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 SNOWFLAKEI’m pretty sure that discouraged designer wanted me to tell her the same thing I want to hear when I’m feeling blah about what I do and begin comparing myself to everyone else. What I want to hear is that I’m a unique snowflakes and only I possess the talent to do what I do....
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....
Kathleen here. Yesterday Tara and I were in a meeting with a couple of soulful creatives who are out on a mission to change the world and create community – one person at a time. In fact, most of our dream clients and creative colleagues either want to build, facilitate, or crave a sense of belonging to their tribe. The idea of cultivating community has always been a bit overwhelming to me – until recently. It’s been hard for me to pinpoint what “community” even really means and I wasn’t sure I’d know it if I saw it – until I built a fire pit in my own backyard.
Around this time last year I was just a few months in to my new mom gig and my world had been turned upside down by a new tiny human. One Friday night after work I was hanging out with my sister in her kitchen (yup, we’re business partners and best friends) wearing my sweet happy baby in a sling. My husband texted “where you at?” and when I told him he offered to pick up some pizza and beer. We were all together and for the first time I felt comfortable in my new normal. Everything about that evening was so good, and as we were leaving to head home for a long sleepless night my sister’s neighbor came out wanting to see the baby. In the midst of some neighborly chit-chat she mentioned that the mid-century modern split-level house next to hers was about to go on the market – I said “SOLD!” and just a couple months later my little family was moving into a house practically across the street from my sister.
One of the things that appealed to me most about my new neighborhood were the neighbors. When I signed on the dotted line I also inherited an annual block party – I was happy to oblige. During Christmastime neighbors leave hand-painted ornaments, presents for your kids, and tins filled with cookies and caramel corn “from Santa” on your porch. The whole neighborhood celebrates the 4th of July with our own little parade....
Kathleen and Tara here. We want to talk to the designers out there for a minute. You want to be this amazing creative designer who works for yourself… but it can come with all this fear of rejection, self-doubt, and uncertainty (like "is this even a real job?").
But you do it anyway because you love design, and you want to create a working life for yourself that you love.
One thing we’ve learned from working with, talking with and getting dreamy with other designers, is that it doesn’t matter if you work in a big city, small town, or somewhere in between – designers rarely stop at just being designers. There’s always a vision.
So what’s your vision? Is it to design for a certain kind of dream client? Who? To design within one very specialized kind of niche? What? To pair design with planning, consulting or some other kind of service? How? To infuse your design with more purpose? Why? To what end?
All the questions!! But that’s how we do. We always want to give you a framework for thinking about what’s next for you and confidence owning what you can embrace now.
We started as designers. We still are designers. We love branding designers. So we got all fired up and wrote a how-to-do-it-guide... for the designers....
You may think you need to get all your ducks in a row—a perfect business vision, business model, business brand, personal brand… all neatly lined up and packaged up, before you start sharing content with anyone else.
So you hesitate to launch until you know every single detail is perfectly in place (and every person who sees it will love it).
You shy away from telling people what you really do in conversations until you’ve proven you’re a success at it (and that means proving it to yourself first, which can be the most difficult person to please of all).
You circle around a blog post or an email you want to send for days, until you muster the courage to put something that’s a little more personal than professional out into the world.
Or vice versa, you backpedal from writing about your business dream versus the typical weekend highlights that your friends and family have come to expect from fun-loving, weekend-loving (but surely not business-loving!) you.
You’re waiting. You’re waiting for your business, or your dream, or your brand, to match what it is you want to say now. But they’ll never catch up with your head and heart. So just say it. (Tweet this)
Whatever the content is—you’re waiting to hit send, publish, or even say it out loud—the point is, you’re waiting. You’re waiting for your business or your dream or your brand to match what it is you want to say now. And here’s the thing—they’ll never catch up....
Tara here, and when we develop a personal brand for a creative entrepreneur we have a pretty strong belief— it’s called the blend. We feel so strongly about it, because we don’t do branding any other way. Kathleen and I believe—no, we know—that the blend of who you are and what you do is like magic.
It’s not like one-shot magic bullet. “Bam! This is how I’m going to be famous, and/or fulfilled, and/or make a million, and/or make just enough. I’ve figured it out, let’s launch this and call it a day!”
Nope, this blend is more like magic beans. “Here’s my personal style bean. Here’s my beliefs bean. My skills are the speckledy one. My offering, oh yeah, it’s the gold one.” I may have started describing eggs, but that metaphor works too, because you’re hatching something, and it’s not just one thing. You’re hatching a collection, a mix, of all these amazing gifts you have going for you. They just need some nurturing, hard work and time to see them come to light.
I know in the story the beanstalk is already sprouted into the sky by morning. Your business and your brand is not going to be everything you hope for overnight (or even a few months from now.) But in a year? In two? Oh man, in three? You could be halfway into the clouds.
You may think I’m kidding, but think of those beans/eggs in the palm of your hand for a second. Write each one on a scrap of paper if it helps. Name them what they are.
My style is ____.
My voice is ____.
My purpose is_____.
My creative expertise is ______.
So I make ________.
Tara here. We all grew up with catchy slogans – “just do it,” “got milk?” or “a diamond is forever.” They’ve been etched in our brains because of how consistently they’ve been used – and all the ways and means these big-budget brands have impressed them upon us.
But even without big budgets, trending one-liners and themes are still impressing and influencing us and our peers in the realm of the creative entrepreneur, now more than ever – from hashtags that catch on like wildfire, to pinnable quotes that strike an irresistible chord.
A themeline may even start with you – a product you’re launching, a movement you’re championing. But those are ideas, products, events and rallying cries that come and go with the flow, they don’t describe what you do as a personal brand and a business.
Of course you should keep creating those ideas, those products, those launches and those themes in time with the seasons, in time with what’s happening in the world, and most importantly, in time with your own bursts of inspiration.
But! When it comes to that single line that describes what you do (that doesn’t change over time!) – you don’t need a catchy, clever, cute or even a razor-sharp cut-through-the-clutter slogan that’s going to make you popular, memorable or hirable. You need a tagline.
A tagline (I sometimes simply call it a descriptor line) should be a useful companion to your brand name and logo, that does a little of the explaining for you.
A few weeks ago I wrote How To Decide On Your Business Name and promised a follow-up on how to write your tagline to go with it....
Tara here. I know most of you did not dream of starting your own business, just to work with clients that don’t feel like a fit. But I don’t want you to take your clients for granted, either. I want you to love your clients.
As much as I get fired up to create products for my own business – daydreaming with Kathleen about what’s next for us – I only enjoy those planning-scheming-dreaming moments when they are layered into a healthy schedule of client work. For me, that means lots of chunks of time in my day and week devoted to visioning and writing brand platforms for our clients.
I recently wrote a post on how Winter is For Working On You. For us that mentality is part of every week – every Friday on our calendar has become a Braid day. But when Monday rolls around, or as the winter hibernation starts to wear off a little – you stick your head up like that little groundhog that sees spring really is coming this time, and think “ok, who’s going to be my next great client and what kind of client work is going to be filling my calendar?”
What has the doing of the work for our dream clients… done for me?
1. Dream clients give me a steady income. But I’d rephrase that to say, they give me a steady confidence. I could have easily titled this post “What I Can Do For Dream Clients.” But I wanted to talk to you instead about the confidence having three+ years of dream clients and counting, has done for me and my business.
It didn’t take long after becoming a creative entrepreneur to learn that sometimes work is life and sometimes how you do life affects your bottom line. The work / life overlap is tricky, and magical, and it can impact your business in a major way – for better or worse. Working with hundreds of creatives from all over the world has only proven this to be true. After a year or so of doing branding and business visioning for other creative entrepreneurs I decided that I needed more tools for helping creatives not only design a dream brand but a dream life for themselves. So I went through almost a year of life coach training with Martha Beck. I learned some amazing, life-changing concepts that have not only shaped how I work and coach others but how I live and move through life.
Martha Beck taught me that you should coach yourself out of a job. You shouldn’t leave your clients dependent on you – instead you should teach them how to coach themselves. The struggles and roadblocks you hit along your creative journey will always be changing – so if you have some tools in your toolbox to help you overcome along the way you’re set for life.
Right now I take one or two coaching clients a quarter. They get six sessions with me and it costs $2,500. But I’ve put everything I’ve learned along the way – the tools I teach and that I actually use myself when I feel stuck, scattered, or spread thin – into a “do it yourself” DIY Coaching for Creatives email series. I created this four week program (you get four emails per week for four weeks) because this information because is too good not to share, but not everyone can afford one-on-one time with me....
After working with hundreds of creatives – many still working day jobs – I can say with certainty that uncertainty is the feeling we all struggle with the most. In fact, some of us would rather work an unfulfilling day job, earning a fraction of what we could make on our own for work that doesn’t feed our soul, just so we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty. Uncertainty asks us questions like “What about health insurance?” and “Will you be able to pay your mortgage?” or “How can you ever actually get paid to do the work you want to do?”
Even those of us who have made the leap and have proven ourselves successful still struggle with uncertainty. Uncertainty might say things like “There are only so many people who will hire you.” and “That worked last year, but are you sure it will work this time around?” or “Are you sure you have what it takes to level up?”
Even the most confident creatives you know question their own path from time to time. I know I do – but I don’t let it stop me. Here’s what I do to deal with uncertainty:
I GET TO WORK
Every Sunday evening I start to feel a little anxious about the upcoming week. I suppose because I know I’m about to start the work but I’m not quite working yet. This kind of anxiety likes to keep company with uncertainty – so on Sunday evenings I’m not only thinking about the week ahead and all the work, but I start doubting my abilities to conquer what lies ahead.
Kathleen here. I spend so much time coaching other creatives, writing blog posts, and recording podcasts that sometimes I forget to share the stuff Braid does, you know… for a living. With that, I am so excited to share some of our recent branding work with you. Tara and I like to share advice and inspiration in this blog space and in our Letters for Creatives, but every once and a while we like to share what we’ve been creating, and how we’ve helped creative entrepreneurs get to a brand that finally feels like them.
Enough talk, here’s some show, with some of these creatives, their brands, and what they have to say about the experience and the brands that finally feel – like them....
Tara here. Not all of us were born this way, came out of college this way, or even came out of our 9-to-5: ready for our closeup, ready to blog, ready to start our own business, ready to take on the world. A lot of us were just happy to be creatives with a fair shot of getting paid for what we do in a regular ol’ job, that still felt pretty dang special because at least we could be creative. Who cared if we could be ourselves, have a purpose, or even knew what a personal brand was – let alone need one.
If you asked me what my personal brand was ten years ago, I would have thought of the movie Heathers, and how each Heather in the clique had a signature color that she would wear from her scrunchy down to the color of her croquet ball. In fact I declared that green was my signature color back in the ninth grade, and it stuck for the whole year – green tights, green faux marbled watch, green suede buckled flats, green little blazer with a peplum on the back. There was of course a darker takeaway from the movie, but the color thing is what stuck.
I think teens like me, who wanted to be special, but didn’t quite want to push the boundaries to the point of rebel – liked having a way to add this outer layer of “how I’m different” but still feel comfortable in their own skin underneath it all. Why do you think the safely subversive Hot Topic stores took off like crazy at the turn of our century?...
Tara here. Let me share with you the question that always comes up when we are branding our creative entrepreneur clients, and it’s this: “What about my business name? Should I use my own personal name, or have a separate ‘business-y’ one?”
First off, this question shouldn’t be a paralyzing one, because your business isn’t all about the name. What you do, and the style in which you share what you do with everyone else, gives your name context and meaning over time – like a child you’ve named Moonbeam who grows up to be Professor Moonbeam and no one thinks twice about it. (Ok, yep, that example may be a little extreme).
Moonbeam aside, your personal brand is about your purpose, your creative expertise, and sharing and selling yourself in a way that blends who you are into what you do. But of course the name question is going to come up. For example, it’s the difference between an interior designer’s business being named Lisa Harris Designs (her own name) versus a name like Love Life Designs (a business-y name).
So how do you decide if you use your own name as your business name, or a business-y one? It’s different for everyone. I’m typically on team “use your own name” unless you give me a good reason not to. So let’s start with those:
1. Good Reasons for Not Using Your Own Name. These reasons are pretty cut-and-dry, and we’re not going to argue you on them:
You have a business partner and don’t want to sound like the firm of Last Name & Last Name. Fair enough, that’s why we’re not called Street & Shannon Creative, but instead Braid Creative. But, we do our best to get our own names into the mix whenever we possibly can....
Tara here. I’ve been in hunker-down mode for a bit now. I’ve been spending my winter days typing away on my laptop by my little fireplace, listening to island music (summer dreaming perhaps), and elbow-deep crafting Braid content for our new ecourse that’s coming out this spring. Of course, I’m always word-weaving together personal-meets-professional brand platforms for our creative clients, too – but winter always seems like a time that we turn our eyes on our own brand, our own business, and what we want to do next.
I have to admit, I love scheming and dreaming about what Braid will do next. We always joke that Kathleen’s the one who comes up with the next adventure or wild idea, and then I’m the one who says “okay, let’s make it happen, I’ll get started.” If you are thinking “wow, that’d be nice if there were two of me running this show of mine… then someone else could be the dreamer… and I could just be the doer,” believe me, we both do our fair share of both, the heavy lifting, decision-making, but also the visioning, too. So can you.
Winter is perfect for hunkering down and working on you.
Here are some reasons why the chilly months were made for planning:
1. Your Client Work May Be Slowing Down
Ah, yep the first quarter slump. You may be an exception because of the nature or seasonality of what you do, but most creatives who work for themselves find that January to March can be a bit flat. But if you have a little extra time on your hands, or a little extra to spend (if you’ve been especially good and squirreling away your nuts, that is) then this is a great time to invest with either your time and your money, in yourself.
Kathleen here. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about my purpose and asking myself what does it all mean? Because the stuff I fill my days with – I want it to be more than just a paycheck. I want it to really mean something. A big part of my day, and my identity, is wrapped up in the work I do, and it became important to me to understand WHY I do what I do – especially on the days when I don’t really feel like doing the work.
THE VALUE IN KNOWING YOUR PURPOSE
Most of us creatives do the work because we’re talented and have bills to pay and lifestyles to maintain. But working for the weekend only takes you so far. Big growth (in your bank account and in your heart) happens when you know why you do what you do. Knowing your purpose will keep you from feeling scattered, spread thin, burnt out or stuck in your tracks. When you know the higher purpose of why you do what you do you will shatter glass ceilings and level up – on so many levels.
SO WHAT’S YOUR PURPOSE
If the question “what’s your purpose?” throws you for an existential loop or makes you feel like you’ll never find your purpose know that you are not alone. But here’s the deal – you don’t find your purpose – you make it. Start by asking yourself a couple of questions: