentic personal branding and how to own your voice.
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome back to 15 Minute Freelancer, Louise Shanahan here. Today we are revisiting one of my favourite topics, which is personal branding. A while back, I did an episode on how to build your personal brand. But let's be honest, 15 minutes is not really enough for such a ginormous topic. Last week, I spoke to Diane Wiredu about how to use frameworks, storytelling and customer research to think about how to position your brand. And today we're going to fill in a few more pieces of the personal branding puzzle. I'm very excited to be speaking to Gill Hill who is a brand voice expert, copywriter and editor. And if you follow Gill on Instagram at Gill Hill Edits, you will know that she is a master at personal branding. So I'm really looking forward to hearing Gill's take on how we should think about developing our own brand voice and put ourselves out there and market our freelance businesses in a way that feels really authentic and natural. So hi Gill, thank you for joining me today.
Gill: Hi, Louise, thank you very much for having me. And thank you for those kind words about my Instagram. It's kind of interesting, because it's got much bigger and as I’m joined by more people, the more I find really what feels comfortable and easy for me to talk about. And so it's a really odd mix. The easier it feels to me, the more people like it. So that's been a really interesting part of leaning into that personal brand I've discovered.
L: Oh, well, that's really encouraging for people to hear, I think, because especially with Instagram, sometimes it feels like you have to jump through so many hoops to try and build an audience and connect with the right people. And maybe that's one of the things that sort of leads people down this path of feeling like they need to be something that they're not. So it's really reassuring to think that if you are yourself and you do this in an authentic way, it might actually be more effective.
G: Yeah, certainly that's how it felt for me. And I think a lot of personal branding comes down to being yourself and not doing what other people are telling you to do. If it doesn't feel right for you.
L: There’s a common saying that people often mention when talking about personal branding, and I think it came from Steve Jobs. That branding is what people say about you when you're not in the room. I've also heard someone put it a different way, which is branding is what people know about you before you enter the room. And I really liked that way of putting it. That feels really powerful for freelancers, because imagine how much easier it is to show up on a call with a new client and they already know the kind of work you do and the kind of things that you probably don't do, and what you'll be like to work with, and how much you're likely to charge. But it's easier said than done, isn't it? And I know that some freelancers feel like personal branding is a bit forced, or it feels a bit narcissistic to think of yourself like a brand. One question that often comes up is how do you feel confident putting yourself out there? So maybe that's a good question to kick off with?
G: Yeah, I mean, I think it does make it easier. And I would say that I learned that from the experience of doing it. So when I started, I definitely felt more like a freelancer than business and a brand. When I started working as an editor and a writer, it felt more like just a job I did for people in return for money. And, you know, that was basically the sum total of what I did as work. But as I leaned into thinking of myself as a business and as a brand, I started connecting that to a lot of brand foundations. So that would be, “what's the purpose of my business?” Like what's the why of it? I love Simon Sinek talking about you know, finding your way, what's your purpose? What is the mission of the business? Who am I here to help? Once I really started thinking about those big ideas, it made, how to communicate that to other people much easier. So I think that when you can more strongly have an understanding, like look inside to what those brand values are and what your purpose is, and specifically how you do it differently to everybody else. You know, there's lots of copywriters out there. There's lots of web designers out there. So if somebody is scanning through LinkedIn or Instagram, what is it about you compared to the hundreds of other messages they'll probably see from people who do what you do, that makes you different and that makes you potentially a good fit for them. For me, it's really important that we cannot possibly be the right fit for every single person who needs our services. Now narrowing that down to what makes you the right person for them. When you communicate that the right people will see it and be drawn to you.
L: And it's important that you match what you've put out there in your marketing before, isn't it? So your brand should match when you turn up on the call to what you've put out in social media.
G: So that's where I come from it as a writer, when I help people with brand voice, it's because I really want them to sound the most like them, and not to be scared that they have to sound professional, they have to sound, you know, stripping out the emotion the way they were maybe taught in English class to write. And one of the problems I often have with marketing, where it doesn't feel ethical is the kind of bait and switch feeling where people manipulate voice to sound one way in their marketing, to pull people into their programme or what they sell. And then they sound completely different, and they do something completely different. And their values are not the same once you paid your money, and you've got into the call.
L: So it's a trust building thing as well. It's easier said than done, isn't it? How should freelancers go about finding their brand voice and, and really pinning down what their brand values are?
G: Yeah, I think this is the part where people always say, “but come on, how do I do that?”. And I understand that it can be really difficult. The key thing is really understanding those foundations. I talk about uncovering your brand voice, because it's there, you have a voice in your content. And I think a lot of people imagine, “oh, I'm going to put a brand voice in place.” But you have a voice, you're communicating in a certain way to your audience, with every piece of content you put out. So I think number one is always finding out more about your brand foundations. You can find those things in a lot of different places, free online if you just search for them. And I also have a document I've put together that will just help you work through the steps of what your brand is. So starting to think about those internal things.
And then the next stage, I think, is to look at the four dimensions. So I don't know if any of your audience will have heard of the Nielsen Norman group, but they do a lot of UX research and a lot of really good scientific research about content. And they created these four different dimensions of tone. Are you funny, or serious? Are you formal or casual? Are you respectful or irreverent? And are you enthusiastic, or matter of fact? And in each of these dimensions, you can sit very far in one direction, you can sit right in the middle, you can sit somewhat to the left or right. Start by just looking at those four dimensions and just sort of thinking from a gut feeling point of view where you sit on those can really start to help you identify what your voice sounds like.
L: Yeah. And there's no wrong answers. I like the way that you put it – uncovering your own voice. And then you can start to think about which elements of that you might want to lean into a bit more so that you stand out.
G: Yeah, absolutely. And I think also people get confused between voice and tone. And just very quickly, the difference is that your voice is how you sound all the time. And then your tone is how you use that voice in different situations. So just to give you a quick example, on Instagram, I share a lot of educational posts. A lot of my voice is being like the friend at the bar who is a little further down the line and you and explaining some things they know from an educational point of view. But recently, I've been really enjoying particularly in the editing side of my business, finding funny spelling errors, and funny memes that are to do with writing and editing. And I share those on my stories. So my stories have much more of that funny sense to them than my day-to-day posts. It's all under the umbrella of my main voice and connects to my main way of why I do my business. But I allow myself that more funny sense on my Instagram stories.
L: I think that's a really helpful distinction because one of the questions that people may have when they're thinking about marketing themselves online and building a personal brand, is how do you know where the line is between being authentic and sharing aspects of your life that allow people to get to know you but not oversharing?
G: I was thinking about this the other day, because I think that is one thing that we have a big problem with especially if you are your business. It's really just when you identify the main purpose of your business and your values. As a business I think it can really help you identify which parts of your personal life or which parts of your personal values you want to share. Because if you think about it, we're never our complete, authentic “us”. If you were speaking to your partner or your kids, or your parent or you're in front of a judge for some reason we all have a slightly different filter or a slightly different hats that we put on. If you think of the Venn diagram, there is the real you and then there's all these slightly different filters that come out of it. And to me if you're a solo business owner, that is another version of that. You're never 100% you. There is a heavy overlap on your Venn diagram, but it shouldn't be and it can't be all of your real authentic life.
For me, the purpose my business has, for example, is to own your voice, everybody should get to own their voice, and communicate as clearly as they can, who they really are to the people that they want to help. So, for example, in America recently, I'm sure it's been the same for you in the UK, we've been talking about trans rights quite a lot, and the ability to use different pronouns. So that was something that I felt really comfortable talking about in a business point of view, as well as in my personal life, because it's next to the purpose I have as a business of people owning their voice. So it made it much clearer for me. Those are things I will happily speak about on my business accounts, and then other parts of my politics or how I feel about what's happening in the world, I maybe don't need to mention all of those. I could choose to, at some point if I felt really strongly about it, but thinking every time about, “Okay, do I want to share this? Does it risk alienating some people?”, for example, because it’s bound to, whenever you put out a strong personal view. Then I think, well, what are my values in my business, and what's my purpose in my business? And if it connects to those things, and I feel strongly about it, then makes it feel much easier to me to then pick it as a topic to talk about on my business account, as well as my personal.
L: And then the flip side of that is that if you do speak out about things that are important to you, and that align with your own personal values, that will also help you attract clients who share those values, and then you're going to enjoy working with them a lot more as well. I have done a bit of work this year to figure out what my core values are for my business and the things that are important to me. And that makes the decision making a lot easier. So if there's an inquiry from a potential client, and I'm kind of on the fence, I can think, well, do I want to do this? Which of my five values or whatever is this supporting? Where is it not really contributing to them? And that helps me figure out if it's going to be a yes or a no. And the same if there are things that you're doing in your business processes, or a certain tasks that you're always doing, and that always feel really awkward, or you're like, oh, I don't want to do this, it's probably because it's out of alignment with one of your values. And I find that really helpful to think about.
G: And I think there are also things we don't want to do in our business that we just have to do. And so I think when you go through that process and see, is this an alignment with my values, and you say, well, it is and I still just need to get my financial spreadsheet done, even though I hate it, it makes it easier then to do the annoying tasks that are a part of having on our business.
L: It's interesting, isn't it, because we're always told to bring our whole selves to work. That's this phrase that kind of gets bandied around, doesn't it? And when you are your business, you really have to bring your whole self to work. But you do also want to keep something for yourself. And I think having these values really understanding what your brand voice is, can make it a lot easier to do that in a way that feels natural.
G: You know, I do these things every kind of quarter. And I guess because I talk about it a lot on social media, I'm actually thinking about it all the time. And I'm constantly revising and refining what those are. I would say that they are still within the broad umbrella I started with a couple of years ago, but I'm getting more and more nuanced and detailed about what that means. And I notice each time that happens, I get more comfortable in my business skin as I talk about them, which to me is the signal that it's going the right way.
L: That's so helpful, Gill, thank you so much. I'm so conscious that we could talk about this for hours, because there's so many layers and different angles to it, aren't there? But I think that's probably given people a lot of food for thought to start with. And I definitely feel like developing a cohesive brand voice and putting myself out there is going to be very doable. So thank you so much for sharing your insights. You mentioned the lead magnet that people could download. If people want to dig into this a bit more and find out more about your work. Where can they get that? Where should they go?
G: Yeah, absolutely. So I will give you the link that you can put in your show notes or whatever. Also on my Instagram. So I'm Gill Hill Edits (Gill with a G confusingly), so it's in my bio on Instagram. So you would find it on the bio there. My website is also Gill Hill Writing Services, which is a bit of a mouthful! I don't think I had fully discovered my branding when I met created my website name. But I would say the easiest place is probably Instagram because that's where I talk about brand voice more than on my website. So feel free if you're on Instagram to hop over there and say hi, I would love to hear from anybody. And if anyone does download it and tries I'd love to know if it works for you. So please get in touch and let me know if it's helped.
L: That's amazing. Thank you so much. And thank you to everybody who has been listening. If you know someone who might find this conversation useful then please do share the podcast with them. And until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.