I was recently talking shop with my friend and business mentor who is wicked smart and has her finger on the pulse when it comes to all things creative online business – and as we were chatting she confessed that she didn’t entirely understand where the branding process fit in when it comes to launching a new business. We started talking about the order of setting up shop and where branding fits in. I thought, if industry professionals like US were having this clarifying conversation, it might be helpful for those of you who don’t do this for a living to get an idea of what comes first and what you need next before moving forward in launching your creative business.
Whether you’re launching an online coaching business or opening a local bookstore, I’m going to be sharing the sequence I use when launching a creative business from the ground up and hopefully clarify a few questions you might have along the way.
If you like this post and want to hear more, I’ll include links along the way with additional articles and podcast episodes that dig a little deeper. You might start by listening to this bite-sized podcast “minisode” on Being Boss: Setting Up Shop 101.
When you’re starting a business, the first thing you want to clarify is how you make money. What service, knowledge, skill, or product will you exchange for money? In other words, you need a business plan—and it doesn’t have to be fancy! Here’s a quick fill-in-the-blank model:
I will make money by selling _____(product/skill/service)_____.
It will cost ______ per ______. (This is how you price your product or service.)
If I sell ______ I can make ______ per ______. (This is projected income.)
My expenses will be __________. (Make a list of expenses and costs to run your business.)
If you are opening a business with a lot of projected overhead from the get-go, such as a retail store, it is a good idea to talk with your banker and see if you can get a loan. They’ll walk you through even more business model questions that will help you identify any holes in your business model.
Want to learn more about designing a business model? Listen to Being Boss podcast episode #92 Creating a Business Model with Tara Gentile.
Even if you work all by yourself, it’s important to get super clear on the organizational structure of your business – in other words, what’s your job? And if you are collaborating or partnering with another person or planning on hiring an employee at some point, it’s all the more important to define who does what within your business. I would start by making a list of all the roles involved in your business and the tasks or skills associated with those positions.
Financials: bookkeeping, payroll, quarterly taxes, budgeting, billing
Creative: writing, designing, making
Project Management: daily to-do, launch planning, organization
Marketing: social media, email, blogging, podcasting, PR pitches
Admin: emails, contracts, marketing implementation
If you’re having a hard time identifying the jobs required for your creative business, just list out every single thing that happens from start to finish for a project. You cannot get too detailed – paying the bills to sending out client contracts to sending that final invoice.
Once you understand the roles involved in getting your business up and running, it is crucial for your own level of happiness to get clear on what role makes you feel most capable within your business (hint: it’s probably the “creative” part of it). The thing you want to be known for is your number one priority and where you should focus the majority of your effort. You can outsource the rest … which brings me to our next step:
In Being Boss podcast episode #62, Emily Thompson and I talk about roles and communication when partnering up in business.
It is never too soon to set up systems and processes for how you work in your business. From how often you share content to how you get that content published for the world to see … to how you track your income and expenses or onboard your clients from the moment they express interest in working with you – systemize the work you do. This will help you stay consistent, productive, and focused. It will also make it easier to batch and automate the things that lend themselves toward automation (like social media posts) and outsource the things that need a human being behind them but don’t support your expertise (like responding to email inquiries).
But remember: systems are only as good as the person using them. So while most of your friends use a project management software like Asana or Trello, you might be better served with a simple to-do list in a Google doc.
In Being Boss podcast episode #27, we chat with systems queen, Val Geisler, about organizing your business and processes in a way that works for you and your dream client.
This is the part of the process that seems to trip up a lot of creative entrepreneurs. If you live in America it’s so easy to open a business bank account and set up an LLC for your business. You can also start to develop contracts to use in client work or set up insurance if you’re opening a brick & mortar store. You can easily DIY this part of the process or you can hire a lawyer and / or accountant to help you along the way. If you’re working with a business partner, this would be a good time to get an operating agreement underway. BUT—and this is a big BUT—don’t let the legal stuff stop you from making the thing you have to sell and doing the work. In all of my businesses this is one of the last things I invested in while setting up shop only because I wanted to start smart and allocate my start-up expenses on things that would help me make money right away – like branding and a website.
In Being Boss podcast episode #73, we chat with our own lawyer, Autumn Witt Boyd, about what you need (and don’t need) when it comes to setting up shop, getting legit, and legally protecting yourself.
Most likely, if you’re a creative entrepreneur, you already have the materials you need to execute your craft. For example, if you’re an artist, you already have your brushes, paints, and canvases. If you’re a designer, you already have your laptop and Pantone swatch book. If you’re launching something like a retail store, now is the time to gather the inventory you’ll need to do business.
If you are offering a service like coaching, you might “gather your materials” by investing in additional training or certification. Read some books and do some research on what will make you the best at your game. But remember, you’re going to have to show up before you’re ready – you can always continue to learn and grow along the way.
In this Being Boss “minisode” we chat more about hiring a coach or mentor who can give you more guidance and help you pinpoint next steps.
It might come as a surprise that selling comes next – before branding, launching, and opening up shop for business. This is because the sooner you can sell what you have to offer, the sooner you will have money in your bank account, feel like a legit business, and have a little confidence under your belt. I recommend you start selling by sending a personal email to your closest friends, peers, colleagues, and clients. Thank them for being a part of your journey and acknowledge the role they’ve played along the way. Then ask them if they or anyone they know might be interested in your offering.
I’d dare to say that this could come first – even before you hammer out your business model. In fact, for most creatives who “stumble” their way into working for themselves, it DOES come first. For example, one of my first freelance projects happened when a blog reader liked my self-designed wedding invitations and asked if I could make some for her too. The transaction was simple, straight-forward, and the beginning of my creative career in working for myself. I didn’t have a bank account, an LLC, or a business plan – and I didn’t need it (yet). The creative came first, then the first transaction, then the business.
Afraid of selling? My good friend Jason Zook wrote an article for on how to get over your fear of selling. Read more here >>
Branding is how you use words, story, and design (color, images, photographs, and typography) to give your business a memorable identity. A brand package might typically include:
When you hear the word “branding” you might think of a logo and business cards, but it’s also what you want people to know, do, and feel about your business that really affects your brand.
Business visioning is the part of the process where you’re able to take all the ground work you’ve already done and package it up in a way that helps you:
If you’re working with a professional branding agency, like us here at Braid Creative, you will go through a collaborative and methodical process, a bit like “brand therapy” – we call it The Braid Method. It’s a series of branding exercises and facilitated conversations where you’re a part of the process. It’s how we create a brand that helps you clarify and package together who you are and what you do into a simple, articulate, and super-visual brand platform.
In Being Boss podcast episode #56, we have our very own Tara Street chatting with us about owning your expertise (even if you’re a beginner!).
If you’ve gone through a process like The Braid Method, you already have an arsenal of graphics and content a web designer can use to create your website. However, they’ll want to take you through their own process to understand the primary purpose of your website, how your user will engage with your online space, and the kind of functionality you want to include – from a blog to eCommerce all of those things are taken into consideration when building out a site.
If you have a physical store front or office, this is the part of the process where you’ll begin bringing the look and feel of your brand into your offline space. The furniture you pick, the colors you paint, and the choices you make when designing your physical space can be inspired by all the branding work you’ve already done. Our clients with physical spaces will share the packaged branding documents we’ve created with their architect or interior designer so they understand the brand and business vision.
Whether the space you occupy is online or offline, the more groundwork you do to clarify and define your brand and business vision, the easier it is to launch. If you’re missing the foundation of who you are, what you do, and the look and feel of your business, it’s going to become glaringly obvious during the building phase of your website or storefront.
In one of our earliest episodes of Being Boss, website & online business guru, Emily Thompson, and I chat about how your website is your most valuable employee.
Phew! You’ve done a lot of work, but it’s not over yet. Now you need to launch and celebrate all your hard work! It’s time to send emails, publish content, and saturate your social media feeds with the fact that YOU HAVE ARRIVED and are ready for hire.
In Being Boss podcast episode #63, we talk about what goes into a launch—a must listen.
After launching, you can feel like your work is done… but it’s really only the beginning. You have to keep publishing, marketing, and curating client work that you can show off and share. The great news is, the more clarity you have around where you started and where you’re going, the more focus you’ll have along the way. Your brand and business vision will continue to grow and evolve as you get more work under your belt.
One of my favorite posts was written by Tara where she explains the content you create often shapes your expertise and the work you continue to do. Read that here >>
P.S. I’ve included a branding exercise worksheet straight from our Braid Method Branding ECourse that will help you clarify your creative process, which is just one part of getting clarity around what you do when you’re setting up shop.DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET
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Kathleen here. I was recently checking out my Google Analytics and it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to learn that aside from our home page, the most visited page on our website is our “about” page.
After all, your “about me” page is the first place people go to get a glimpse of who you are, what your expertise is, and if they’re in the right place to find what they’re looking for. Your about page sets the tone for what the reader can expect if they continue to read your blog, sign up for your newsletter, or even hire you.
Your “about me” page sets the tone for your entire brand.
With that in mind, open a new tab and go take a look at your “about me” page with fresh eyes. Are you saying what you mean? If you were to read it out loud does it sound like you? Are you leaving the first impression you want to make? Is it memorable?
If you think your “about me” page could use an update or refresh, we’ve got a few ideas for you. These are the things we keep in mind as we’re writing brand stories for our own clients or coaching them through the content they should include on their own “about me” page.
Our favorite trick for writing an “about me” page is to pretend as if you’re writing a letter from the editor. At the beginning of every magazine there is a letter from the editor that shares the theme of the month, why they chose that theme, and perhaps a few personal behind-the-scenes tidbits. That’s exactly what you want to do for your brand and business! So try it out! Here are a few prompts to get your started:
You might be tempted to include a typical headshot, but consider including a candid at-work or day-in-the-life-of image. Just one image can tell an entire story!
Your letter from the editor should feel personal and engage your reader on a more emotional level. But let’s say you’re a coach with lots of credentials, a speaker with an impressive roster, or a designer that wants to note client work or awards – if you want to include those things in your about me page, consider including a more “professional” bio after your letter from the editor. This can include your experience, education, credentials, proof of expertise, and notable press or features.
If you have lots of content to share, consider including your “best hits” on your about me page. This is the stuff you absolutely want someone new to your page to read first so they can get to know you even more. Include a variety of your best content with a brief description of what your reader can expect when they click through to your next level of content. Pro-tip: include your best hits in your newsletter auto-responder.
If you’re still struggling to say what you do, we have a little extra something for you – download this worksheet straight from our Braid Method Branding ECourse that will give you a formula and script to help you say what you do in a really concise way. You can then take that “positioning statement” and pad it out into a full brand story or “about me” page using the tips from this blog post.
And P.S. We’ll be live on Facebook Friday at 1PM central time to chat more about how you can update your “about me” page to better reflect your brand and business vision as a creative entrepreneur. Like us here and tune in then!
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Kathleen here thinking about how it’s so hard for creatives to describe what they do in just one or two words. I’ve been there! I wear a lot of hats: co-owner, designer, writer, brand strategist, podcaster, coach, consultant, and speaker – just to name a few. So it’s really hard to sum up what I do in just one or two words.
If you don’t know what to call yourself or how to concisely describe what you do, you have a branding problem.
Because when you don’t know how to concisely describe what you do, your potential clients will feel confused as to how they can hire or engage with you, your existing customers will have a hard time referring you to their friends, and search engines will have a hard time recommending you to people who are looking for the skills you possess.
One of the easiest ways to say what you do is to first think about someone familiar with your work. Then ask “how would they describe what I do?”
So I just literally asked my husband how he describes what I do to his co-workers, for example, to see how he simplifies what I do. He said “branding consultant and podcaster.”
Do you over-explain? Ask someone who knows you to describe the work you do. Their label might just surprise you with its simplicity.
Now, once you are able to say what it is you do, you can then follow up with all the ways you are different or “more than just” whatever your title is.
But for now – if you’re a web developer, call yourself a web developer. If you’re a brand strategist, call yourself that. If you are a life coach, call yourself a life coach.
One of the Braid Method branding exercises we take our clients through asks them to pretend they’re eavesdropping on a conversation in a coffee shop—let’s say, between a client and their friend—and imagine this client talking about the experience they had working with you:
When you imagine this conversation, think about the specific words, benefits, and objections that are coming up. This will help you with your own positioning.
Here are a few fill-in-the-blanks to get you started on this exercise:
“Oh I just love _____ because of the way she _____.”
“She’s not just a _______ she’s more like a _______.”
“You might think she’s a _______ but she’s also a ______.”
“I don’t think she understands how amazing she is at _______.”
“She not only helped me _____ but also really gave me _____.”
One of our other favorite ways of getting to the heart of what you are is clarifying what you aren’t. This is especially useful in industries or titles that include a lot of different functions.
So for example, let’s say you’re a web developer. Some people might think that includes branding, writing, strategy, SEO, social media, and ongoing maintenance. Do you actually do all those things?
"It's hard describing 'all the things' you are. Start with listing what you know you're absolutely not."
Try this branding exercise: a line in the sand. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left hand side write “I AM” and on the right hand side write down “I AM NOT”. Make a laundry list of all the things you do and don’t do accordingly. (Bonus! You can also include personality traits on this list.)
Now, is there anything on the “I AM NOT” side that you get asked to do all the time? Or is there anything on the “I AM” side that you feel like you aren’t getting enough attention or credit for? If so, this is a branding and positioning problem. You might need to get more clear about how you describe what you do, clarify your offering, or even make a shift in the customer you’re trying to target with your offer.
Okay! Now that you have a little more clarity around what to call yourself and what you do (and what you don’t do), you’ll want to do inventory on all the places your brand exists and make sure you are clearly saying what you mean in all those places:
If you’re having a hard time committing to the simple job title or description you’ve given yourself, I feel you. So here’s where I want to tell you that context matters. The design of your website, your own personal style, and the words you say before and after you introduce yourself online and offline will all play into how someone perceives your brand and what you do. So as you’re doing inventory on your words you might think about what the rest of your brand says about you too.
Did you find this exercise helpful? Be sure you're signed up for our Letters for Creatives for more tips and exercises in your inbox. Plus! We'll be holding monthly webinars to share more branding tips + exercises with you live. More details and sign up information will go out in our newsletter, so make sure you're on the list to stay up to date!
LETTERS for CREATIVES
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