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:
On Monday morning I had coffee with my close creative gal pal, Lindsey. Lindsey co-owns a grab-and-go food bar in OKC offering up clean eats like soup and salad, she does one-on-one nutrition and food coaching, and is always pursuing new training, certification, and degrees in her field of study. She is a dedicated student of her craft who just wants to help people feel better after they eat a meal. Lindsey loves reading The New Yorker, she regularly listens to foodie podcasts, and enjoys a good slow dinner with friends. Lindsey is also a really talented writer – the problem is she doesn’t know what to write about. She’s feeling stuck, but she’s not alone. The downside of being a creative for a living is having to create even when you’re feeling uninspired, blocked, or downright afraid.
Together we brainstormed a few ideas of how she could structure her content and create systems for always having something to write about. We also talked about the fear of not being good enough and feeling inadequate when it comes to our own high standards. So today I thought I would share some of the ideas we came up with on our Monday morning coffee date in case you’re feeling stuck too.
When you’re feeling stuck just mind the gap.
First off, I know I’ve shared this Ira Glass quote before but it’s worth repeating:
Here at Braid Creative we aren’t really known for doling out business-specific advice. What we are known for is branding and business visioning. That means we’re coaching, designing, writing, and branding creative entrepreneurs so they have the confidence and clarity to package up what they do and offer it to the world. But we only take our creative entrepreneurs so far – after they work with us they still have to put themselves out there in a way that makes it easy for their dream customer to find them and buy them. Over the years we’ve gotten really good at attracting our dream customers, talking about money, and pricing our own offerings in a way that never makes us feel apologetic or insecure. So today I want to share a few of our pricing secrets.
PRICE WITH YOUR GUT
Anytime I have to make a decision about money, like how much I want to charge for an offering or service, I go with my gut. Try this: literally pretend as if your brain resides in your core and ask yourself “Does $500 feel right? How about $1,000?” Your body holds a lot of wisdom if you’ll just listen to it. (This is also a good way to determine how much money you would like to be making!)
CRUNCH THE NUMBERS
Okay, this is the opposite of intuitive pricing and going with your gut. Run the numbers – how much money do you need to live your life? How much do you want to work? Let’s say you want to make $100,000 a year and you want to work on 2 projects a month – that means each project needs to be $4,166.66 dollars. So that’s what you charge. If it seems like really obvious and simple math that’s because it is.
There’s this idea that when you work for yourself, especially as a creative entrepreneur, you are living the dream. The fantasy goes like this: you’re making things with your hands, brainstorming over coffee with creative colleagues, and doing so much yoga that you can finally get into complicated arm balances. But you know, and I know, that being your own boss isn’t so easy. Balancing work and life, paying the bills, wearing all the hats … it’s a lot of work, and it doesn’t always feel so dreamy.
Kathleen here. I write a lot about being your own boss here on the Braid blog, I give a peek behind the curtains of how we work in our exclusive Letters for Creatives, and I share snippets of my life in between it all, over on my personal blog, And Kathleen. So it’s been a long time coming, but now I’m finally launching a podcast called Being Boss. I’m teaming up with my good friend and creative confidant Emily Thompson of Indie Shopography, and every week we’ll be candidly talking to you, fellow bosses and aspiring-to-be’s, about the good and bad, the ups and downs – of being boss.
BEING THE BOSS
“Being The Boss” means being able to manage, plan, organize, invest, delegate, and make tough decisions. It’s not easy and doesn’t always come naturally to a lot of us creatives who just want to make a living doing what we love. But learning how to be the boss is how you make living the dream profitable.
Kathleen here. It’s no secret that I read a lot of self-improvement and non-fiction business books. Right now I’m reading Tony Robbins’ new book called MONEY: Master the Game. I also love listening to podcasts from experts like Seth Godin, Lewis Howes, and Pat Flynn (that is, when I’m not obsessing over Serial – anyone else addicted?). In the morning, over tea and oats, I’m reading blog posts and watching videos from lifestyle and business gurus like Marie Forleo and Danielle LaPorte.
With all that, I get a lot of actionable ideas from reading up on how to improve my life and my business, but every so often I start feeling bad about not having a six-figure month, or raking in millions like those guys do. These really rich and smart people are all about teaching and inspiring creative entrepreneurs like you and me to be crazy successful with million dollar launches through stuff like positive thinking and smart investments ... but I’m not a millionaire (yet). But sometimes after consuming all the shiny seven-figure hype, I can fall into that rusty old comparison trap. When you’re just beginning, it’s an easy trap to get stuck in. You look at your bottom line and your upper limit and start to feel as if you’re just not enough – not smart enough, or positive enough, or famous enough....
Okay, so you’re good at what you do. You know you’re talented and are confident in your craft. But when you rely solely on your skills it’s easy to fall into the role of the order-taker who is exchanging talent or time for money. Whereas, when you are an expert you are hired and paid for your experience, knowledge, and ideas. How do you go from selling what you do to getting hired for what you know? There isn’t a super clear path or step-by-step formula to level-up your game. But I’d like to share a few ideas to make the transition from talented doer to an expert with purpose.
GET SPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT
There is probably a broad label for what you actually do – like photography, graphic design, interior decorating, coding, writing, yoga, or cooking. But can you get really specific about what makes you a great designer, photographer, writer, developer, or cook? Maybe it’s your use of color or typography. Maybe it’s your knack at capturing light or blending really interesting flavor combinations.
What you’re good at – your craft and your style – is typically what you’re being hired for. And getting really great at what you do is a good place to start. If you’re fresh out of school or new to your creative field it’s not a bad idea to focus on getting really good at your craft.
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR “HIGHER PURPOSE”
Your skills are really important but it still puts you in the position of being an order-taker if you’re not clear on your expertise. Plus, calling yourself an expert can feel funny if you don’t well… feel like an expert. So instead try thinking of your expertise as your higher purpose. A higher purpose doesn’t have to be super-woo-woo, or super-ambitious. It simply means why you do what you do.
Kathleen here. Today’s blog post is borrowed from a recent Letters for Creatives – our newsletter with exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox. I always invite the Letters recipients to respond directly to me, and after I sent out this email letter in particular, I got so many replies from creative entrepreneurs saying how it resonated big time with them – so I thought I would repost it here. If you would like to receive our newsletter sign up here. I only send out about 3 letters a month – in other words, I promise not to take advantage of being invited in your inbox.
Earlier this week I posted on the Braid Blog about how to feel like a creative expert. At the same time I was writing that post my 9 month old baby started growing teeth (which is apparently incredibly painful – there’s a reason why you don’t remember growing teeth) and came down with a virus that left the both of us covered in snot and puke more than once. Gross, I know. So after giving my sad, sick baby a tight squeeze and a good bath I got mad. I got mad at my own mom for never telling me how hard it was going to be to be a mom. I mean, she made it look so easy. And then I realized that’s because she was (and still is) a really great mom – it was part of her job description as “best mom ever” to make it look easy.
On the Braid blog I listed out a few different ways to feel like a creative expert: remaining neutral to criticism and praise, taking a pause to gather more information before you respond, trusting yourself in the moment, recognizing patterns, establishing clear boundaries, saying no, charging more, and having enough confidence to share your point-of-view. But after this week of tending to a sick baby, juggling work and life, and thinking about my own mom – who is obviously an expert at motherhood – I need to add this to the list:...
I first fell in love with Amy Poehler when I fell in love with Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) on Parks & Rec. Leslie Knope is a city official for the Pawnee Parks & Rec department and she is enthusiastic, honest, optimistic, proud, and kind. A true role model. Then I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants where she dedicated an entire chapter to her best friend Amy Poehler where she described her as a hilarious and talented badass who stood up to the boys in the writing room. I went from loving Leslie Knope to admiring Amy Poehler.
Kathleen here, and lately I’ve been into reading memoirs of funny ladies, who seem too young to be writing memoirs. I’ve read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me, Kelly Oxford’s Everything is Perfect When You’re A Liar, as mentioned Tina Fey’s Bossypants. But Amy Poehler’s Yes Please kind of changed my life. I practically highlighted her entire intro describing the creative process of writing a book as pretty much torture. In fact, I hadn’t even finished the introduction of the book when I texted all of my girlfriends and told them they had to read Yes Please immediately.
So today I want to share with you few big nuggets from the introduction alone of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. (The rest of the book is really great too.)
WRITING DOESN’T HAPPEN IN A LOG CABIN
So recently, and it could have something to do with all the memoirs I’ve been reading, I’ve decided I want to be a writer. A REAL writer. But with that I decided I also needed a masters degree in creative writing and a log cabin to write in – essentially, I came up with a couple of big roadblocks for myself to procrastinate becoming what I imagine a real writer looks like.
Over the past three years I’ve been asked a lot of questions when it comes to personal branding and blending the personal with the professional. Today I’m going to address the one I get the most – which is: when it comes to my online presence should I keep the personal and professional together or separate? In simplest terms it comes down to the question of having two websites or one – one for the person, and one for the biz. Creatives are so confused over this issue and I think it’s because we’re taught, or conditioned, in school or at our day jobs to compartmentalize who we are and what we do. That’s the “professional” thing to do, right? Except most creatives want to live authentically and aligned – they crave creative cohesion and know in their bones that blending the personal and professional, online and off, would make them feel well… authentic and aligned. But it’s easier said than done.
For example, here’s an email I received just this week:...
Every creative entrepreneur we work with wants to feel like an expert – like a wearing-the-pants and legit-know-my-stuff kind of expert. The kind of expert that doesn’t doubt their decisions and feels like an authority over their craft. These creatives want to feel like the kind of expert that has a roster full of clients who respect their guidance and are never treated like pixel-pushing order takers. Our clients want to feel like the kind of experts who get paid well… like experts.
But what’s interesting is that a majority of our clients balk at the word “expert”. They have a lot of fears and misconceptions around taking on that kind of bold title – that if they start to think of themselves as an expert it means they’ll have to have all the answers or be smarter than everyone in the room. That they’ll be responsible for every problem thrown their way. But that is hardly the case.
Kathleen here, and I want to share a few ways to step into your creative expertise by describing the characteristics I’ve seen in experts I admire:
EXPERTS ARE NEUTRAL
Experts don’t get bent out of shape, defensive, or riled up when they receive criticism – and on the flip side they don’t get too excited or inflated by positive feedback or big wins. Experts are cool, calm, and collected. Not to say they don’t get passionate, fired up, funny or even dramatic, but it’s typically around an exciting idea, method, insight, or point-of-view that they feel strongly about, not about this one piece of work that the client must love, or else pouting and/or shouting ensues.
Happy Halloween! Kathleen here. In the spirit of the spookiest of holidays I have a confession to make: I kind of want to be a witch. I crave the kind of structure that comes with casting spells and wielding energy to make magic happen. Plus, growing up I really loved magical movies featuring badass witches including, but not limited to, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins (she was totally a witch, right?), Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, and as a moody teenager I totally wanted to join the cast of The Craft. I missed the window for Harry Potter but can’t wait until I can read the books and watch the movies with my baby once he gets a little older.
So, here at Braid Creative we believe in blending who you are with what you do (we have an entire ECourse on Personal Branding dedicated to that blend). And with the blend I like to bring a little magic into my work. Today, in celebration of Halloween, I want to share a few tips on how you can make your work a little more magical too.
MANIFEST MONEY WITH A MAGICAL CHALKBOARD
If a witch wields her intention with a wand we do it with a big chalkboard. Every quarter we draw blank spaces on the giant chalkboard wall in our office (which can feel quite intimidating) as a way to attract and make space for our dream clients. You can read more about our magical chalkboard method and how we manifest money here.
MAKE A MANTRA
When witches cast spells, the words they say hold a lot of power (or at least that’s what I gather from all those witchy movies I watched as a kid). So a mantra, the words you repeat over and over again, hold power. What you say today will become your reality tomorrow. “Be a farmer, not a hunter” is our money mantra and when I went from being “crazy busy” to “wildly productive and living the dream” my life started to feel much more, well… dreamy and productive.
We were sharing our key takeaways and “ah-ha” moments during the closing session at DesignerVACA (it’s like summer camp in fabulous Palm Springs for graphic designers) when one designer said something along the lines of coming to DesignerVACA to learn freelancing tips and tricks but was surprised to come away with her tribe. She said she had underestimated how important it was to connect with comrades and would be searching for more of “her people” once she returned home. And then just this week one of my creative coaching clients asked me how she can build her following and find her tribe. So that’s what I want to talk about this week: how to find and build your tribe.
WHO IS YOUR TRIBE?
Think of your tribe as a layered onion. The outer layer might be blog readers, Instagram followers, and friendly acquaintances at the coffee shop. The next layer in might be people you only know from the internet but refer to as friends – for example, your husband or girlfriend might know this person by name and/or Twitter handle because you refer to them often enough. The next layer in might be IRL (that stands for In Real Life) friends – the ones you’ve met at conferences, workshops, or retreats and keep in touch with via social media. After that you might find the people you’re in the trenches with – your co-workers, business partners, and creative collaborators. Then there are you close friends – the ones you text your secrets to and have 5-hour long brunches with. The closer you get to the core of the onion the closer your tribe becomes – for me these are my best friends and family – pretty much the people who have seen me ugly cry.
I think artists are typically pegged as being eccentric, messy, and unorganized when it comes to their space, their creative process, and how they do their work. But when it comes to creative entrepreneurs who have turned their passion into profit, organization is essential – in fact some of us pride ourselves on how organized we are.
Kathleen here. I spent last week in Palm Springs at Designer VACA with a hundred designers who are not only creative, but super organized – so much so, I started to think my own perceived organizational skills maybe aren’t as fine tuned as they could be after all! As a small team working together here at Braid, our methods for staying on top of everything (some automated, some more old-school, like good ‘ol post-its) have served us well up until now – enough that people often ask how we manage it all. So today I want to share how we stay organized, plus some new tools, tricks, and tips I’ve learned about, but haven’t yet tried, that could help us (and perhaps you, too) get even more streamlined in our daily grind.
Here at Braid Creative we use Gmail. There is a lot of functionality built in like folder, labels, and tasks – plus extras in Google Labs like canned responses and multiple inboxes.
At Designer VACA Jessica Hische gave us her secret to maintaining a zero inbox and that is to 1) download all your emails and respond to them offline. That way you can’t get sucked down an internet rabbit hole while answering emails. And 2) Stop using “unread” emails as a to-do list (guilty here) and instead read the email, respond appropriately, and add any actions required to your actual to-do list.
Kathleen here and today I want to admit that work, life, the blend, and the balance has managed to kick my ass this week. Back-to-back client meetings, planning for the future of Braid Creative, creating content, coming down from a big talk and already prepping for the next – it's the good kind of stress that I typically thrive on. But then add to the mix 1.) a nocturnal baby with a stubborn fever, 2.) my own symptoms of unrequited wanderlust, and 3.) a serious case of “never-enough-time-itis” – and I'm melting down. So even though a big part of my work is coaching other creatives through the work / life hullabaloo I'm still susceptible getting stuck, scattered, and spread thin.
But here's the deal... I'm comfortable admitting that I don't feel like I have it all together all the time because most of us don't. Think of the most successful person you know. Even she suffers from insecurities from time-to-time. I mean, I bet even Beyonce has her days! As I get vulnerable with my creative confidants and tell them that I'm burning out they almost seem relieved because "ME TOO!" – from homework battles with their kids to the general pressure of running your own thing and chasing the dream. It can be overwhelming.
So what do you do when you feel like you've taken a work / life beating? Follow the energy. Let me explain....
Last week I gave a talk at The Circles Conference, a two-day gathering for designers and artists to learn and get inspired. Because I only work with other working creatives I decided to use this chance to talk about so many of the patterns I see – the struggles but also daydreams we working creatives all seem to share in common no matter what city we live in. Most of us share The Dream of having a job with purpose, creative fulfillment, and control of our own schedules. But we also share The Fear. The fear that keeps us from creating that dream job, from leaving the day job, from owning our expertise, and the fear that has us feeling like frauds.
These are painful and relatable fears we have as working creatives – but we gotta push through them so we can get back to work, right? So how do you push through the fears? I suggest the following:
Get specific about the worst case scenario – what does failure actually look like?
Get specific about the ideal day – what do you really want?
Make a mantra to help remind you of your dreams
Make a decision and move forward
You can see more by watching the Circles talk I gave here....