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....
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.