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Building a Credible Image When You Work in Multiple Fields

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747814_threadHow do you sell yourself and your services online, when you work in two or more fields? Won’t a potential client’s first impression be that you lack focus, and perhaps don’t excel at any of the things you do? Freelancers don’t always have the luxury of concentrating on just one field. We have to be flexible. We have to be creative with our talents. We have to pay the rent.

I was dealing with this a few months ago, when I was thinking of putting together a portfolio site. I was feeling like my presence on the Internet was scattered all over the place, and wanted a single site to which I could send professional contacts who wanted more info. I was tired of providing links to multiple profiles and blogs that didn’t tell the whole story, and I’m not wild about any of the “identity aggregation” services that are out there.

Given all the different things I do, my primary dilemma was to make a non-static professional site that gave a good overall impression of what I’m about, professionally speaking. Below are some of the issues and approaches I pondered. Maybe they will be useful to you if you’re in this position.

Think Bakery

I attended a talk on personal branding at an e-reputation barcamp earlier this year. The speaker‘s suggestion for the Jacks and Jills of more-than-one trade, like me, was to think like a bakery. Her metaphor was this: Everyone knows what a bakery is and that you can get a variety of baked goods inside. So although you may have pumpernickel, cookies and eclairs to offer your clients, you should choose one item to put in the shop window when creating your personal brand, and everyone will know that you will likely provide the complementary services, too.

This can’t really work for everyone, though. In my case, people who are interested in one of my services (translating, tech writing, project management, public speaking, to name a few) are unlikely to have any need for the others.

The Red Thread

If, like me, you can’t really single out a specific thing, you could look for what the French call the fil rouge (red thread). This is the element that kind of ties everything together. Then that thing would be what you emphasize and promote to clients. This is a better option for someone like me. My red thread could be communication, since almost all of the things I do involve communication in some form or another.

What Would Big Bird Do?

You could also take an objective look at the various services you offer. If you have a unicycle, a truck, a bucket and a tractor, one of these things doesn’t belong here. So you focus on the things with wheels, and downplay the bucket or even create a separate site/brand/identity for it. This approach also works well for someone like me.

What I ended up doing was creating a blog where I publish short articles related to some of my professional interests and activities. One column provides links to other my other sites and profiles. I highly recommend this post on how to make a blog into a professional tool by Darrell Etherington, this article about making blogging less of a burden by Dawn Foster, and Celine Roque’s post about developing a content strategy for your blog.

If this is your situation, what strategies have worked for you?

Image by stock.xchng user nicootje.

8 Responses to “Building a Credible Image When You Work in Multiple Fields”

  1. @Mark Montoya You’re absolutely right about split attention having the potential to affect quality. But I don’t believe it has to be that way, if you’re able to focus on the task at hand. It requires discipline and time management skills, that’s for sure. I am all for the “one roof” approach too, if you can swing it. I know an anthropologist (PhD) who’s a simultaneous interpreter (formerly UN) who also happens to have a Master’s in some kind of “oriental medicine.” Now in her case, it’s hard to build a roof that’ll cover all that! I think society is moving towards that model, where we aren’t locked into one kind of work and have the freedom to explore and put to use our different strengths and interests. Better for self-fulfillment if you ask me!

  2. @U. Law. – I know the difference and have forever, but thanks for pointing it out. I made the same mistake a couple months ago on a translation. Clearly I have to turn off the autopilot when I come to that word! It appears to be malfunctioning. Maybe it has something to do with the middle finger of my right hand being dominant, who knows!

  3. Carrying multiple brands is tough: the thought needs to be to consolidate the brands under ‘one roof’ to ease the demands of both being creative and generating results but also in marketing.

    Taking a long look at specialization before beginning will help streamline any venture you chose.

    The maxim, ‘where you attention goes, results show’ is true; so if your attention is split, so will your results.

    Good post!

  4. Henriettak

    Thanks for this post – it’s something I’ve been struggling with too. I think what will make sense for me is that fil rouge idea, which actually will mean that I’ll be re-arranging how I’ve been presenting myself – what I consider my main product. New bcards, new direction when consolidating my online identities. You know, I’m actually getting excited here.