Navigating the boundaries of a personal brand

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Most of us engage in some level of performative happiness, carefully curating our Instagram photos and tweets to paint a picture of our life that doesn’t reflect all of our experiences. 

Most of us engage in some level of performative happiness, carefully curating our Instagram photos and tweets to paint a picture that reflects our experiences -- just not all of them.

This is pretty normal and probably predates social media. It's human nature to want to make a good impression on others. But personal branding can take this inclination to a new level—especially when you work for yourself. Independent workers don't craft online personas to make us feel good or to make others jealous, we do it so we can make a living.

The Gap Between Persona And Personal Life

A well-curated personal brand is an essential part of any solopreneur's marketing strategy. There’s a danger, though, of your personal brand becoming "identity labor," which writer and media critic Ivana McConnell defines as "performing an identity for others to consume, rather than exploring and expressing the one that reflects our beliefs and experiences."

So while there's already some pressure involved in keeping up your image, it can increase even further when your personal life diverges from your curated persona. The bigger the gap, the more you’ll feel the burden of performing the identity labor. Having to maintain a prescribed identity—even one you've crafted all by yourself—can lead to anxiety, for instance, when you're hit with challenges like a chronic-illness diagnosis or when you go through a divorce. We worry, often reasonably, that disclosing these hurdles will hurt our reputations or turn away clients.

Make no mistake: Your curated personal brand is smart business. But when it shades into identity labor, the strain can become isolating, make you feel like a phony, and lead to self-doubt. Here's how to stay vigilant and watch out for those warning signs.

1. You Feel Like A Fake

Your work feels hollow, like you’re spouting platitudes. You think if people really knew you, they’d never ask you for advice. This type of self-doubt is sometimes called "imposter syndrome." But you can feel like a phony in a variety of ways—for instance, if most of your ideas come from competitors. Worried about how you measure up, you spend too much time focused on the competition rather than on taking the risk to just be yourself.

You become like a stone in a riverbed, so rounded out that you're indistinguishable from the others. You don’t know who you are anymore. For one thing, that's bad branding. But for another—and much more important—thing, feeling like you have to put on an act is a sign that something's amiss.

2. You Feel Like You’re Hiding Something

You start isolating yourself and stop sharing what’s happening in your personal life. If you do talk about your challenges, you tell only close confidantes, swearing them to secrecy. You speak in whispers, looking over your shoulder to see who’s listening.

More than a decade into my independent career, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I wasn’t sure how it would impact my brand. It was the first time I felt a disconnect between my business brand and my personal life. I wrestled with how much to share publicly. It felt like a secret I had to guard, with the stress building the longer I guarded it.

3. Keeping Up Appearances Is Getting Costly And Time-Consuming

Caring about your image is natural; obsessing about it is a sign something's gone awry with your branding efforts. During her years as a marketing consultant, Erin Blakemore told me she hit a point where she began to feel like the only way to succeed was by hiding her true self. She grew uncomfortable with her business persona, feeling like she had to project a perfect image.

"I ended up spending too much on things like shoes and makeup in a bid to make myself feel more confident and relevant," she recalls. "I also found myself policing my expertise—the thing people hired me for—for the sake of a client-pleasing 'nice girl' image." Keeping up her curated public image no longer served her personal values—it had become a difficult chore.

Bridging Personal Brand And Personal Life

The source of this discomfort is the cognitive dissonance that occurs when your beliefs and actions aren’t in harmony. In this case, you feel like the "real" you and your professional brand are incongruous. To be sure, they don't have to be the same, but lessening that dissonance can help reduce your anxiety.

To do that, though, you need to change certain behaviors. Blakemore eventually left marketing for journalism, an industry that she felt turned the focus more on the products of her work than on the way she looks or how much success she projects. "Now my brand is a lot closer to who I really am," she tells me. "There will always be differences between the 'persona' and the person. I will always have a filter online, both as a way to protect myself and as a way to monitor what people see or consume about me. But I've let go of a lot of the identity performance via social media."

You may be able to take the reverse approach, though. Rather than keep them separate, Jenni Prokopy aligned her brand with her personality. After starting her business writing for the construction industry, she started her passion project, ChronicBabe, to help other women like her who live with chronic illness.

Now her full-time business, the ChronicBabe brand is built on transparency and acceptance of imperfection. Prokopy struggled at times, like while facing a big chronic illness flare-up and during her divorce, occasionally fearing she was portraying a too-curated picture of herself. Ironically, it was when she got more vulnerable that she found her audience respected and trusted her more.

While you can resolve this type of inner conflict by doubling down on a core identity like Prokopy or by changing industries like Blakemore, you don’t have to pivot your business altogether. The dissonance you feel isn’t just about the gap—it’s about the perceived gap. While you have a personal brand, you are not a brand. They aren't the same thing.

What Not To Share Is Up To You

This is an important distinction that many self-employed people miss, simply by assuming that they need to be one and the same. But that isn't true authenticity; you don’t need to feel guilty or like a phony because you don’t share everything.

In my case, I realized that I’m a business owner who happens to have chronic illness. I’d rather support independents to help them find autonomy and build strong businesses of their own, rather than talk about my illness. So I acknowledge my health without making it a central part of my brand. Setting this boundary—one that feels honest and comfortable to me—freed up any cognitive dissonance I'd felt between my private life and personal brand.

Whatever decision you make, maintaining your personal brand shouldn't feel like identity labor, or that you’re putting on an act. This is your business. You get to choose what’s part of your professional persona and what isn’t. You don’t have to follow someone else’s path or the expectations social media tends to set for us. And clients—the right ones, anyway—won’t judge you for your choices. They'll cheer you on and jump on board.

A version of this article, Three Warning Signs That Your Personal Branding Has Gone Too Far originally appeared on Fast Company.

The Secret to Selling Your Training Course

 

When you’ve been at something for a while, it’s normal to get tired of doing the same work over and over.

You want a challenge.

You want to have a bigger impact.

You want to give back.

You decide to teach others what you know. While many experts do this by writing a book, some are lured by the opportunity to teach in person. You decide to sell a public training course. 

Ben and Adam were like you. They'd been consulting for several years. They created a hands-on technical workshop and sold it to a large, well-respected company. Creating the material was easy. The sales process was so easy and the praise so strong. Their client was desperate for the new technologies and approaches they advocated. It seemed to signal a clear need for more training like this. So, they decided to create a public course. They figured the course would "sell like hotcakes", it’d be easy. They priced the course, wrote up a brief landing page and sent tweets announcing the course.

Crickets.

They tweeted again.

More crickets. 

They started a newsletter list. 100 people signed up. They sold one ticket in four months. The course wasn’t cheap, but it was inline with other offerings, targeted a tangible problem and offered real value. They didn’t know why it wasn’t selling. It was time to get help. That’s how Ben and Adam landed on my internet doorstep, looking for support. 

Ben and Adam aren’t unusual.

Many independents encounter this problem. When launching a training course, most creators focus on the curriculum, not a marketing and sales strategy. As a creator, it’s easy to focus all your attention on the product, in this case, the curriculum. It is after all, why you’re working on this project and, it’s the value you offer customers.

While it’s smart to have a high-level overview, developing a detailed plan isn’t necessary, yet. The curriculum is critical, it’s just that other tasks are far more important at this stage.  Resist the urge to build the entire course at this point, instead lay important groundwork. Before you do all the hard work of laying out the curriculum, be sure the course is actually viable.

Five months later we launched Ben and Adam's first public course. It made a profit. How were they finally able to launch a successful workshop? Here's the secret I shared with them. There are actually four things you need to know.

1) Never rely on your product to simply sell itself

Just because the content is good, doesn’t mean it will sell. This is one of the biggest mistakes my clients Ben and Adam made. It’s one most experts make when selling a training course for the first time. They made the tacit assumption that a good product will just sell. Because they’d worked hard on the content, they assumed that it was the hardest part. Packaging your course and selling it is actually the hardest part.

You have to figure out what will make a person:

  • Check their schedule
  • Clearing their schedule of conflicts
  • Ask for time off
  • Get approval to make the purchase
  • Abandon their daily routine
  • Be uncomfortable learning a new skill, tool or technology

That’s a whole bunch of effort. Now you need to 20 or 25 people to go every step of that decision making process. That’s an incredible amount of friction in the sales process for a training course. The friction is far greater than that of selling a book, video series or even high-end consulting services. It’s easy to think they’re the same. Public training courses are wholly different animals altogether. 

Selling something like a workshop with a ton of friction means mastering new skills. Don’t underestimate the need for marketing or the skills you need to learn. Increase your marketing skills by studying up on marketing. Better yet, hire someone to come up with your sales strategy and help you level up your skills. 

2) Promoting it takes time

The second secret is time. You need to give yourself of this precious resource as much as possible, especially when launching a public workshop for the first time. Marketing takes four times longer than you think. At least. Maybe even more. You have to gather people, connect with them regularly to build credibility, and gain their trust before you can sell them something. 

This doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a calendar month. It takes concerted, consistent effort. It takes an understanding of who you want to help and how to reach them. Unless you have engaged audience you’re already communicating with on at least one platform (social media, email newsletter, etc), priming the pump to launch your program takes a bunch of effort. This means you have to start marketing months before you want to launch the sales of your product. And, all this marketing is on top of all the decision making hoops you need to hurdle in #1. 

Even with my clients who already have an established audience, we focus our marketing laser beams six months ahead of time. This gives our customers plenty of time to take care of all their logistics. It gives you time to talk to prospects and be sure you've priced it right.

It also helps us not panic if the sales don’t come as fast as we’d like. You simply cannot start marketing your workshop soon enough. Especially the first time. 

3) Set your expectations lower

Oof. I know this is a tough one. I don’t mean to sound like a downer. I spent my first couple decades overly optimistic. If a task was supposed to get done in three weeks, I’d aim for two — and be disappointed when I didn’t make it. While being a glass is half-full kind of person might seem like an asset, when taken to the extreme, as I did, it became a liability. Learning to set realistic expectations was a lesson that took many failures and a few public embarrassments to learn.

So trust me when I say this.

Be very conservative when you set your expectations for your first course. If you think you can fill 30 seats, aim for 20 as an ideal, knowing that you might only get 15. If you think you can sell all your tickets in a month, add several months to your estimate. Don’t let it fool you — training courses are actually highly complex sales, far more than selling a book or consulting services. As I outlined #1, there are so many factors participants must consider: the dates, location, price, asking for time off, and whether it’s the technology or tools they need right now. Lowering your sales target and giving yourself extra time to sell those seats means you’re less likely to panic at the end, giving away lots of seats or worse, having to cancel because you haven’t sold enough tickets. I know more than one independents who gave tickets away in order to have enough people to hold their course. Don’t let this be you. 

Curb those optimistic tendencies and set more realistic goals. 

4) You can’t do it on your own

If you’ve mastered a skill like writing code, you probably came to rely on yourself for your learning. Once you became pretty good at that skill, you protected that identity, making it harder to ask for help. And so, you’ve progressed on in your career, learning on your own, rarely asking for help.

Self-reliance might have served you well.

But learning a skill like programming is not the same as launching a business venture like selling a course. The skills are completely different. You’re gonna need expertise in writing event space contracts, picking the right space, catering, creating return policies along with all the marketing tasks list above. There are far more logistics than you can imagine. On top of the logistics support needed, you’ll need marketing expertise. If you try to do this on your own, burnout will set in before the course even begins. 

Don’t underestimate the herculean effort launching a course takes. Let go of the notion that you can do it all on your own. Get help.

The Good News

After 1353 words about how hard it can be to launch a public workshop, here's some good news. 

Giving back by teaching others what you know can be incredibly rewarding. Holding a public course allows you to connect with people in person. There are few things more rewarding than seeing someone’s face when they finally get the new skill you’ve been teaching them. There can be monetary rewards too. If you follow the steps outlined here, you can also make money while giving back. 

P.S. While I've focused on public workshops, these steps are also useful for selling your workshop into companies.

 

If you’re interested in launching your own public course, I may be able to help. Tell me more about it. 

Marketing for Introverts

My family branded me an extrovert early.

They saw that I wasn't shy with strangers but overlooked all the hours I spent alone reading. I tried to live up to their expectations. My first job involved fielding phone calls all day, and spending two or three nights a week at events. My next jobs were equally social. When I started my own business, networking was the primary way I promoted myself.

By my early thirties, though, it became hard to keep up the act. When my work required evening events, I countered by scheduling me time and spending whole weekends alone. I worried that if I stopped pretending to be extroverted, my business would suffer and I’d have to go back to working for someone else. Finally, I rebelled. I knew I had to change the way I sold myself. I had to rebuild my marketing efforts on a new foundation.

Living in an extroverted society, we’ve been taught that promoting ourselves requires "people skills" like schmoozing with strangers, small talk, thinking fast on your feet, and in-person sales meetings. These rules tend to penalize introverts, pushing us into situations where we aren’t likely to excel. So many introverts leave the selling to someone else, toiling away in some back room or cubicle. If we choose to work for ourselves, we obscure a big part of our true personalities in order to get along.

Maybe you’ve always been an introvert or tuned into those tendencies as you've gotten older. Can you still promote yourself professionally in a world of extroverts without feeling like an alien? Unequivocally, yes—and you don't have to have a personality transplant.

Here's what I've learned.

Extroverts are the blondes of the Myers-Briggs world—we think they’re supposed to have more fun. We also tend to think there are more extroverts out there, even though as many as half of us are introverts. These beliefs often encourage introverts to put on an act. Trying to be something you’re not makes you look awkward, pushing people away.

When I stopped trying to pass as an extrovert, embracing my introversion—surprise, surprise—I became more comfortable with myself. Rather than fumbling, I was more confident. My business grew rather than floundered.

While extroverts are lauded, introverts have plenty of qualities in their marketing arsenal. Introverts are great listeners who think deeply about things, which means they have well-rounded and well-reasoned arguments, often making them excellent writers. Don’t buy into the myth that to sell yourself you need to change who you are. Own your traits proudly.

Use Your Observation Skills

It’s hard to talk and listen at the same time. By talking less, introverts give their full attention. They may be short on conversation, but introverts are highly observant. You pay attention to what others are saying—and what they’re not saying. Use those keen skills of observation to your advantage, seeing subtleties and opportunities that more talkative people might overlook.

It's no secret that content creation has exploded in the past few years, much of it surface-level platitudes. Your watchful temperament lets you penetrate further to make others think more deeply. If you like to write, use those finely honed skills to write insightfully. Finding unexpected perspectives will help your work stand out—you don’t even have to leave your desk.

Do interesting things

After realizing I was actually an introvert, I dreaded meeting new people. I hated having to answer, "What do you do for a living?" Having to prepare an elevator pitch made me feel like a phony. Instead, I told people about my latest project. "I’m working on a book about how pricing is really about mind-set, not math." Answering this way led to far more interesting conversations and no torturous discussions about weather or the latest sporting event.

Introverts are notorious for hating the small talk common at large events. But conferences can be incredibly helpful for connecting with colleagues and for prospecting. Skip the small talk by doing interesting things. Channeling your curiosity into your own creations will make you feel more fulfilled—and give you something to talk about.

There isn't just one way

Most marketing and personal branding experts will tell you there’s a good or right way to promote yourself. They may wind up frightening you with stories of ruination when you don’t follow their ways. Whether it's intentionally propagated or otherwise, this is a lie.

It’s true that there are some best practices, but there isn’t only one approach that works when it comes to advancing your career. Podcasting, writing, tweeting, and email are great ways to promote your work, even though none of them are especially showy. And you can do each of them without stepping a foot outside or shaking a single hand. Experiment until you find the methods you enjoy, and that resonate with your audience. Never mimic others; find your own way.

Don’t worry about becoming a super salesperson, running all over town to get business. Marketing is really just about connecting with others about something that matters. And that's something introverts are actually really good at.

This article originally appeared on Fast Company.

How I Write a Tiny Bio

Writing a bio can be dreadful. Yes, even for someone who has been doing and advising people for years. Writing about yourself is hard. No one is immune. Writing your own bio can drag up thoughts you’d rather stay buried in the deep recesses of your mind.

You're not a real writer.

You can't say that.

You sound like you're trying too hard.

Once I’ve escaped the mind chatter, I contend with summing myself up in just a few, short words.

Listen. Writing a bio is hard. All of us fumble with it. It’s not easy to communicate who we are in a natural way. How do you sum up who you are in 140 characters, the length of today’s Internet mini bios?

I’ve been on every side of the divide. There are times I’ve been insistently focused on getting it right, constantly iterating on my bio. Other times, I’ve just dashed off a quick description and ignored it after that. If you work for someone else and don’t have a side project to promote, this digital calling card may not matter as much. But you need to write one anyway. Might as well make it reflect you in the best, possible way.

Since I’m sharing my work more these days, I’ve been tweaking my bios. I did a huge refresh on my website bio recently but my other ones needed a bit of work. Here’s how I write a tiny bio.  

A few tiny bio basics

Keywords; I don’t optimize for them. Maybe I should. It just doesn’t feel natural. I do try to help my audience find me by being clear about who I am and what they can expect from me. To make myself more findable, I use hashtags in posts.

Consistency across mediums isn’t important. There's an argument for consistency, but I focus on communicating my message in that medium. I don’t have a standard formula. Sometimes I use lists, other times I use longer phrases and links. It changes depending on the medium and what I’m sharing at the time.

Irreverent phases are hard to pull off. I don’t go with irreverent stand-alone phrase for my bio. This works for some, especially when your audience already knows you well. But it just doesn’t for me. If I use a phrase, I put it into context with the rest of information.

Being yourself is everything. Don’t try to be like anyone else. While I like to see what others are doing, I’d never make my bio a carbon copy of someone else. Being a copy of someone else is no good.

Tiny Bio Writing

First, I begin with me.

If I’ve been on a platform for a while, I look at my own feed. It helps me see how others might perceive me. I can also see themes to my content, something that’s easy to miss while tweeting and sharing from day-to-day. Scribbling down a few notes, I think about what’s most important to me. I noodle on what I hope to do with a particular outlet. What I post on Instagram may not be the same as Twitter. Am I trying to make new connections? Strengthen existing ones? Express myself? Promote something? All of these factor into my bio. I distill my thoughts into a list of themes, typically no more than four items.

Then, I look outside to others.

Only after I’ve taken notes and perused through my own thoughts do I look at other profiles. Mostly I look for inspiration. People are finding ever creative ways to express themselves. After browsing a dozen or two, my own bio starts to formulate. All this prep work makes tweaking an existing profile or building a new one from scratch much easier.

I begin to tweak or build.

Thinking about my purpose for the medium helps tremendously as Twitter, for me, tends to be more business oriented, while Instagram is more about creative expression. While the tiny bios might vary slightly, the core themes are similar. I also use a link to my main site on every tiny bio. I iterate on a tiny bio until it sounds like me and visitors will know what they’ll get from me. I rearrange the words, playing with different combinations until something just clicks. When it’s just right, I start to see myself on the page.

My Instagram tiny bio iterations

My three themes:

1. My creative identity (my filter for everything)

2. My lens to the world (travel + everyday objects)

3. What I believe (what I want others to know)

 

This is where I started.

travel, tea, books, dogs + NYC. Tw: @suzanbond

Writing Bet On Yourself: guides for the self-employed.

Brooklyn ll Worldwide

 

Moving from lists, to descriptions. This made me sound dreamy and less practical than I am.

writer, dreamer, wanderer, finding beauty in the everyday.

you’ve got this.

nyc

 

This iteration hit all three themes but didn't quite flow right.

Writer + Creative Director

Epic wanderlust. Finding the beauty all around us.

Mantra: All you have to be is you.

NYC

 

Getting closer.

writer with epic wanderlust.

finding beauty in the everyday.

you’ve got this.

nyc

 

Where I landed.

writer + wanderer

finding beauty in the everyday.

p.s. you've got this

nyc

 

 

That’s how I write a tiny bio. I’d love to see yours. Will you share it with me?

Update:

 My latest  Instagram  mini bio.

My latest Instagram mini bio.

  • As my work and understanding of the kind of clients I want changes, I want to update mini bio accordingly.  I review mine monthly and update each of them every quarter.
  • Another thing I do is to update the link in any mini bio. While I often leave the one on Twitter the same unless I’m promoting a new e-course, I often update Instagram with my latest article.
  • Finally, a word about being findable. It seems every day I’m trying to find a user I know is on a platform but I can’t seem to remember their user handle. After trying multiple combinations, I often have to jump out of the app to google them. This is a pain. If you don’t use your name or the name of your business as your user handle, always be sure to include it for the informal name. This makes it easier for people to search and find you.

 

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The Perils & Promise of Internet Fame

The positive response I got to my article in Fast Company surprised—and overwhelmed me. It took several days to handle the response. It also got me thinking about a common marketing misconception: that internet fame is something to covet.

Before you pursue it like a squirrel going after a nut in late fall, consider that all internet fame is not equal.

You might go viral. However. Unless you’re lucky and the event is closely related to what you’re selling, most time going viral is a modest blip that often doesn’t lead to measurable results. Internet fame does not always equal financial success and not all types of internet fame are equal.

There are three types of internet fame:

  1. Viral memes
  2. Platform stars
  3. Platform makers

When you think about internet fame it’s easy to think about those viral memes that take over or “break” the internet.  Think: the blue/black or is white/gold dress, ermahgerd girl and the left shark. Most fall under the funny or silly category while others become controversial. Generally, these memes don’t do the creator, or the person featured in the meme much measurable or lasting good.

The second type of internet fame is the platform star who generally rocks one channel really well, for instance youtube or Instagram. A platform star can create an account that can easily number in the hundreds of thousands of fans. Despite large audiences, most channel stars struggle to pay their rent with these revenues.

The third type, platform makers, is often a much slower build because it's based on adding value. Think of examples like the blog post turned phenomenon The Crossroads of Should and Must. This kind of fame is most often an extension of hard work in real life. Platform makers focus on creating value rather than a shallow metric of Likes or Followers. When you’re thinking about what does well on Instagram, you’re thinking about making that platform successful. When you thinking about delivering value you you’re focused on how to make your customers or audience more successful. Those are two very different things.

Internet fame, grown over time can prove successful, but it all depends on what you build that fame around and how you use it once you have it. 

Useful Internet Fame

There are four things you need to do in order to become a platform maker. 

First, it’s going to take a bunch of effort, probably the Herculean sort. Be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work at your keyboard until your fingers and brain hurt. Garnering attention isn’t easy, especially attracting the right kind. You’ll probably spend far more time working on your craft than you anticipate. Creating something that is beautiful, insightful or meaningful, changing people’s careers or well-being takes a lot of effort. This can easily take hundreds if not thousands of hours. Even a blog post or podcast can easily take half to a full week’s worth of effort.

You can just ship superficial, hastily put together work over and over again but it may not give you what you're looking for. Don’t believe the hype that you can quickly and easily achieve success with a minimal amount of effort, it's an internet fame unicorn. Lasting success takes time, concentrated, focused effort and stellar work.

One of the best example of hard work leading to something wonderful is Sandi Metz who has always been focused on creating excellent work above internet recognition, though she now has it in spades. If you’re not familiar with her, just google her or check out her Twitter mentions and you’ll see what I mean. 

In order to achieve anything meaningful with the attention you’ve garnered, there are still three more things you need to do: 

- Get the right kind of attention

- Capture the attention once you’ve got it

- Build it into something sustainable

Becoming a platform maker isn’t easy, but it can be highly valuable to your career.

Despite all this talk about internet fame, there’s one more thing to note.The reality is, a huge audience isn’t actually a prerequisite for business success. Often a smaller, but highly engaged audience is enough. Aside from working hard to make well done creations of whatever ilk you choose, a more localized awareness or owning a niche is a far better strategy than aiming to be super well known.

Wherever you choose to put your focus, it all comes back to others. Rather than focusing on internet fame, focus on adding value to real problems that people want solved. When you have a positive impact on the lives of others, you'll have all the attention -- and business -- you need.