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:...
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....
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.”...
Tara here. I know many of you are just starting on this adventure of building a business and brand of your own. Welcome to the wild ride! Some of you are starting on a career path working within an organization (it may not feel as wild as going rogue, but you’re still carving out your way!) Hello to you, too.
But! I’m not talking to the “just starting outers” right this moment. Nope. I’m talking to the “been-around-the-blockers.” You are at a fork, a bend, a crossing, or you simply want to stop going around this same block and try some new territory. You aren’t just starting out on this journey – you are transitioning your business or your expertise into “what’s next” for you.
And for some reason, this transition can feel a lot less exciting than the early days of starting something completely new, and frankly, more daunting.
Why does transitioning our business, our brand, or simply our expertise feel harder than starting from scratch? It’s not. We just forget how hard it was in the beginning.
When we remember the excitement of those first days, everything—even when it was small—felt big: “The first client! The first dollar! The website finally launching! The product growing! The first hire! This is working! This is sustaining! This is exceeding what I imagined!”...
Tara here. I have to say, I have more people ask me about my writing shed lately! I told Kathleen that it seems I’ll be having conversations about it for years to come! I don’t mind. I love it. I love when you can shape your space to feel creative, safe, focused, energized – or simply like “this is what I pictured! This is the vision for what I want my working life to look like!” That not only feels fulfilling, but it feels legit!
But where we work, just like where we live, has as much to do with the physical environment as it does the people we share it with. My shed is pretty solitary in the physical sense. But I’m always Skyping with clients and coworkers every day.
Many of you working on your own find the same kind of kinship and collaborative spirit online, or you make a point to step out to the local coffee shop or co-working space at least a couple times a week.
Some of you work within an organization or larger team. I see you out there too. I was one of you and I loved it too—from water cooler chatter about your favorite show to team meetings with wild doodling and brainstorming and planning, with people who – well, I’m gonna say it, people you kinda love.
Home is where the heart is. But so is work. It’s not like we just turn off our personality, our interests, our humanity, or our natural inclination toward happiness, comfort, and kinship just because we’re at work....
Kathleen here. When I was in college I worked at a fabric store. It was my job to cut bolts of raw material for people who were sewing curtains, covering a couch, or creating their own wardrobe. It was creative, fun, and I learned a lot about construction, design, and I got really good at calculating fractions and decimals and eye-balling yardage. So one day this woman comes into the store and asks a couple of my co-workers and I if we would be interested in helping her redecorate her entire house. We were excited at the opportunity but there was no clear objective, boundaries, or transactional exchange. We wound up half-heartedly designing this woman's entire house for free. It's the first time I can really recall feeling taken advantage of in a really unfair way—lesson learned. Except not...
I've had to re-learn this lesson over and over again since working for myself. Earlier in my career, I've been hired to do things that have made me feel at best, in-over-my-head and at worst, completely resentful and stressed out. All because I was still too unclear of my own brand and business vision to say no or put solid boundaries in place.
BRAND CONFUSION CLUTTERS UP BUSINESS BOUNDARIES
Listen, a lot of us creative entrepreneurs who border on being Type A control freaks (I see you) are good at A LOT of things. In fact, we can do or figure out just about anything—it's what makes us confident enough to wear so many hats as solopreneurs. So it's hard to say no when you need cash and desperately want to make a living working for yourself – or when you simply want to please the client you've grown to really like – or when you want to close the deal on that rad project that is just barely out of your scope of expertise.
When you’re a creative entrepreneur it seems like your business is always changing, even when you’re just predictably ticking right along, project-by-project. For starters, what you do and sell just keeps getting better with practice. Naturally (or intentionally!) your following and your reputation grow. For some, the growth is slow and steady, for others, it’s a flurry, and for most of us, it’s a mix of both.
Tara here. Whether you’re a hot spark or a slow burn, a tortoise or a hare, (you guys know which one I am, slow and steady wins the race, right?) – the longer you work in the business you’ve created for yourself, the more clearly you know what you like, what you love, and what you’d rather not do any more at all.
“The longer you work in the business you’ve created for yourself, the more clearly you know what you love & what you’d rather not do any more at all.”
So I want to talk about those times when we’re not just routinely ticking along. What about those times when you are completely energized, preoccupied, even agitated, by a new idea for your business—an idea that would take your business (and your life) to a way of working that you would really love. What happens when your own inner-hare starts thump-thump-thumping and wants to take off!?
When you work for yourself, it’s not like you’re in a constant state of bliss. But it’s nice, even exhilarating, when I’m randomly struck by how much freedom, flexibility, and fulfillment I really have. I feel it when I see the client names and
Because the next newsletter that’s due to go out, or the next brand platform due to a client aren’t overwhelming to-do’s—they don’t want to make me throw my hands up or quit, they fuel the dream! I know the work will unfold and happen the way it always does, in methodical steps, not in late nights or mad dashes.
This has become my natural humdrum way of working and living. There’s no going back now. For me, it’s the day-to-day routines and ways of doing business that really make my job dreamy.
1. We share content consistently & stick to sharing what we’re known for.
Kathleen, my younger sister and the force behind how we share content at Braid, loves routines. She also loves sharing content – blogging, podcasting, videocasting, and creating products that can help lots of people.
Maybe this part isn’t as fun for you. I’m more naturally inclined to the one-on-one dialogue of working with a client. But I still see how sharing content—at our own pace, on the platforms we feel comfortable with, and in our own voice—keeps our dream going:...
Tara here. Kathleen and I were hosting a webinar last week about attracting your dream client, navigating selling conversations with more confidence, and helping them actually hire you once they are ready to find out more.
The creative entrepreneurs, makers, consultants, and coaches gathered together to hang out and learn something new from us—and also share the thoughts and concerns so many of us have pinging around in our head. They also voiced many of the same heartfelt uncertainties and declarations we hear again and again (and feel ourselves!) for their brand and business vision:
“I want to show up, to position myself as an expert in my field!”
“I feel like I’m second-guessing my value to my dream client or why they should invest in me.”
“I don’t even know who my dream client is or how to attract them.”
“I need to be more consistent about how & what I share online.”
When you share your brand in all your “brand places,” what you’re really doing is informing and inspiring the people who are attracted to your style and what you sell. A brand is a blend of your style and content—so it’s also letting the people who aren’t exactly clicking with your vibe decide for themselves, “thanks but no thanks, this isn’t really a fit for me.” Tara here, and yep, like Kathleen shared yesterday, even if you have blue hair people will still want to hire you.
That’s what a brand does, it speaks for you even when you’re not there. But how are you speaking for yourself when you are there, face-to-face with a person interested in hiring you?
How do you turn a fan who is inspired by you into a paying client who trusts you and feels really good about hiring you? The answer is you don’t “turn” them. They have to make the decision for themselves. And that’s honestly a relief for most creative entrepreneurs. Because we kinda hate feeling like we have to persuade people.
Many of us cringe at the idea of “selling” ourselves. When we feel like we have to sell ourselves we either can go really over-the-top, trying to be sparkly, or sophisticated, or seem like we have “all the answers!”...
The best part about working for yourself and creating your own brand and business vision is that you get to make the rules. You can decide where you work from, what your office hours are, and you don’t have to ask anyone for vacation time off. But there are still some restricting rules we impose on ourselves—maybe from the corporate world we’ve just recently left or perhaps societal norms of “what’s professional” is subconsciously dictating some of our decisions.
Kathleen here and this week in the Being Boss Facebook group (Being Boss is the podcast I co-host) we’re chatting about whether or not it’s professional to have funky colored hair. You see, a creative had just quit her corporate job to work for herself and wanted to try something new and out-of-the-box with her hair. When she asked whether or not it was going to repel potential clients she got a resounding “No! Do your thing!” from almost 100 other creatives who are redefining the boundaries of what’s professional.
Now, the style of your hair is a superficial example of whether or not you’re playing by someone else’s rules or trying to live by a social standard that isn’t entirely authentic to your own creative expression. But there are some deeper standards and norms that might be worth reconsidering when it comes to playing by your own rules. For example, when I first started working for myself, I felt as if I should still be tracking my time in :15 minute increments—a process that was strictly adhered to in my old advertising agency. I felt so liberated the day I decided, “Nope. Time tracking is not for me.” I not only ditched the stop watch, but I started making more money by billing by the project rather than by the hour....
Personal branding is a topic that I’ve focused my entire creative career and expertise on. This probably started as a mission to be voted “most non-conformist” every year, from middle school to graduation day. Or perhaps it comes from my need to feel as if the work I’m doing has meaning and purpose that contributes to my personal identity. Or maybe it’s simply wanting to live a wholehearted, authentic, and creatively aligned life. Either way, I’m not backing down anytime soon.
Personal branding is recognizing that business is personal. People buy from people, therefore your personality is a business asset. And this is where personal branding gets tricky: who you are as a person is layered and complex and always evolving. So how do you know which aspects of your personality should show up in your business and where do you draw appropriate boundaries?
Think of your personal brand as a dinner party.
There are two big “wants” that motivate people to get their brand shaped up the way they really want it to be. You would think a strong branding desire would be to make more money, or gain more followers, or dream clients. Sure, those wants are in the mix, but the biggest pleas for branding help we hear time and time again:
1.) “I want to my brand to feel more like me! It just doesn’t look or sound like my personality or style!” and 2.) “I want my brand to be more clear! I want people to understand how to hire me, what I’m best at, and what they get from me!”
“I want a brand that feels like me.”
Stay tuned because Kathleen is going to be sharing about how to have a brand that feels more like you in the next couple of days: How to get your voice and style into your brand places, content, and conversations. This is how you attract and inspire clients, followers, even collaborators – by being yourself!
“I want a brand that is clear.”
Tara here, and I want to share more on the getting clear part, which is really about getting clear on what you sell. Once people are attracted or inspired by you, do they understand how to hire you? Do you?
Your brand is a lot of things. But here at Braid Creative we believe it’s bringing who you are in life to the table at work. We believe your personality can be one your business’s biggest asset. Your brand is how you share yourself online, in conversations, and even when you’re explaining how someone can hire you. And for the solopreneur, branding isn’t a sales tactic but it’s the precursor to closing the deal.
Branding is both how you inspire and attract others to you in the first place but it’s also how you position yourself as a creative expert who can deliver on that promise.
And here at Braid Creative, for the past five years, we’ve dedicated our entire business to just ONE thing: helping designers, coaches, consultants, nutritionists, foodies, yogis, artists, and writers navigate their brand by blending who they really are into what they really want to be known for.
P.S. On Friday, July 15th at 11AM central time we’ll be hosting a free branding webinar where we’ll be sharing more about:...
Kathleen here. You already know that Tara and I are creatives who work for ourselves doing branding, consulting, coaching, writing & design, and podcasting. But you may not know that our brother, Donny, works for himself too. He’s a performer who specializes in sideshow—he hammers nails into his head, breathes fire, and swallows swords…for a living. He’s a classic creative where he loves doing the work, but he hates the business side of things. Marketing, planning, counting money—it’s just not his thing.
So this last week we were all on a family vacation together in Seaside, Florida and my brother had a potential gig offer performing at a popular festival that he had 24 hours to decide on. The biggest problem was…they weren’t offering enough money. And when you are a sideshow performer for a living you typically take what you can get. Work is work, right?
I’ve become quite the business woman since starting Braid and negotiating sponsor contracts over on my podcast at Being Boss. So I consulted with my brother and asked “Why don’t you just ask for more money?” He didn’t want to be greedy or inconvenient or piss off a great contact by asking for more money to do what he loves for a living. You don’t have to be swallowing swords to relate. I think we’ve all felt this way at one time or another....
Tara here. Ever since I started working for myself, I’ve gone back and forth on whether I want an office to go to everyday, or if I just need to stick with the good thing I have going on—working from home. But after five years of dreaming and talking about it, I built my own backyard office that I call “the writing shed.”
The writing shed. “Going out to the shed,” means walking down a stone path that curves through my lawn to a ten-by-twelve foot little cottage built in the back of my garden. It has lots of windows that open to the breeze, with a desk, a small sitting area, and a sleeping loft above, complete with a skylight that looks up into the trees.
The shed is where I write, creative direct and develop brands for entrepreneurs and businesses. It’s small, this little place I sometimes call The Shire (like my own Hobbit hole made just for me), but it feels big. It feels like a dream.
It took a little time for me to just “do it.” I had to save the money, and then make the mental commitment to start the building process with uncertainties still circling my head like: “Will I actually use my writing shed? Will it be practical or just become a novelty? Will the wifi work out here? Will I slowly start migrating back into the house to work? Will the shed turn into a neglected dusty catchall, like a long unused playhouse with spiders living in the floorboards and wasps living in the rafters?!”
But the vision outweighed the doubts and I hired a contractor/carpenter who took about two months from start to finish. I’ve been working in the shed every day since. No more nomadic room-to-room working for me. Shed working is exactly what I imagined it would be....
One of the cool things about being a life coach is that you do a lot of self-coaching. Even the most experienced life coaches have self-limiting beliefs and get stuck too. And coaching—on yourself and others—is all about finding a negative thought and looking at it from a new perspective. But if any of you have ever been stuck in a funk or just have a serious case of ’bout-to-start-your-period, you probably know that this can be a hard thing to do.
So how do life coaches get underneath a negative thought? By asking lots and lots of questions. This can feel intrusive at first but it’s all about curiosity and gathering information—and loosening the grip around self-limiting belief that feels oh-so very real.
My very favorite question that I’ve learned from Martha Beck herself to use in coaching sessions (and that I use all. the. time. on myself) is this:
Why is that so bad?
Asking “Why is that so bad?” accomplishes a couple things:
1. It takes you deeper into the negative thought, which often uncovers the root of the real problem… OR
2. It makes you realize that what you thought was a problem is not in fact a problem at all.
Growing followers, a likeminded group of people who relate to your message, who value what you can share with them, and who want to engage in the conversation you’re putting out there – for so many of us this is how we dream of genuinely helping others, while positioning ourselves as inspiring creatives entrepreneurs that people want to subscribe to, buy from, trust and hire.
Tara here! And this sharing of ourselves and our content is what we’ve all been taught. I’m not here to disagree, it’s what I do too (literally, I’m doing it right now writing to you, “duh” as my eight year old says about every five seconds lately). But I do want to add onto the content sharing formula – what happens after you attract people to you? How does this translate into a business, an expertise, a person people trust?
What happens after you attract people to you? After you get noticed, how do you get hired?
Yeah, we want to put our personality and our point of view out there. Do it consistently and with passion, and over time the followers, subscribers, clients – will come. But part of the allure of “being the one who attracts” is more than just building a list. I think it may be socially wired into us (it probably started right around when we were eight years old, too) and has nothing to do with getting the clicks or closing the deal, but simply feeling like a big deal....
One of my favorite things about working with creative entrepreneurs and aspiring-to-be’s, is getting to brainstorm what a super dreamy life looks like.
For some creatives it’s the ideal morning that involves white sheets, french pressed coffee, fresh air, and loads of journaling. For others it’s traveling the world. For most creatives I work with though, a dream life is about a feeling of confidence, courage, and creativity. Or something along those lines. When it comes to making that feeling a reality it’s my job, as a creative coach, to ask:
What does that look like?
This question always throws my clients for a loop. “What do you mean?” is typically how they’ll respond.
What I mean is what does confidence look like? What does inspired look like? What does courage, creativity, productivity, joy, peace, happiness, excitement, and love look like? If you can build visuals, textures, and actions around the feelings you can start to bring them into your life on the daily.
Try this: Take out a blank piece of paper and write down 3-5 things you want to feel as you move through life. Or even better, write down a LOT of things you want to feel and then circle 3-5 that really stand out to you.
Then make these feelings real by trying the following exercises:...
My whole life I’ve lived by the motto “Do what you want.” And it turns out when you do what you want, you get pretty good at making decisions that get you where you want to go. My desire to quit my job led me down the path to being my own boss and starting Braid Creative with my sister. My desire to see Mt. Everest led me to the Himalayas in Nepal. My desire to share my story has led me to helping other creatives share theirs and live what they love too.
Kathleen here, and I realize that “Do What You Want” may sound like quite the selfish motto—a rallying cry of youngest siblings everywhere—but happiness is radiant. And it’s contagious. When you’re truly doing what you want, you’ll find yourself, and the people around you, much happier than if you’re living your life out of compromised obligation.
“NEED TO” & “HAVE TO” vs. “WANT TO” & “CHOOSE TO”
Now, I’m not saying that my whole life is dedicated to fulfilling every whim of want. There are some things we need to do to function as responsible adults. These responsibilities and duties can start to feel heavy and overwhelming. (Especially if you spend a lot of time on Pinterest and have convinced yourself that everyone but you lives a perfectly curated life amongst white washed homes and dinner parties in fields.) Your job can lead to burnout if you forget what you’re working for. Your relationships can lead to resentment if you refuse to receive as much as you give.