Some time ago for a mini conference I gave a talk about “Positioning for Freelancers”, this is the gist of it.

What is Positioning?

I define positioning as:

All activities with the goal to anchor yourself into the mind of your prospective future customers.


All activities with the goal to anchor yourself into the mind of your prospective future customers. Whereby “yourself” can mean:

  • You, as a freelancer.
  • You, as a non-scaleable product.
  • You, as a service provider.
  • Your service
  • Your company
  • Your brand

Your brand is a recursive positioning target, as it includes all the other “yourself” aspects, again.

… anchor yourself into the mind ….

All activities with the goal to anchor yourself into the mind of your prospective future customers.

  • Whenever the (future) client thinks of a challenge within your domain
  • they think of you
  • and perceive you as a way forward / perceive you as a part of the solution
  • based on their intrinsic motivation.

… of your prospective future customers.

All activities with the goal to anchor yourself into the mind of your prospective future customers.

  • People who want to give you money for you to enable them to make progress.
  • A.k.a.: People who would benefit from giving you money.

Know that your current customers are also your future customers, so they fall within this definition.

This leads to the first actionable for freelancers:

1) Stop worrying about your peer group!

Nearly all freelancer I meet — especially developers — confuse their “prospective future clients” with their peer group.

  • Developers don’t hire freelance developers.
  • CEOs, CTOs, PM, … hire freelance developers.
  • UX does not hire freelance UX.
  • CEOs, PMs, Marketing … hire freelancer UX.
  • Massage therapists don’t hire freelancer massage therapists.
  • Clients in pain hire freelancer massage therapists.
  • SEOs don’t hire freelancer SEOs.
  • CEOs, CMOs, sometimes CTOs, VP Growth, and PMs hire SEOs.
  • Welders don’t hire freelancer welders.
  • Forepersons that need welding done hire welders.

The target group of positioning is “people who benefit from giving you money,” people benefit because they need something done that they can not do by themselves. These people are not you, and they are not your peer group, they are someone else. Network with your peer group, position yourself for people who would benefit from giving you money.

I.e., When networking don’t be an a**hole. In positioning, you might choose to be an a**hole. Companies might benefit from hiring those. Your network will never benefit from assholes.

Don’t let your peer group hold you back.

A developer friend of mine who is an extraordinary Ruby developer and great UX guy is afraid to position himself as “extraordinary Ruby developer and great UX guy” as he knows better Ruby programmers and better UX people. It does not matter. For positioning your peer group does not matter. His future clients would benefit massively if he communicates his skillset straightforward.

I wrote a book about no b*llshit SEO. I only took this step after I realized that there are zero benefits if I care what other SEOs might think about my writing. I wrote the book solely for people who would strongly benefit from buying (a.k.a. giving me money) and reading & executing the contents of the book (investing something much more valuable than money, namely time). The book’s success for me, my readers, and my future clients. Most of my international clients reached out to me, thanks to the book. Would I have cared about my peer group, it would have been a horrible book, and I would have never written it.

Positioning Step 1: Ignore your peer group, focus on those who would benefit from giving you money!

2) Energy

  • Positioning — like any kind of marketing — takes effort while taking up time.
  • You need lots of energy to do it.
  • It’s something you have to do on top of all the other stuff you are doing.

There are lots of books out there on the positioning. New books, podcasts, blogs, … I always go for the classics. Repositioning and Positioning (in this order).

But even if they read it, most freelancers just don’t do it, as it is something they have to do on top of everything else they have to do. And it can be exhausting. So yeah, you need lots of energy to do it. But ideas without execution are worthless, so you have to do it so that positioning creates value for you.

There are not many tips here. Energy is more of a requirement. The only tip I can give is: Don’t take it too seriously and have fun. As not fun and serious are usually not the things we like doing and then we don’t do it, so definitely have fun and don’t take it too seriously. #energy

Positioning Step 2: Don’t take it too seriously. But do it.

3) The Why? The How? The What? — In this order.

Most people, when they describe their work, they do it like this.

  • What? I am a JavaScript developer.
  • How? I developed JavaScript applications in React.
  • Why? 

Usually, they don’t even reach the why. Or they never have thought about why.

The thing is, we (including me, you, and people who would benefit from giving you money) do not identify with roles, products, or processes, we identify with values. Your values are what give you value.

The communicated values are what differentiates Nike from Reebok, Google from Microsoft, you from them. Always start with the why!

  • Why? The web is the ultimate platform and enables real-time iteration over prototype to final product, easy accessibility & worldwide instant distribution — a direct connection and communication with your clients without monopolistic gatekeepers.
  • How? I develop JavaScript applications in React.
  • (What? I am a JavaScript developer.)

If you start with the why and jump the how, the what is quite often no longer necessary. This concept is attributed to Simon Sinek from a Ted Talk, but well, I don’t watch videos, so i.d.k.

Positioning Step 3: Why? → How? (→ What?)

4) Choose your archetypes

Choose your communication archetype:

  • The Outlaw is all about revolution and liberation.
  • The Magician makes the impossible possible.
  • The Hero wants to prove himself against all opposition.
  • The Lover becomes part of intimate moments and feelings.
  • The Jester spreads enjoyment.
  • The Everyman wants to be relatable.
  • The Caregiver just wants to be there for you.
  • The Ruler has everything under control.
  • The Creator innovates.
  • The Innocent is virtuous and content.
  • The Sage is in pursuit of knowledge.
  • The Explorer seeks freedom.
Awesome Ressource about Brand Archetypes:

Choose one or two of these archetypes. If you choose two, amalgamate them together into one persona. The important part is to be consistent in your communication. Stay in our archetype role. Don’t randomly jump around, as you will be seen as a madman. Madmen hardly get hired.

Or, even worse, don’t change your archetype to suit each of your different clients. You would be perceived as a bootlicker.

Proactively choose your archetype

The archetype is something that you choose, don’t let your clients choose it for you, as it might not fit your personality. Don’t let your peer group choose it for you, as they do not matter. And if your competition by a majority chooses one archetype, do the opposite.

Developers quite often position themselves as creators and sometimes caregivers. Choose something else, be an outlaw, a sage, be a ruler, or even a lover. If you do what everybody else does, you just do what everybody else does. That’s basically the opposite of positioning.

Positioning Step 4: Choose your communication archetype! Be true to it.

5) An awesome claim

Your claim is your one-sentence message. One (1) sentence that describes what makes you special, different, awesome, and, if possible, unique.

Mine is:

Our goal is to make all SEO companies, including our own, redundant. uses:

Germany’s most sold mattress.

Nike’s is:

Just do it.

Your “one sentence” is the one thing that you want “people who would benefit from giving you money” remember about you! You might wish that they remember much much more about you, but this is the main one.

There is a wide scope of what your one-sentence can be. And the better your past success with positioning was, the more abstract it can become. Just compare mine with Nikes.

To Ruby-dev/UX friend I would recommend something like:

Data based User Experience focused Ruby development based on 15 years of experience.

Your claim should hint at your values and make your potential customers curious about you.

Positioning Step 5: Work on a one sentence claim!

6) USP — Unique selling proposition

Your claim is what makes you, you. Your USPs are what make you better. Better than what? That’s not completely defined, just better than anything your future clients might compare you to.

Best explained via an example:

The claim of is “Tour & Experience Incredible Destinations: Search, compare & book over 40,000 multi-day tours around the world.”

The USPs are:

  • Best Selection (of tours)
  • Secure Payments
  • Best Price Guarantee
  • 24/7 Support

For me as a freelancer, my USPs are

  • No Bullshit SEO
  • Awesome Workshops
  • Data Based Decision Making

You should have between 3 and 6 unique selling propositions, definitely more than 0. USPs are usually half sentences, a short list so that potential customers can fathom:

  • What your values are.
  • What you solve for them.
  • Why you are better.

The best USPs are something that, when you prepend the name of your competition, is an untrue statement. Not a USP is when you can prepend any of the competition brands, and it’s still true.

  • “%any completion brand% %your USP%” equals true → not a USP.
  • “%any completion brand% %your USP%” equals false → a good USP.

If you find something that is only ever true with your brand and your USP, then it’s a perfect USP.

Positioning Step 6: Get some USPs.

7) Talk about your product — a lot! You are your product!

As a freelancer, there is a high chance that you are your product. A nonscaleable service provider product. Completely ok. That’s the nature of freelancers. So you have to become extremely comfortable to talk about your product / yourself — a lot.

A developer example: Imagine you contributed to an awesome open-source software that will change the world. You added to add a feature that was enthusiastically merged by the core-maintainer, and you now can’t stop telling your friends and everybody willing to listen about the new version? That’s how excited you should talk about yourself, in the case that people who might benefit from giving you money are in the room.

When you talk about yourself, start with your claim and work in your USPs, then extend on all the other things you enthusiastically want to talk about yourself.

Don’t worry about your peer group; they do not matter. If they are also in the room, they might think you slightly narcissistic, but it just does not matter. If potential future clients are not in the room, only your peer group is, and you continue to talk about yourself without stopping, then you are narcissistic.

Positioning Step 7: Get very comfortable talking about you.

8) Choose your channels.

What are good opportunities to talk about your product / yourself? These opportunities are commonly called channels. Some of these channels are part of you or your business (owned channels), you build over time (earned channels), of these channels you need to buy (paid channels). Some examples in no specific order:

  • Networking events
  • Meetups
  • Emails
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Business cards
  • Coffee talk
  • Website
  • Startpage
  • Every other page of your website
  • Newsletter
  • Youtube
  • Conferences
  • Mentorships
  • Initial business talks
  • Drinks
  • Ads
  • SEO
  • SEA
  • Press releases
  • Medium

Choose three channels and work them, regularly, in whatever interval makes sense for the channel (Don’t hold back). Positioning value gets created over time. Let of one the channels be your own newsletter. (Collect email addresses/leads, feed them into your distribution list, send out regularly.)

If, after half a year, you don’t see value in a channel, try another one.

Positioning Step 8: Choose and work your channels. A lot.

9) Be trustworthy.

Thing is if you do all your positioning work, but if you are untrustworthy, everything was for naught. The one thing that spreads much faster than you positioning messaging is your trustworthiness, especially if it’s a negative.

How to be trustworthy:

  • Never promise to deliver something that you can’t deliver.
  • Never say yes, when you mean no.
  • Stand your ground.
  • If you fail, say so and take all responsibility.
  • If you win, share praise with everyone involved evenly.

Positioning Step 9: Be and stay trustworthy!

10) Execute & win & ask to get referred

  • You need wins. Successful projects. Successful launches.
  • So you need clients who also want to win/launch/deliver.
  • Clients which want to and can execute and deliver.
  • Don’t waste time with dysfunctional clients that can’t execute, no matter how much they pay.
  • Only successful projects/clients will bring you more clients.

Every client that can execute together with you — where you can win will help your positioning efforts. Use them as a reference. Let them use you as a reference for a successful collaboration. Actively ask them to refer you. Give them instructions to whom (what kind of pot. future clients) you want to be referred to. And what interests you. Make sure to remind them of your claim and USPs. Your successful clients are your best channel.

Quite a lot of devs take on projects “because of the money” even though they know “it will lead to nothing.” Clients must have value besides the money they pay. If they don’t, don’t work with them.

Positioning Step 10: Win & share & get shared.

11) Product <> You Marketing

  • You yourself as a freelancer are an unscaleable product.
  • Create a scaleable product.
  • Market your scaleable product.
  • Let the product market you.
Understanding SEO — 99 DRM free copies via Gumroad

I wrote a book. And there is a reason it is sold as a good looking print book. (There is also an e-book). I want it to be in the hands and offices and libraries of all my clients and potential future clients. It is scalable. And it markets me.

Do it yourself, make a mini-app, a book, a poster, a hand sanitizer, a mask, a sports shoes … a real product for whatever your niche is. Make it physical if possible. Make it digital if possible. Make it both, if possible.

Don’t do typical business swag (cups, t-shirts, USB drives, …) with your logo on it. Companies which do soulless logo swag, are companies with walking-dead marketing teams and too much money.

Sell your scaleable product, and give it away. Both. You market your product. The product markets you.

Positioning Step 11: Create a scaleable product. Market it, let it market you.

12) Repeat

Positioning visualized again.

Potential future clients must experience you multiple times in independent channels and different contexts until you are in “here.”

At least 3 times. Up to 8 times.

And as quite of a lot of your messaging, newsletters, talks, postings, emails will get ignored. You need to do it a lot. Always in your archetype and without becoming untrustworthy.

Positioning Step 12: Repeat.

About the Author

Franz Enzenhofer changes the internet since 1998. Over his career he worked with startups, market leaders, startups then market leaders, market leaders that reinvented themselves as startups, state-owned companies, freelancers, concert halls, cities, political parties, betting companies, NGOs, economic chambers, TV stations, family-owned small businesses, Fintechs, old school banks, national and international newspapers and news agencies, media houses, media conglomerates, sports teams and more. He worked with organizations in the US, UK, D.A.CH, Ireland, India, Thailand, Peru, Colombia, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Gibraltar, Sweden, Cyprus and more. He cares about scaleable, systematic Growth. He is known for his No B*llshit SEO. He does Growth.

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