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Plans are Meant to be Broken & Other Advice on Branding

I am SUCH a planner.

When I was in college I would anticipate my exam grades and then calculate how I would have to score on all remaining exams for the rest of the semester to get an A. I would do dozens of variations of this…

If I get an A on this test…

If I get a B on this test…

I don’t get C’s, but if I did…

I wish I could tell you that I quickly learned how fruitless this was and decided to spend the time I was wasting actually studying for the exam.

I mean, you can plan. But if you become that person who is so anal retentive about her plans that you miss out on learning how to be flexible and fun and wiser along the way… well, you’ll be no fun at all.

(When it came to academia in my collegiate years, I was definitely no fun at all.)

This wasn’t a lesson that I really learned until many initial mishaps in my business.

For my first launch, I did all the calculations. I got in front of as many people as I needed to get in front of based on my conversion formula. I followed all the rules and…

I came in WAY under my sales goal.

But I wasn’t upset about it. I wasn’t calculating how I was going to make up for it. I was totally not behaving like my normal super-planner self.

What was even weirder is that I felt super accomplished after what should have been a total failure.

And that’s when I finally learned the lesson — plans fail. But we don’t.

We can break our plans without becoming broken ourselves.

When it comes to this crazy world of branding that I’m so passionate and excited about, the same rules apply. You can have it all together, your brand story, your dream client avatar, a beautiful brand experience.

And people may not love it.

Hell, when all is said and done YOU may not love it.

Give yourself permission to make changes…in your brand, in your business and in your life.

I was recently reading a little Rumi before bedtime and I got fixated on the words…

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

You can change the plan. (In my world, we call this a re-brand!) And this time, it will be a better plan, because you are more flexible more fun and much wiser.

What are you waiting for?

The door is open.

Fake (Confidence) Until you Make it

Women are less confident than men.

Before you unfollow this blog and tell your friends I’m sexist—hear me out.

A couple of years ago I read The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. My dear friend and client, Jessica Hetherington, is currently re-reading it and we were discussing it during our co-working day this week. The data in this book is SO powerful but, to be honest, the premise of the book is something that both of us already knew.

This may sound pretentious, as I have not come close to doing the kind of research that these women have done. But I’m not going to apologize for it because I have LIVED this.

I have been apologetic for what I have to say…

“I’m not qualified to say this, but…”
“I’m not the best, but…”
“I just have one thing to say about this…”

I have adhered to the “if I can become more competent, I will succeed” philosophy.

I’ve taken just one more class.
I’ve read just one more book.
I’ve interviewed just one more expert before I put my next course out into the world or took on my next client.

I’ve wanted to please everyone.

So I’ve negotiated on price.
I’ve said yes to work that I knew I should have said no to.
And I’ve done the unthinkable–worked for FREE!

Four years ago, after watching my favorite bloggers turn into “overnight success” and watching dozens of—men and women—entrepreneurs succeed in the online space, I had this huge realization…

We have no idea what’s going on inside of someone’s business.

And it doesn’t matter what’s going on because—ultimately— what inspires us is what we see.

Their brand gives them the confidence and the drive to show up and keep moving forward.

I want to be very clear that I DON’T think this means that people should use their brand as a guise to hide behind. As an entrepreneur, you have to confront your demons— the money mindset, the fraud syndrome, the fear. Your brand; however, exists as a picture & a story of the best version of you and the work you’re doing in the world.

Having a shitty day or week or month, does NOT mean you can’t be the best version of yourself ever again. In fact, having that established brand identity ensures that you will be that passion-chasing, change-making woman—even on your shitty days.

Some people might say it’s deceptive to put yourself out there as an inspiring cause that people want to be a part of, when you’re struggling on the inside.

Those people have never been entrepreneurs.

Just because you’re struggling to make the change you want to make in your community doesn’t mean you’re not making change. And just because you haven’t achieved YOUR version of success, doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved success. The best version of yourself is what your community deserves to see—it’s what’s going to bring them together; it’s what’s going to make change. Not knowing what to do next or not meeting your revenue goals have no bearing on who you are as a person.

You already are the best version of yourself.

You already are the brand that represents you.

On the days when you feel you’re not—it’s not a brand problem or a you a problem, it’s a confidence problem.

And confidence is a habit.

The more you practice it, the sooner you’ll be leading your business with unprecedented confidence.

The Field of (Biz) Dreams

 

With the sheer volume of business coaches and free resources and digital courses out there preaching the gospel of hustling, it never occurred to me that entrepreneurs might still be adhering to the philosophy that, “if you build it, they will come.”

But then—just last week—I heard the words, “the product speaks for itself.”

I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

If the cookies, candies and packaged foods on the grocery store shelves were left to speak for themselves, they’d say “diabetes” and “obesity.” Instead, genius marketing teams and brilliant designers have paired catchy slogans (Milk’s favorite cookie, anyone?) with lively packaging to create sales.

Your product or service can be the BEST in the world. You can soul shake and you can change make with the work that you’re doing in the world.

But if no one knows about you, they aren’t going to buy from you.

And if no one trusts you, they aren’t going to buy from you.

And if no one buys from you, your life is going to turn out very differently from what you have planned.

We can make sure this doesn’t happen…

(1) Get in the right mindset

Understand that even if there’s no one in the world offering what you’re offering, people have thousands of choices as to where they are going to spend their hard earned money. If you want to make a living doing what you love and doing good in the world, you have to be willing to do the work to influence people’s opinions of you. (That’s called branding and marketing.)

We have a little bit of a mental block when it comes to influencing people. It feels so dirty, like manipulation.

But if you’re manipulating someone to make a decision that’s going to be good for their body, their mind, their spirit and their sanity is that a bad thing?

I think not.

I think someone has to manipulate the world into healthier choices and more balanced living…otherwise, we’re in trouble.

(2) Don’t blow your budget on the biz and forget about the brand.

In product-based business I’ve seen so many people blow their budget on creating the perfect product that they’ve got no money left to build a brand and a marketing strategy. So they convince themselves that the product will speak for itself.

In service-based businesses, I know SO many talented people who have spent thousands of dollars becoming experts at their craft that they can’t stomach the idea of spending thousands more on building a brand. They want to make money first and deal with their brand later.

You cannot build a business without a brand.

A brand is a unified front with which you present your business to the world. A brand is how people know if they can trust you. A brand is how you know what message you are going to share.

Without a brand, there is no biz. Don’t blow your budget on just the biz.

(3) Be Willing to Learn

You are great at what you do. But there is so much we all need to learn about being a boss lady and being a brand. Don’t let the learning curve scare you.

You can make your own videos.
You can update your own website.
You can make your own graphics.

As long as you have the right support system and you’re willing to learn.

Stalk Your Future Clients

You can’t build your business or your brand alone.

If you try, you’ll be broke.

You may not need a graphic designer.
You may not need a business coach.
You may not even need an accountant.

But you DO need clients.

If you want to make the world happier, better, more peaceful or more fun…you’ve got to find people who want to be a part of that.

You have to speak their language, solve their problems & stalk them.

Most of the entrepreneurs I know start with a brilliant idea. They build on their idea and then they find their clients.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

That’s what I did.

BUT if I had known then what I know now, I would have become a stalker sooner.

Now that I understand exactly how to stalk my clients and hide my crazy, I’m creating & selling my services with a lot more ease.

AND my clients are happier with what they are getting because it’s what they actually want.

The thing about uncovering what your clients want is you can’t just straight up
ask them.

When you ask people what they want, they are going to talk to you in terms of what they know— there was a time when computers existed only for large, rich companies with space for huge server rooms.

30 years ago, if you had asked an entrepreneur what they needed to take their biz to the next level, they would have asked you for a better typewriter.

They would NOT have asked you for a computer— you don’t know what you don’t know.

See where I’m going with this?

You can’t just ASK your clients what they want. You have to stalk them.

You have to understand what they are saying and what they are not saying when they ask questions in your Facebook group or when they comment on your blog (or even when they comment on somebody else’s blog!)

So I challenge you to be a little bit of a stalker this week—but only a stalker with the BEST of intentions, of course!

You can build it, but you also have to show up.

You know those moments where your heart feels wide open and you’re so joyful that you can’t help but think how did I get so lucky?

I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately.

I have spent three months working with some of the most incredible people I have ever met to bring their ideas to life as brands that live and breathe and make an impact and turn a profit.

And guess what…

Even after all that work, there’s still a little resistance to putting themselves out there into the world. There’s still something keeping them from hitting publish.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. I’ve been there. I’ve wondered if I was ready and if I was good enough. I’ve been afraid of putting up a sales page and no one buying. And I’ve been afraid of people buying and wanting their money back.

It was all in my head. And it’s all in yours, too.

The stories we tell ourselves about our brand, our blog, our services “not being ready yet” are nothing but stories. You can work on the strategy FOREVER, but if you never press play, hit publish or take payment, you’ll never know what it feels like to SUCCEED.

Or maybe you fail, but either way, the experience makes you a more experienced, and therefore more confident, entrepreneur. The experience shows you what you’ve done right and what you’ve done wrong and where there is opportunity for growth.

You can refine your ideas in your head all day long. But real refinement—the kind that leads to wild success—comes from taking action.

You’ve got to SHOW UP — even if you don’t have the right color lipstick, the perfect logo or the right technology. Because ultimately, none of that matters. You’ll figure it out as you go. If you know who you are, who you serve and why you’re doing what you’re doing, the only thing you have to add (for wild success) is showing up and being persistent.

I’m going to be really honest with you right now,

I HAVE had all those scary/fraudy/not enough feelings that I  mentioned earlier, but—since the inception of Kiss Me Creative– I’ve taken action anyway. I wasn’t always like this, but I had this crazy corporate job once where I had to take action (despite not having a CLUE what I was doing) or I would lose my job. So taking action became a habit.

It was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me— and I learned some VERY valuable lessons about “forcing yourself” to show up and be fab.

(1) Say YES and figure it out later

If this sounds like the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard in your life, you probably need to follow this advice more than anyone else. Saying yes before you have all of the details figured out, puts a healthy amount of pressure on you to actually figure it out. You can stop wondering about whether or not you are capable and start taking action to find out what you’re made of.

(2) Live, breathe & hustle for your dream clients

When you are doing biz and brand from a place of service, it stops being about you and what you do or don’t know. It stops being about whether or not you will fail or succeed. It’s all about the way that you’ve set out to serve your community— and if that doesn’t provide all the motivation you need to show up, then you and I need to have a sidebar conversation about follow through.

(3) Embrace community

Having people in your life who will tell you to go for it, even when you’re scared, is invaluable. Having people in your life to remind you that you actually do have it together, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment, is absolutely necessary.

This last lesson is one I have to remind myself of constantly. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or inadequate, my pattern is to withdraw—when really I should be doing the exact opposite. Surrounding yourself with people who believe in the work that you’re doing is crucial to believing in it yourself.

Branding, Beauty and Your Bottom Line

I love numbers. Well, not all numbers—mostly just the numbers in my bank account when they are going up.

I am motivated by money because it allows me to be generous. It allows me to expand my world view. It gives me lots of freedom. It ensures that I don’t starve or end up homeless and it ensures that I can help people who are starving and homeless.

While I’ve come to realize that not all entrepreneurs care as much about their bottom line as I do, I refuse to accept it.

It doesn’t matter that there are starving kids in Africa or that there are children being trafficked right here in the U.S. or that people are sick and stressed and dying, if you are too broke to do anything about it.

I am really committed to my clients making beaucoup bucks, because it impacts how much impact they can have.

When I say that, I’m usually met with an odd look like, yeah, ok lady, you’re committed to me making beaucoup bucks, but branding requires that I spend beaucoup bucks, so what gives?

Here’s what gives:

Kiss Me Creative recently sponsored an event. I had to design a table that looked beautiful enough for people to stop and functional enough that they would want to move towards me and talk.

So I did was any rational marketer sponsoring an event would do, I went to the toy aisle at Target.

What better way to get a bunch of overwhelmed adults out of their heads and engaged at my table than a game of Jenga, right?

Jenga has been around since the early 80’s. It was the original tumbling blocks game.

But it’s not the only tumbling blocks game.

The toy aisle at Target had three different Jenga-like games on display. It took me less than 30 seconds to decided which one I wanted sitting on my sponsorship table.

I chose the pretty one.

I had never heard of Blockade and it was more expensive than Jenga, but I still put two of them in my cart and that’s what I proudly displayed and discussed for three whole days during my event sponsorship.

Blockade knows that there are people in this world who value form just as much as they value function. Blockade knows that women in their 30’s who love pretty things are more likely to display a sleek white box on their dining room table, than the abrasive orange atrocity that is Jenga.

They designed their brand for me.

Who is your brand designed for?

Jenga is the original. And while I may always call the tumbling blocks game on my sponsorship table “Jenga, not Jenga,” at the end of the day, Blockade got my money.

Impact is rarely anonymous.

Impact (n): have a strong effect on someone or something.

(source.)

I don’t know a single entrepreneur who isn’t out to create some kind of impact.

But I know a lot of entrepreneurs who are misguided about what it takes to make an impact.

Last summer I found myself in a conversation with a woman who was confident that the words she had to say would make a difference in the world, but she had no interest in taking ownership of them.

She asked me how she would go about getting people to read her work, while keeping herself anonymous.

I could not wrap my mind around what she was asking me.

Why would you HIDE how talented you are?

My work is like a kid I birthed. When that kid is testing his lung capacity on an airplane full of strangers at 5 o’clock in the morning, I want to disown him.
But if I disowned him, I would miss out on the incredible human being that I brought into this world. I would miss out on him becoming an adult who loves people and inspires them. I would miss out on seeing the impact of my labor.

(Side note: I am totally unqualified to use this metaphor, as I have no children. I don’t even have any pets.)
How likely are you to open an email from “no-one-in-particular?”

Who you are plays a crucial role in how your message is received and remembered and spread.

Had Martin Luther King Jr. left an anonymous “I have a Dream” note on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, what would have become of the Civil Rights movement?

Someone may have put that quote in a book somewhere. Decades later it would have circulated the internet as an anonymous quote, but it wouldn’t have changed the course of history.

As history — and fate — would have it, he was the man for the job because he was willing to be known. He was willing to risk his life for the cause — so people followed him.

Had Mother Teresa’s MO been anonymous acts of kindness, people certainly would have been delighted and inspired, but she wouldn’t have founded the Missionaries of Charity. She wouldn’t have been able to to provide free, wholehearted service to the poorest of poor without showing her face.

Had Jesus Christ decided an anonymous–and miraculous — Twitter account, circa 30 AD, was the way to get his message out into the world, he would have had a lot retweets, but Christianity wouldn’t be a thing.
People don’t follow anonymous notes…

or anonymous acts of kindness…

or nameless tweets…

If you want to create change, you have to lead people and if you want to lead people they have to know you you.

This is the potential impact of branding.

It wasn’t by accident that these leaders changed the course of history.

It’s because people knew what they stood for.

It’s because people knew that they could rely on them.

It’s because people knew what they were signing up for with them.

Are you consistent enough that people know what they are signing up for with you?

What is Brand?

Most of the Kiss Me Creative community knows that a brand is way more than a logo or a website or pretty photos.

At the same time, it’s not exactly easy to find a definition that’s all encompassing—because a brand is everything.

It’s what your customers and community say about you and everything you do to influence that.

They can say good things, they can say bad things or they can say nothing.

If you’re in business, only one of these outcomes is acceptable.

I’ve worn glasses since I was a freshman in high school (which was way longer ago than I care to admit) and I always wore designer glasses—Dolce & Gabbanna, Gucci, Prada. If I had to wear glasses, I wanted them to be the kind that told the world I was one classy kid.

I bought my last pair of designer glasses in 2012.

And it’s not because I got lasik.

It’s because I got practical.

By my mid 20’s, I realized that any pair of decent glasses would get the job done. This realization saved me hundreds of dollars over the next five years.

I didn’t choose just any discount eyeglasses company, though.

I didn’t choose a discounted eyeglasses company at all.

I chose Warby Parker.

While other “no-name” eyeglasses companies were competing on price, Warby Parker was taking a stand for quality eye wear that is sexy and affordable.

It doesn’t say “discounted” or “Just $95”  on their website.

They knew that I came from the wonderful world of $600 designer eyeglasses and, while I appreciate that their glasses are affordable, I don’t exactly want the world to think I’m shopping at the cheap-o-eyeglass-depot.

They’d been waiting for me. They knew exactly what I wanted my eyewear to say about me and they chose the right words and the right design to make me believe that they were the answer to my financial and fashion woes.

Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

They didn’t stop there.

As if designer eye wear with a social mission at a great price was not enough, they have the most amazing customer service—better than any designer eyeglass boutique I’ve ever set foot in.

I tried on 5 pairs of glasses without ever leaving my house. They shipped them to me—for free—and when I tweeted my options, they helped me choose a pair.

I will never buy glasses anywhere else.

I will never recommend anywhere else to buy glasses.

And they know that.

The way I perceive this company and the experience that I have every time I do business with them is not an accident.

They knew what they wanted to create.

They knew who they wanted to attract.

They uncovered what was important to me and they moved their agenda for social consciousness  forward strategically by meeting me where I was.

They chose their designs not based on what they like, but based on what I would like.

They chose their words not based on what they had to say, but based on what I would understand.

And everyone got what they wanted.

I went to school for marketing and branding (also way longer ago than I care to admit) and I’ve read hundreds of books about branding. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients on brand strategy.

I know the process and the rules. I know about design, color psychology and messaging.

But nothing helps people understand branding like seeing it in action.

I’m Gonna Be a Celebrity

I am a bit of a theater nerd.

Big surprise, right? (I mean, have you seen my Facebok live videos?)

I’m always looking for parallels between the things I love — from surfing to Broadway. Lately, Roxie Hart’s self-titled song from the musical Chicago has been on my mind.

I’m gonna be a celebrity, that means somebody everyone knows…
they’re gonna recognize my eyes, my hair, my teeth, my boobs, my nose…

Being brand makes you a celebrity in your own right.

While we are on the theme of music, Miranda Lambert sings a song called Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town. The premise is in a small town, everyone knows your name and gets in your business.

The entire purpose of branding is to leave a legacy and to leave a legacy, the name on everybody’s lips has to be yours.

Well, not exactly the name on EVERYBODY’S LIPS.

One of the most important pieces of branding is carving out a niche for yourself. The smaller the community, the easier it is for you to become known and therefore famous.

So let’s talk niche today.

Thus far in my entrepreneurial career, I have only attracted entrepreneurs who are up to life-changing, world-changing work. They are taking on difficult conversations about sex, money, confident and body image. They are opening restaurants concerned with feeding people REAL food, when the industry norm is to feed people whatever is the cheapest.

I want to change the way spitfire entrepreneurs do biz and brand. So naturally I attract spitfire entrepreneurs.

The PROBLEM with people who are up to such WILD work is that they always want to share their talents with everyone.

Honestly, it’s a good problem to have.

But when it comes time for the Kiss Me Creative team to write brand and marketing strategy for our clients, we always ask the question “who do you serve?”

95% of the time the answer is, “well, I can serve anyone.”

And you can, but …. you can’t really.

We live in a noisy world and there are certainly other people doing something similar to what you’re doing. They may not be doing it the way you’re doing and they certainly don’t have your charm and intellect. But they are competing for a piece of the same pie.

By choosing a niche, you put the kibosh on the competition.

I am an example of this. In early 2013, I left my corporate job to start a boutique branding agency. I had a decade of marketing experience, I had spent three years working in design and managing something like 20 different brands under the same umbrella.

I had the experience.

But more importantly, I had the understanding of how individual entrepreneurs could use these same principles of branding to get to a place where people know who they are.

I also had the understanding that the smaller the community, the faster the fame comes.

And the faster the fame comes, the sooner you can make a difference.

So when I founded my first company, I started REALLY niche. I was deeply connected to the yoga community—not only in my area, but I had yoga teacher friends across the country. And I saw a deep need for yoga teachers to do biz and brand better if they ever intended to make a reasonable living.

I found ONE tiny community that I connected with and who I knew also connected with me and I founded an ENTIRE business on that.

It worked. I built trust quickly. And I built a business from 0 to six figures in less than two years.

Eventually, through word of mouth and a growing online community there was a demand for me to venture out of that “yoga and wellness” space- that’s how Kiss Me Creative was born.

But that’s a story for another post—coming soon!

Let’s talk about carving out that niche community.
Step 1: Examine who you already attract.

There’s a lot to be said for that which comes naturally. Who you are has a certain appeal to people and you will work with a lot more ease if you embrace who you are and make an effort to understand why it appeals to YOUR people.

Step 2: Identify their similarities & stalk them

For some of us the similarities are glaringly obvious — like, everyone who is attracted to me is a yoga teacher. For others it’s a little more difficult. Some of the questions I ask my clients to answer on behalf of their ideal clients are:

  • What are their values?
  • What really pisses them off?
  • What do they do on Friday night?
  • Where are they on Sunday morning?

There’s a lot you can assume by just looking at the people around you who you attract. But if you’re at a loss, do a little stalking. Sounds creepy, but it’s ridiculously effective. Meander on over to their Facebook page and see what pages they like and what their friends are saying to them or about them.

It’s all very telling. Plus, you get to use research as an excuse to be on Facebook.

Step 3: Show up as the parts of yourself that are most attractive to YOUR people.

Branding is actively influencing people’s perception of us. Human beings are dynamic and inconsistent. But once you know what attracts your ideal client to you, you NEED to consistently put on a show for them, making yourself even more attractive.

It Lives.

At one point, I had this romantic notion of what a relationship, or more specifically a marriage, would be like. I thought marriage was the end game—you work really hard to get someone to marry you and then things are great forever and ever. My level of naïveté was rather impressive, don’t you think?

I’ll spare you the gruesome details of my reality check, but I’m sure you can imagine how quickly I learned that relationships take work and if one or both parties are not putting that daily effort in, it doesn’t end well.

There is a lesson in branding here.

Branding is not the end game.

The majority of my clients come to me with a field of dreams philosophy. If you build brand, they will come, but they won’t stick around, unless you consistently nurture that brand. The logos, the fonts, the colors and the headlines may only need to be created, framed and hung on the metaphorical walls of your online space once every three to five years, but the rest of the brand is alive and it needs to be tended to. Your messaging is of no use if you’re not sending messages and your design standards are nothing but digital paper weights unless you’re using them to represent who you are and what you’re up to.

If you want a brand that works for you—the kind of brand that makes it easier to market and sell your product or service— you have to nurture it.

This is how you do it.

(1) Visit often

Your brand lives on your website, your Facebook page and any other place you leave its digital fingerprint. Oftentimes we leave it to live in those places and we never go back to check on it. When was the last time you read your homepage copy? Your voice evolves. Your understanding of your ideal clients and how to meet them where they are evolves. The way your brand shows up online has to evolve too. Take inventory of what version of your brand is being represented in the digital and tangible realms and make time

(TBH, I should take my own advice here.)

(2) Show up every. damn. day.

There is no substitute for consistency. We know how challenging it is, we’ve fallen off the wagon a time or two over the last four years. But each time we put better process in place to prevent it from ever happening again. Each time we see the effect that it has to be consistent and the effect that it has to be inconsistent. Consistency is worth whatever it costs. Yes, you may have to pay a membership to a social media scheduler. Yes, you may have to hire a coordinator or an admin or an intern. Yes, it’s more work. But it also means more brand recognition, more trust, more dollars in your pocket and more good in the world.

(3) Don’t get discouraged

You are going to feel like no one knows who you are until people start knowing who you are. If you quit before you get there…you’ll never get there. Everyone looks like an overnight sensation from the outside looking in—one day you know don’t know who they are and the next day, you do. Stay the course, lovely. Stay the course.