“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....
Tara here. I love when a creative sees a way forward that sparks their excitement as much as it makes good solid sense for their business. For example, when they tap into a more focused specialty, a more methodical way of working, or a way of packaging their services that helps them say no to the things they don’t want to do anymore, and create a more specific and meaningful brand for themselves.
Once we see that new way – usually by experiencing glimmers of it in a dream project, with a dream client, or just with clarity around what we’re really best at – it’s hard to go back. We fear going back.
Fear can be a motivator, too. The fear of backsliding – going back to our old job, going back to our old way of doing business, or going back to a way of being that we just don’t want to be anymore – can push us to keep moving forward. And that’s a good thing. A steep and rocky slide behind us can give us enough of a jolt to:
- move forward with sharing more of our personal brand
- move forward with charging just a little more for our services
- finally launching a product that will help shift our business model,
- or just finally declare: “this is new direction is my specialty, it’s what I love and what I want to do, and that’s what I’m calling myself, and branding myself as from here on out, no looking back!”
Big steps forward fuel us. They keep us going after our goals. They keep us from having a wishy-washy brand. They help us keep our eyes on our own page, and overcome our fear of backsliding into “what used to be.”...
“I used to think branding was just about logos, fonts, and colors. But I realized that my trouble articulating what I do is really a branding problem.” – Kat, Illustrator and a Braid Method Branding ECourse Student
One of the hardest things to do as a creative entrepreneur is being able to tell people what you do. Kathleen here. Just yesterday morning I was in a boxing class (yup, I finally watched Mad Max: Fury Road and was inspired to be a post-apocalyptic badass – boxing class seemed like a good place to start) and the coach asked me what I do for a living. And even as someone who tells creatives how to tell other people what they do for a living, I had that moment where I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to tell this guy, who boxes for a living, what it is I do. I boiled it down to “graphic design” and that was an appropriate answer given the context of his expertise (boxing) and my experience leading up to becoming a branding guide and creative coach (who started as a graphic designer over a decade ago).
But it’s not just in out-of-context situations (like boxing class … or Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who don’t understand your creative career) that creative entrepreneurs have a hard time explaining what they do. Creatives often find themselves stammering in front of potential dream clients and while networking with their peers. And like Kat, an illustrator taking our branding ecourse, said, the inability to articulate what you do isn’t a confidence problem – it’s a branding problem.
You might be having a hard time telling people what you do for a living if:...
Kathleen here. My purpose as a creative entrepreneur is to live what I love, say what I mean, and be who I am 100% in both work and life. When I asked my older sister Tara (and Braid business partner) what her purpose was when we first started this path together, she said "you know, I just want to feel like a creative expert and get paid well doing it.” Our combined passion, purpose, and honestly pragmatic desires manifested as The Braid Method.
Sticking with the method (and the roadmap it has created for us) has kept us focused,
kept us turning our ideas into action, and kept us attracting dream clients to our brand
as creative experts who blend who we are into what we do.
We couldn’t have done the kind of work we’ve done over the past four years, for all the creatives we’ve helped – without The Braid Method. It’s been, and continues to be, how we do branding and business visioning for each and every one of our one-on-one clients.
So… we’ve decided to take our tried and true process and put it into one self-guided ECourse + Workbook just for you.
This ecourse didn’t happen overnight – we’ve spent many years writing, developing, designing, and refining this content. What we’ve created is a 300+ page book with 7 lesson modules, a workbook with over 20 branding exercises and scripts, quarterly masterclasses, and an exclusive Facebook group so you can cultivate your creative pack with us and other ecourse students. Here’s a snapshot of what we’re covering:
GET SPECIFIC ABOUT YOUR DREAMS (AND EVEN YOUR FEARS)
In Lesson 1 we teach you how to get specific about your fears and your dreams so you can make decisions faster and be confident you’re on the right path.
Last week a discouraged creative entrepreneur told me that she feels like everyone is doing the same thing. Why bother when there are a million talented creatives already out there?
On days when I’m feeling particularly optimistic I think we’re just lucky to be alive – that our one in a bajillion chance of even being here is our greatest accomplishment and anything else we can make or create is gravy on top. But on days when I’m feeling insecure or discouraged I know exactly how that creative I was talking to last week feels. Why bother?
For example, a couple years ago when I uncovered that I was not just passionate about branding but also coaching other creatives to live what they love, I felt like everyone and their dog was becoming a life coach. I asked myself “How many professional cheerleaders does the world need? “Who’s going to actually do the work and live the dream if everyone is just cheering from the sidelines?”
And then when I decided to launch an ECourse I felt like everyone else was already crushing it with their six-figure B-School online offering. When I fall into a comparison trap it feels like quicksand and I don’t have the energy to hustle - like Atreyu’s horse dying in the Swamp of Sadness in The Neverending Story.
YOU’RE NOT A UNIQUE SNOWFLAKE
Kathleen here. I wasn’t planning on writing a post today – you see, we’ve been crazy busy wildly productive over here at Braid – between deadlines and meetings for our Braid Method clients, finalizing our Braid Method Branding ECourse (launching in June!), recording the Being Boss podcast, and trying to keep my tiny human alive – there just hasn’t been much time for writing or reflection.
But here I am, between presentations and meetings on the busiest day of my week sitting in a cupcake shop drinking a decaf Americano and eating a strawberry cupcake. I had the choice between tackling my inbox or doing something I really love – like writing this post. I chose the latter, because who wants to clear out their inbox while eating a cupcake? I also really want to tell you about a recent trip I took with my sister to Marfa, Texas.
I was invited to go to Marfa to speak to a small group of women about designing a dream life and creating an ideal day. The request came at an especially busy time but just like writing this post I decided to say yes. Yes to adventure! Yes to living the dream! And my vision of working for myself includes lots of business travel that feels a little more like vacation, so I made my sister come with.
We flew into Midland, Texas and listened to Alec Baldwin’s Here’s the Thing podcast as we made a three hour drive down to Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a teeny-tiny town in the high desert of West Texas where artists and makers go to make art and soap, and tourists come to see them and buy their goods. I best knew of Marfa, Texas from the art installation that looks like a Prada store in the middle of nowhere. Beyoncé took her photo in front of it. So of course, I pretended to be Beyoncé until I had to go to the bathroom – then I pretended to be Jemima Kirke from GIRLS as I peed behind the oh-so-Instagrammable building....