Kathleen here. When I tell people I own a business with my sister they respond one of two ways: either they say “oooh, you’re so lucky! I wish I could work with my sister!” or “I could NEVER work with my sister.” And the truth is, most days I feel really lucky. A huge perk is that 30+ years of shorthand as sisters has allowed us to expedite our growth as a business. Plus, we always know that we’ve got each other’s back – and that kind of trust makes for powerful business.
Tara and I started working together at an advertising agency. She was literally the boss of me – and that was okay because as my older sister she has been the boss of me pretty much our entire lives. Then when we started our business together we went from being sisters to being the boss of each other – and once we hired a team we both became the bosses of our employees. We have to make a lot of decisions together and often take turns at the wheel when it comes to driving this bus. And to continue with that bus-driving metaphor sometimes our path is smooth sailing, other times the terrain is a little more rocky.
My favorite part about working with my sister (aside from the vacations we get to write off as business) is that she’s one of the smartest people I know. She thinks in layers and can see the domino effect of any scenario in an instant. And when you meet her you’ll probably want her to be your big sister and business partner too....
Raise your hand if you made a resolution to meditate more in 2016. (I’m raising my hand). Since January 1 how many times have you taken the time to get quiet with yourself? (I’m counting half the fingers on my raised hand.)
Meditation has hit the mainstream and it’s something we’ve all learned is as important to our health and well-being as exercise and eating right. If you’re like me it’s hard for you to make sitting with yourself in silence a priority. It’s just so easy to put off when you have blog posts to write, TV shows to watch, books to read, treadmills to run, Pinterest to peruse, things to design, and a world to take over. As I’m trying to develop my own meditation practice I’ve been giving lots of thought to different kinds of meditating and tools to help me stick with it. Here’s what I’ve uncovered:
THE SIT DOWN & BURN INCENSE KIND OF MEDITATION:
So this is what I think of when I picture what meditation looks like. And this is often the kind of meditation that I put off and don’t make time for. I’ve found that my challenge with sitting down and being silent with myself is that my mind starts to race. I get that meditation is the practice of stilling those said racing thoughts, but it can be such a struggle. So I’ve found that having an intention or even a guided story in my mind helps me find focus and the kind of deep peace I’m looking for with my meditation practice. I share four different meditation “stories”, weekly, in my DIY Coaching for Creatives Email Sessions that I’ve found super helpful to developing my own sit-down-and-meditate practice. It’s not a typical guided meditation where you plug in the headphones and listen to someone talk to you. It’s more like a narrative or guide that you read and recount for yourself as you settle into silence.
New Year's is probably one of my favorite times of the year – because there is nothing I love more than new beginnings. There is so much promise and potential with each passing year. But with that comes a smidge of fear and potential for (bum-bum-bum) FAILURE. If you hate New Year’s resolutions it might be because it’s too mainstream and trite to set impossible goals on January 1. I’m with you and would agree except that I’ll take any occasion to get my dreamy goal-setting on. Or you may dread New Years because every year you make a new resolution and lose momentum after a few weeks – only to make you feel guilty and worse than if you had just kept coasting along as-is.
So today I’d like to invite you to try a new approach to setting your New Year’s resolutions. I want you to grab two sheets of paper. On one, draw a line down the middle – on the left side write down “2015 / Reflect”. On the right side write down “2016 / Dream”.
STEP 1: Reflect.
Get really honest here. Take the time to be real with yourself about regrets or where you could’ve improved. But on the flip-side this is no place to be humble. You can brag on yourself about all the things you did right and use this space to give yourself a big pat on the back.
• What went right in 2015?
• What would you do differently?
• What was the biggest lesson you learned?
• What did you create?
The number one problem I’ve found with creatives who are unsatisfied, and can’t seem to find the dream they’re supposed to be living – is that they’re not getting specific enough. Their vision of a well-designed life is made up of vague words and little to no action.
Tara here. I love when Kathleen wrote that. It’s just the kind of love-it-or-hate-it statement she would make, throwing down the gauntlet to creative entrepreneurs (or aspiring-to-be’s) who aren’t really saying what they need to be saying – especially to themselves.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say “yep, I tend to not get as specific about my ‘wants’ as I could,” even though I help our clients get incredibly specific and clear in their own business vision and brand messaging – it’s harder to point the wand at yourself. So I feel you, if it feels scary to get specific.
Kathleen first wrote about getting specific when she started coaching creatives about their fears, dreams and vision. She shared a lot of the tools and insights she developed on her personal blog, AndKathleen.com, which has always been her “experimental ground” for sharing what’s she’s up to in her personal and professional life....
When you work for yourself, as a creative entrepreneur, it can be tricky to explain what you do. I know many of the creatives we hear from can get tripped up explaining what they do in quick-and-short instances—like introductions with other people. On flip-side, I get tripped up if I start thinking too hard about it – all existential-like. For instance, how would I explain my job if aliens landed in my backyard this afternoon? If vikings invaded our neighborhood from a portal in time? If the eight-year-old version of myself suddenly tapped me on the shoulder while I was sitting at my laptop?
When you’re a creative entrepreneur, it can be tricky to explain what you do.
Tara here, and I’m used to talking about what I do all the time, but if I pop-quizzed-myself with these slightly far fetched scenarios, I can still have that moment of “Uh. Hold on a sec... Oh yeah. This is what I do!”
Like so many of you, there are layers to my work. So these “what the heck?” moments don’t come from a lack of doing or thinking, but more likely from an overabundance of doing and thinking.
But! If I had to break out what I actually do every day, it’s a mix of:...
“People buy from people. That’s what personal branding is all about.” (click to tweet)
Okay, the buying part isn’t what it’s all about, but it sure is a good reason to give your personal brand some thought and attention. Personal branding at it’s core is about genuine confidence. Having a good sense of your personal brand (your voice, your point of view, your style) gives you confidence to put yourself out there in conversations, in the content you write, post, send, and even the way you work with your clients—as a creative with something to say, and as a creative entrepreneur.
Tara here. What really sparked this post is a recent monthly masterclass Kathleen and I held breaking down our personal branding exercises for our Braid ECourse creatives. They had lots of great questions in the live webinar, and a lot it came down to knowing how much or how little to really put out there, and the hesitation we can all feel when it comes to really “owning” our personal brand.
So when we say your personal brand helps people buy from you – as a person – what we’re trying to help creatives understand is you don’t have to be all cold and “businessy” (hide behind stiff or overly-clever businessy language or branding) to get hired, get paid, and grow a legit business of your own. You and your business can (and in most cases, should) convey your own unique personal + professional blend because people buy from people. But finding that special blend isn’t always easy.
As creative entrepreneurs, so many of us share content to advise, inspire (or simply share what we’re going through) with people who might find it useful, thought-provoking, comfortably relatable, or freaking inspiring! So here’s a question that came up for us around sharing yourself online in our Braid ECourse masterclass webinar last week, and it may be one you’ve asked yourself as well:
“I struggle a bit between sharing struggles and sharing successes online. I feel like when I share struggles, people aren’t going to want to hire me, as if I don’t know what I’m talking about. When I share successes, I fear that I’ll sound a bit braggy. Does anyone else struggle with this?” – Julie | Braid ECourse Masterclasser
Oh man, that’s a good one! You don’t want to sabotage your own put-togetherness—the “I got this” confidence that instills trust in those who want to pay you to help them and do right by them. On the flip-side, you don’t want to be off-putting to the followers, friends, and peers in your sharing circles by getting too braggy and boastful about your successes.
We hear you! We all want to be authentic, to get real about the good stuff, and the bad, in our blog posts, newsletters, social media, and other sharing places. So what are the boundaries? What is the balance between letting people in on your “behind-the-scenes” vs. inviting them into your “dear diary land?”...
We’ve posted in the past about sharing yourself online and blending personal and professional on your online sharing space, but when we talk about our specialty: blending YOU into what you do—or creating a business around your personal brand, we often get questions about where to set your boundaries:
How do I bring more of me into my branding and work by sharing more than just the curated highlights of my life, but also have boundaries so I don’t end up Instagramming every aspect of my life? And what’s more: How will I know which details of my life are and are not interesting to my followers?
Kathleen here. I used to be an open book when it comes to sharing online – so it was easy for me to tell my clients and audience “You do you! Put it out there and don’t apologize for it!” … and then I became a mom. My boundaries shifted big time but I had no idea where the lines were drawn. Was I sharing too much? Not enough? Pre-baby I was totally cool fumbling through life in plain view of the whole world. But now? Not so much. Through this experience I developed compassion for creatives who were asking me where to draw the line when it comes to their own sharing boundaries. So this post isn’t just for you – it’s for me too. My boundaries have changed but I still very much have a story to tell. Here are five ways you can “keep it real” while also respecting your ever-evolving boundaries.
1. USE YOUR WORDS...
Kathleen here. Being Boss is my podcast that I co-host with my creative colleague and good friend Emily Thompson. One day after recording we began playing around with the idea of going on vacation together. Then we got curious – what if we invited our listeners to come with us? We imagined maybe twenty or so “bosses” would want to take a vacation with us – when the sign-ups came rolling in we decided to cap what was now turning into a full blown event at seventy-five attendees.
Fast-forward to a gorgeous week in October where we met up in New Orleans with #girlbosses from all corners of the country. We got to know each other over sugary cocktails and intimate dinners. We hosted a masterclass and recorded a podcast in front of a live audience. We went on a ghost tour in the French Quarter with a man who may or may not have been a vampire (he tried to convince us of this by not blinking THE ENTIRE TOUR). We walked around with powdered sugar on our black jeans – evidence of a beignet fully enjoyed. We had our tarot cards read and carefully picked out the perfect crystals for our collections back home. I learned a lot on this trip:
SOMETHING MAGICAL HAPPENS WHEN YOU CONNECT IN REAL LIFE
I am so grateful to live in a time where we can be location-independent creatives from anywhere. The internet, Skype, social media, and all the technology we have available to us makes it so easy to connect, build relationships, and do business from your fingertips. The opportunities and convenience we have to connect online is so easy, that it’s also easy to forget what happens when you come together in real life: magic.
Kathleen here. A lot of people ask me how Braid landed Dr. Brené Brown as a client and the answer it simple – I read her book Daring Greatly, reviewed it here on this blog, and then practiced being vulnerable and shared it with Brené herself on Twitter. From there, she started following our work and contacted us to overhaul her personal brand before her first appearance on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.
So it feels a little full circle to be writing another review of Brené’s newest book Rising Strong. In fact, I’ve been in the trenches with Brené for a few years now that I took for granted how truly brilliant her work is – Rising Strong was a really great reminder. Here’s what I learned:
THE STORY YOU’RE TELLING YOURSELF
The overarching theme and the big takeaway I got from Rising Strong is that your life is one big story you’re telling yourself… and if you’re brave enough and strong enough you can own the struggle and you can write a new ending.
YOU CAN’T SKIP OVER THE MESSY MIDDLE
In a day of perfectly composed Instagram vignettes and impeccably curated Pinterest boards it’s easy to feel like that’s what life should look like. But the truth is, living a wholehearted life means getting a little messy. Brené was giving a talk at Pixar and afterwards had lunch with the creative team. They were talking about the creative process, the art of storytelling, and of course about fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability.
Tara and I work with lots of creatives who want to empower, inspire, champion, and charge. We love some grand vision as much as the next guy but these kinds of lofty goals always leave us asking “Okay, that’s great – but what do you actually want to be doing all day?”
If you can’t identify what your day of empowering and inspiring actually looks like, in very specific detail, than you’re setting yourself up for failure.
A couple weeks ago we touched on this very topic in our Brand Visioning Webinar.
Empowering, inspiring, and championing are really great core values – but what’s the action? And how do you actually explain how you provide that to your audience?
You have to remember that you cannot sell inspiration, you cannot sell empowerment, and you cannot sell customer service. Those are things that people experience after they’ve already hired you, so you need to get specific about what you’re offering that might create those experiences as a byproduct.
One of the reasons this gets so hard for creative entrepreneurs is because often we have so many different interests, and we don’t want to “limit” ourselves to just one thing....
If you’ve got your eyes on our blog and your ears on the Being Boss Podcast — you’ve heard us mention a time or two the power of mindset, and making mental space for a successful business.
At Braid we use a chalkboard wall and physically draw out blank spaces as our practice of manifesting dream clients each quarter. But there’s a little more to it than that.
Caitlin here. I’m Braid’s assistant. I’ve been a long time follower of their work and blog and have been working with Tara, Kathleen, and Liz behind the scenes for the last several months. And without disrupting the amazing voices of Kathleen and Tara in this space, I wanted to pop in and share something that I’ve observed in working with them that perhaps they haven’t even really seen. Yes they’ve got the woo-woo working for them, but they’ve got some practical mojo working for them too.
I love me some good power-of-the-mind practices as much as the next gal. But when it comes to starting or even up-leveling, your own business, you’ve got to pair your woo with some hustle. I call it the “hustle-woo”...It’s a working title. Let’s just run with it here.
When it comes to your business, you’ve got to pair your woo with some hustle. Let’s call it the hustle-woo. (click to tweet)...
Something magical happens when you’ve become a creative expert. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you may find that you’re the last one to adopt the “creative expert” title for yourself, but at some point you’ll take a step back—after sending that final invoice to a client, after designing your 85th logo, after showing your client a moodboard and hearing that enthusiastic “YES!”—and you’ll think, “Wow! I am really good at this!”
“But I’m so busy in the doing!” you might say. And yeah, the client managing, business managing and the creating itself for sure, is a big part. But another part is doing what creative experts do. So we want to share with you our do-like-a-creative-expert list—and if you’re kind of at that “fraudy feeling” stage where you’re not quite ready to claim your creative expertise, you might find that you’ve got some of these items covered too:
Creative experts explain, they don’t sell.
You can’t have a business without a sales funnel because no matter how fabulous your services are, the idea that anything “just sells itself” is a lie. Creative experts know this, but they also know that a stuffy sales pitch is not going to do them any favors either. So what do they do? They explain. Your clients want a behind-the-scenes peek, a glimpse into what drives you to create an amazing product, and a preview of the journey you’ll take them on in your time working together.
Creative experts know that the sales process is really just a conversation—not polished and perfected, but genuine and transparent to really get that potential client to understand the process and connect with you and what you’re offering.
Do you have a creative process you follow? Are you taking the same steps every time? Are you showing your client? Are you letting them truly be a collaborative part of the process? Are you actually sticking to your method when you’re all alone trying to figure out this design or deliverable or recommendation... “for reals?” Or are your steps just empty bullets on your website? Are these questions making you squirm just a little?
We aren’t trying to process-shame you! We just get really passionate about this.
Creating a process for ourselves—our Braid Method, in fact—is how we were able to go from designers/writers for hire, to branding experts in lightening fast speed. Our first three months of business was taking on any client who would pay the bills, for any project we could write, design or brand. By the end of our first nine months of business, we were only working with dream clients (creative entrepreneurs working for themselves) who hired us for our specific branding process, not the whole kitchen sink or other one-off projects that we don’t specialize in.
Now four years later we look back and ask: how would we ever have developed our ecourse, or shared our ebooks or email series, or continued to get hired by so many creatives from around the country and world (we’re from the midwest you guys) if we didn’t actually use the creative tools and steps we had already taken ten, then twenty, then fifty, and now hundred times and counting for our own clients?
Even if you don’t want to go quite as far as defining this all-encompassing creative process, wouldn’t it just be nice to feel more in control of your client projects? Wouldn’t it be a relief to be able to walk someone through your steps and what they get at the end with confidence, so you didn’t have to sell so hard?...
As creatives, we are so often trained to adapt our style to the task at hand. We are taught that the approach to each project should fit the challenge, and our own hand in getting there should leave no trace of our own point-of-view. Like creative chameleons, we are there to make our product or service fit the client’s wants, needs, and desires.
But we’re going to object to this one – just a little. Now before this ruffles feathers (which it does, oh my!), let us tell you why. You’re not just a conduit with impeccable taste, an impersonator of any style who also knows their way around (pick one) a laptop, a lens, a drafting table, a chef’s table, a spreadsheet, a yoga mat. Designers are not just pixel pushers, photographers are not just camera operators, writers are not just transcriptionists, nutritionists are not just diet coaches, and life coaches are not just a shoulder to cry on.
You don’t have to be a creative chameleon, erasing all trace of your own style or point of view, to create, advise, guide, and make – for others. (click to tweet)
Of course, we want to create (and create results) for our clients. But this should not be mistaken for operating on puppet strings. How do we balance approaching their wants and needs with respect and empathy – while still asserting our creative expertise?
Your creativity and your knowledge is how you serve. Your creativity is the gift you bring to the party. But what if you could be the kind of creative who’s known for her really great signature style or her tough-love approach or her unusually subtle yet instinctual approach?...
It feels good to get paid. But it feels great to knock the socks off a client – to make them cheer, or cry, or simply smile with this complete satisfaction and confidence in what you created for them.
What doesn’t feel great is if you just hit a wall at every step, you feel like expectations are completely off-base from each other, and in the end, even if they’re happy, you’re just happy to be done.
You want to like your job. And when you work for yourself, there comes a point where you have, in fact, created a job of your own making. You’ve settled down into your routines, settled into the flow of busy times and not-so-busy times, and you aren’t as freaked that you’ll never get another client again (but sure are grateful when you do!)
You want to like your clients. But here’s the thing – liking your clients isn’t about them being better clients, it’s about you being a better creative expert. (click to tweet)
How can you share your offering as a creative expert... if you don’t know yourself?
Before you start listing off all the kind of clients you don’t want – or even dreaming about the ones you do – start with you. What is the work you want to be doing? What are you best at? What is your style and voice? Because the real shift happens from being a “creative-for-hire” to a “creative-with-a-clear-purpose” when you are able to infuse your work, your actions, your content, and your offerings with what you’re best at + what you know about your dream client: their pains, their wants, their personality, their dreams.
How can share your offering to your dream client... if you don’t know them?...
If you’ve done exercises from our Braid Ebook for Designers or from our Braid Method Branding ECourse, you know we like to help you shape and share your words. But what about creating and showing your work?
Creative entrepreneurs can show their work in lots of way. Think about the places where you are sharing: your website, portfolio, and case studies, perhaps. Then think about your creative work out there simply speaking for itself – as your clients share with friends and peers, and people experience your work firsthand out “in the world.”
That’s a lot of eyeballs on what you’ve created. And that’s great! But if you were to go to those places and look at your own work with fresh eyeballs, would you see the kind of work you want to do more of? Or would you only see the kinds of projects you never want to do again? You might not feel this black-and-white about it. Typically there are a few projects in there you love, but chances are there might be quite a few more that feel like the “old” you – and you’re ready for some “new.”
Ever heard the expression “like attracts like?” If you want to change the kind of work you’re hired to create, then you’ve gotta start creating and showing the kind of work you want to be making!
So let’s say you don’t want to do wedding invitations anymore, you want to do branding for other event planners and wedding professionals. That’s not a huge leap. In fact, it feels pretty logical. But it can feel like a huge hurdle if no one is hiring you for brand design – only invitations....
There is a mindset shift that happens when you go from being solely a creative-for-hire, to being a creative who guides their own process, shares their point-of-view, and is branded (and hired as) an expert – and it has to do with how you spend your work time.
This shift happens when you make it a priority to spend time shaping your brand and your business, even when it feels like you only have time to do client work.
This isn’t easy when our natural tendency is the “doing.” The doing is the rewarding part, right? The reward can simply be that feeling of being in the zone and totally losing yourself in the work – especially in those times when you’re lucky enough to be doing the work you love. But even if that’s not the case, you still just love the comfortable routine of the “doing” itself, plus paying the bills even if every project can’t feed the soul.
The “doing” is necessary because it’s how you make your product or provide your service, it’s how you make money, and it’s how you make yourself into a more skilled, layered, and confident creative expert over time.
The “shaping” is a little more challenging. At first. It takes a different kind of practice. This is devoting time to work on your positioning, your personal brand, and where you want your business to go. Usually “shaping” is working on your own stuff....
Creative entrepreneurs rarely stop at the skill they began their business with. So what’s your business vision? Is it...
- to design for a certain kind of dream client? Who?
- to work within one very specialized kind of niche? What?
- to pair your skill with planning, consulting or some other kind of service? How?
- to infuse your creative work with more purpose? Why? To what end?
Not every one of these vision questions above is going to get you fired up. Some of them you may feel so-so about at best and overwhelmed about at worst. But we would bet—after all the designers we’ve worked with, coached with, and talked about our fears and dreams with—at least one of these questions above, and its answer (even if it’s still fuzzy), feels like “what’s next” for you.
A fuzzy vision can make you feel shy about sharing content, shaky about your offerings, and slow to shape the brand you know you really want.
So let’s talk about that fuzzy feeling. You know you want what’s next, but you might think you need to get your vision (and your content) completely focused in and clearly shaped up before you can start sharing it with other people. But often what we share as-we-go is what shapes what we become.
Imagine your vision coming through in:
- your emails with prospective (and current) clients
- your wardrobe and personal style
- your blog posts (or mini-posts like Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest)
- your daily schedule and routines
- your “about me” page on your website
- your “about me” conversations with your friends and family
There’s a difference between deciding to work in a creative field and deciding to become a creative entrepreneur who works for yourself. There’s an even more subtle yet significant leap (in mindset + just making it happen) to go from a creative entrepreneur who works for yourself to a creative who is positioned as a creative expert.
“Expert” is a heavy word. You might not be sure how you feel about it. So let’s remember for a second why you became a “creative entrepreneur,” which is hopefully a label you happily embrace.
You became a creative entrepreneur because you love creating things that all click together in this really cool way. You can look at a problem—at something that’s missing, at something that’s just a total mess, or something that’s almost there but still not quite right—and make it into something that works, that inspires, and that gives you this feeling of “I did that.”
That feeling at the end of a successful client project—be it large or small—is so good. But sometimes it gets all muddled by other feelings along the way: “Ugh. It took so many revisions.” “I wish the client had liked it more.” “I wish I had liked it a little more.” “It could’ve been better if only...” Here’s the thing – it is so easy for creatives to blame these woulda-coulda-shoulda’s on the client. And all too often, deep down, we blame it on our own fear that we just aren’t talented enough, smart enough, creative enough, or good enough....