Freelancer: Are you trying to run a pseudofirm?

Tom T bugSolopreneurs sometimes try to hide behind a corporate smokescreen, especially early on in their careers. They fear that top-notch clients won’t take them seriously unless they’re digging the same 9-to-5 trench (or at least pretending to).

Unfortunately, acting like you’re a bigger company than you really are doesn’t get you anywhere. More likely, it’s holding you back. Here’s why:

Size doesn’t equal talent (and good buyers know it)

There are a lot of talented people in corporate America, but corporate baggage can also stifle creativity. There’s a growing recognition that freelancers have gifts to offer even the biggest brands. Smart companies of every size actively seek freelance help when they need a fresh perspective, high-quality work, or expertise they lack in-house.

People make deals with people

A few months ago I won a four-figure assignment, beating several full-size agencies. I later learned that my pitch was the only one that allowed the client to talk directly with the person who would actually do the work. My straightforward, personal approach was the key factor in their decision.

When it comes to attracting business, your value as a creative individual outweighs any company name, logo, or branding. The people who hire you want to know what they’re paying for, so let your flair and expertise show.

Pseudofirms are booooooring

Maintaining a corporate façade with nothing to back it up invariably waters down your marketing message and makes your company sound dull. Didn’t you start your own business so that you could express yourself and have more creative control? Make your company a true expression of yourself. Go wild with it and don’t hold back. You’ll be a lot more distinctive.

You’ll attract the wrong clients

Another common fear is that putting your real personality out there will discourage some prospects. If you do, great! It doesn’t mean that you’ll get less business. You’ll just waste less time talking to people who aren’t a good fit for you. The flip side is even better: you’ll actually attract more of the types of clients who resonate with you—people who wouldn’t have given your generic pseudofirm a second glance.

Great partners don’t have to be employees

If you have a freelancer tribe or virtual team that expands your capabilities, there’s no need to pretend they’re on your payroll. Make them real to potential buyers by being transparent about your relationship.

One of my designer colleagues, Elke Giba, makes it clear on her website that the “Giba Group” is herself and a team of experienced creative professionals who are available when needed. She’s posted photos and bios for each of us with links back to our own websites. “I find clients appreciate it when I talk about my creative partners,” Giba says. “I have the option to work with my virtual team when needed and my clients like the access to additional resources. The collaboration results in a stronger piece and it gives the client better value.”

Don’t have a freelancer tribe yet? One of the best places to find yours is the Creative Freelancer Conference [June 22-24, 2013 in San Francisco]. (Early bird registration ends March 15, so don’t wait!)

You’re not fooling anyone.

You’ve seen the pseudofirm websites. Stock photography. Vague references to “us,” “we,” and “our clients.” No staff names, photos, or bios except the occasional head shot of “our founder.” Lots of straight lines, faceless handshakes, and copy about “your needs.” You can recognize the signs in a moment.

Buyers can too.


Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for creative agencies and green businesses. He publishes a free writing tips newsletter each month and periodically shares more casual wisdom on the WordStream of Consciousness Blog. His tiny solar-powered corner of the Internet can be found at

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