Blog.

Branding
  • Because you're at home, or thoughts on happiness, work flow, building a business and changing your story.

    May we begin with a story?

    Great, thank you.

    The other day I had the following exchange with my younger son:

    Him: "Do you still go to an office?"
    Me: "If someone asks me to come in for a meeting I do."
    Him: "Like you used to do though, like its work?"
    Me: "I think so, sort of?"
    Him: "Are they clients?"
    Me: "Yes they are, exactly."
    Him: "So it is work?"
    Me: "Yes."
    Him: "Good, you seem happier."

    And I am.

    It's been just over six months since I went out on my own, partially by choice, and a lot not by choice, not really, which means that in terms of the laws of personal branding, entreprenuership and self-promotion, it's time to reflect on what I've learned, how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking as I look to the future.

    (1) Working at home, which was not a completely foreign concept to me is great. I really enjoy the energy and flow of the day, but... when you work at home, people like to think since you're at home you can take care of things that need to be taken care of that have nothing to do with work, because you know you're at... home. Which is not to say I don't like the freedom of folding laundry during a conference call or running to the supermarket during a break, but it also suggests that there is a reasonable argument for finding office space of some kind.


    (2) I can just as easily lose myself in hours of work as I did during my days working to 9-5, but disruptions feel really disruptive now. It may be that was true when I worked in an office as well, but I don't remember it that way. Being home it's so much easier to drift from a personal call or other distraction to the couch, kitchen or the internet, briefly losing myself in reading news feeds as opposed to getting back to work. This is very much about flow, and it now requires more attention, and maintenance, to achieve it. This applies as well when I take a day off, or travel for a gig, the rhythm of the day and the regular flow of my work is wholly disrupted and it now takes that much more time to find it again.

    (3) Speaking of the day, there almost never feels like there is a natural stopping point or a reason not to work every day of the week. Or late into the night. Sometimes I stop because there's no choice, I fall asleep, there are plans, and nothing else will get done, but these days, it always feels like a trade-off. Why not put in another hour or get-up early on Sunday? I did it for years when the kids were little so I could write, so why not do the same as I try to build a business? Why not indeed? That said, I also find that when I do stop, or decide not to re-start late at night, the work still gets done. This shouldn't surprise me, I've always gotten the work done, and that hasn't changed, and so maybe its okay to just say enough, today, for now, and maybe I need to trust in that more.

    (4) Still, Mondays are still Mondays. There remains a sense of feeling overwhelmed as the week takes off whether I work every day or not and I'm in an office or not. And yet, Sundays are no longer Sundays. Over the years whether I worked on Sunday or not, a kind of dread would build throughout the day, a pre-sense of being overwhelmed about what was to come. But not any more. I flow from day to day now, and yes Mondays suck for a minute, but that's because everyone else is getting started and I have to ride their wave of energy and not mine.

    (5) My relationship to Mondays isn't the only thing that's changed, my relationship to money has as well. And not just the ever more conscious pursuit of it, which is certainly a thing, or getting it when someone owes it to me, but the actual ebb and flow, that word again, of it into and out of our house, and how and when things get paid for. I had stopped thinking about this, that movement. I lived with someone who cared, and I got lazy. But now I can't be, or don't want to be. I need to know when invoices go out because I worry about when the bills, and payments, are coming in, how they compliment eachother in term of timing, and how it all works day to day and month to month. It's inspiring, more like coming to know the parts of a machine, or an organism, living and breathing, and I'm feeding it. I always cared, but it was in an abstract way. No more.

    (6) Even that isn't the most profound change I've encountered though. When I started being at home most of the time, I found myself struggling to follow what was being said and asked of me. I live with people who talk fast, sometimes as they're walking away and down the hall and on to the next thing, but it immediately felt like a concern. And it was. As I initially sought, and failed at, the more full-time work opportunities I pursued prior to all of this, I had some struggles following directions, and making sense, of things. It was confusing to me. That had never really happened before, and while I believe there are myriad reasons for some of that, once home, it became obvious that there was an actual problem. That problem is my hearing. And so, if I haven't seen you recently, or you haven't noticed my hearing aids, know that this has been going on for some time, and I especially have problems with high pitched tones, particularly the voices of women and children. Jokes aside, I've been missing a lot of conversations for some time now, though I have no idea how long, and if you think I didn't do something you asked me to do during the last year or so, it's possible I didn't hear you, but was nodding because I was confused and embarrassed as to why I wasn't following the conversation. To be honest, I didn't know I was doing it, but I do now, and I'm doing a lot less of it. I'm also happy to talk further about if you are so inclined.

    (7) Related to this in a way, but not exactly, is that I have spent a lifetime using self-deprecating jokes to deflect things that embarrassed me, to manage-up, to not try and sound like a know-it-all or even just be funny. I like being funny. However, as opposed to my now long-time and now long lost job, self-deprecation didn't seem to work as well at the newer jobs I tried, and then one day during the last six months, a client told me to drop it. He said it made me look less confident, and that I lacked swagger. And he wanted swagger. So, I'm working on dropping it in work situations. Maybe you've noticed, and if so, I'd love to hear what you think. I'm not sure I'm sold on this as a necessity, but there is something liberating about it. Own your confidence, and don't be a dick, but don't be embarrassed about your ideas either. I never thought I was, and I've always been vocal, but it's worth thinking about this as I move from place to place and opportunity to opportunity. I'm no longer quite as static, and maybe concentrating on swagger is a necessity.

    (8) It's also ever more clear to me that if one is out in the world and selling themselves, they are the product, and like any product, one needs to be able to package it, provide a framework, let people know what they can expect, when and how they will receive it and what it will cost them. I'm working on this now as well, thinking it through and trying to define what I've been doing and what I want to do. All of that is coming. There are frameworks that are emerging organically and I'm going to formalize them, offer them to the world and call it a business.

    More on that soon.

    (9) I will say this now though, the best, unexpected part of being out on my own has been opportunities to coach, both authors wanting to create, or restructure their books, as well as small businesses and career changers wanting to talk about branding and language and organizing their thoughts. It's been wonderful and I'm really good at it. I also recognize now that I always wanted to do this kind of thing, that I wanted to help people get unstuck and tell their stories, be strategic, and an ideas guy, taking so much of what I did well in partnerships and office situations over the years, but was somehow embarrassed to say that out loud.

    Not any more. I'm giving it a name, it's coaching and I'm digging it.

    And now for a call back, or a book-end to all of this, another story ayway before I go... for now.

    When I first went out on my own, I was at a networking event and I had the following conversation with some guy:

    Him: "So you're out on your own, huh?"
    Me: "Yes, I guess so."
    Him: "Things weren't going well for you were they?"
    Me: "I guess not, but why do you say that?"
    Him: "Because people don't go out on their own when things are going well."

    I never thought about it that way, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. Things not going well are a big part of my story recently, but that doesn't mean I can't tell a different story, or at least change the narrative. That's the plan anyway, and I'm in it, now, and as my son pointed out, I'm happier.

    So, as I said, more soon, and if you want to talk about any of this, let me know, I would be thrilled to do so.

  • Thrilled to talk defining narrative, writing, story, work, branding, stumbling, creativity, legacy, children, social justice, what keeps me up at night and so much more with old friend Roger Brooks at American Real.

    It's an honor to be part of what Roger is building at American Real, so, please do take a listen and please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions about any of it.

  • "How can I be my authentic self?" And other questions, ruminations, marinations, musings, observations and take-aways from my recent Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop.

    I recently had the great honor of leading my ever-evolving, when not always life-changing Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop. This version ran three hours and was hosted by the quite awesome Modern Capital Concepts. In this workshop we cover a lot of interesting ideas, we talk and connect, a lot, and we do a lot of work. Many workshops, and many I've led myself, involve a preponderance of presenting and large group conversation, punctuated by bursts of exercises and small group breakouts, but in talking to Khloe Karova, Modern Capital Concepts fearless leader, I decided invert that model, and focus on intensely engaging exercises and small group discussions punctuated by presentation and conversations with the larger group.  What I found... no surprise, is that people want to connect, and they want to learn from one another. They also want to be heard. Well that, and they already possess insights into their voice and personal narrative... they just don't necessarily see it, yet. They've buried that voice and the language that accompanies it under more formal words and thinking. Or they may be scared, or tentative, to embrace it, and who they are. All of which is to say, that there was lots of good energy and good stuff, you can learn more about the Agenda here and you are always welcome, encouraged even, to contact me if you want to discuss any element of the workshop further, especially though most definitely not limited, to hosting, and as needed, adapting a Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop for yourself and your colleagues, friends, family or peers. And all that said, I now want to take a moment to expand on some of the thoughts contained in this paragraph and share some takeaways and observations from what was a truly dynamic workshop that I am greatly appreciative to have played a role in guiding.

    How can I be my authentic self?

    Authenticity may be a current buzzword, but that doesn't mean it isn't an important concept for us to tangle with and one the participants found themselves returning to again and again. I should note here, that I designed the early versions of this workshop with authors in mind, but it neatly aligns with the needs of those launching small businesses as well. So, how do they, you, me, be authentic self? By embracing the self you are and not the version you wish you could be. That doesn't mean we can't always be striving to be better or different, but knowing who you are, owning it, and stripping away your desires to be something else, is where you start. 

    How can I differentiate myself?

    You have to understand where the gaps are in terms of work or publishing and figure out whether you have the skills and experiences to fill them. But I also believe this begins with knowing your personal narrative and story, what differentiates may be skill and experience on the one hand, but it's also the journey you've been on to become that person, and being able to articulate your successes and failures, your influences and inspirations.

    What is the "Ask?"

    In a former life I worked with the public policy staff in my office and one key lesson I learned from them is that you never show-up at a meeting without an ask in hand. There is an expectation that you want something and you've been thoughtful in determining what you want. It's no different with every meeting you take as your build your business. Nothing is more valuable than time and there is no bigger waste of time than not knowing what you hope someone can do for you, and when possible, what you can do for them.

    How do I prove my credibility?

    One thing I've learned in recent months is that first step towards proving your credibility is putting yourself in situations where you can thrive and the second step is going into those situations with confidence and swagger. I'm a proponent of being transparent and honest with yourself about what you're good at it, and not, but once you've decided what you're capable of doing, step in, all-in, and don't step out until you're successful at ti. That success will only further burnish your credibility.

    How vulnerable should I be?

    The misnomer is that we are not to show weakness, no flaws or failures, but when you make these setbacks part of your story, when you own them, and learn from them, you grow and people will embrace you for it. What your connections and clients don't want is false bravado, and the lack of there there. It comes back to being the authentic you, and again embracing who you are and bringing it to the table.

    Do I let people know I feel passionate about my work?

    Yes, always, as with vulnerability, we can shy away from what we are passionate about, and what excites us, but there is no success without passion. Our responsibility to ourselves is to determine what we are passionate about, do everything we can to make that our work and let people see the passion that is driving us. It will be contagious and that's how we build our connections and businesses, and even find our authentic selves.

    How do I find my voice?

    You keep talking, and pitching, testing new language and ideas, and refining, rinse, repeat, asking those you trust, and everyone else, if what you're saying rings true to them. You also have to continually ask yourself if what you're saying rings true to you. I would suggest that you know it when it doesn't, that it feels false, or lacking, more dream than reality. But that's why we talk to others, especially those who can be truthful with us.

    How can I make connections?

    You have to be out in the world, lunches, meetings, trainings, drinks, informational interviews, work events, using LinkedIn to find those who are like-minded or who you emulate, and then you follow-up and you go to their office, or buy them coffee, or both, and when they need something you provide it, and you follow-up with their requests and recommendations, and some things work out and others don't, and the things that don't you try to make sense of, but either way, you keep pushing.

    You also give me a shout so we can talk further, but I think I already mentioned that.

  • Are you a career-changer, business owner, re-entering the workforce or just want to be a better writer? Then you most definitely want to hit my Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop on May 18th.


    Or so I'm told... Please do find out much more about my May 18th Personal Branding and Storytelling workshop (hosted I should add by the quite kick-ass Modern Capital Concepts, Inc.) here and please let me know if you have any questions or want to host a workshop for yourself.

  • That time I led the This Branding Workshop Will Change Your Life workshop at the Northwestern University Summer Writers' Conference.

    I should begin by stating that the workshop's full title is "This Branding Workshop Will Change Your Life: Story, Saturation and Selling Books in the Age of Social Media." I would add that the development of this workshop grew out of a post on marketing I was once asked to write for a blog tour I was on for my story collection Repetition Patterns. That post - "Being Gary Coleman" - begat a short workshop at the terrific Chicago Writers Conference some time later and that workshop has morphed into this one. What I would like to do today is share how I visualize this workshop flowing at this time. It could change, and if it does, I will let you know. In the interim, I would also add, that I designed, and wrote, this with writers in mind, but it applies to anyone, or any organization, with any passion, who is looking to separate themselves from the clutter.

    FIRST EXERCISE

    What 3 words would I use to describe myself when I first meet someone?

    What 3 words would someone else use to describe me having just met me?

    How do they compare, and are there words that work better/

    PREMISE

    People will not find your work. Okay, they might, and they do, but mostly they won't. There are waves of good to great writers making noise and a lot of clutter out there. You need to somehow rise above that clutter, if only for a moment, but how do you do that?

    WHAT WILL WE ACCOMPLISH TODAY

    We will talk consistency, celebration, saturation, connecting, rinse, repeat.

    We will also do personal branding exercises and draft brand action plans.

    And it will be beautiful.

    PAUSE

    You must write.

    Your work is a product. Like Tide, but more interesting. Your work is also an extension of you, the best you, not necessarily the most attractive you, bed head is fine, even the occasional lapses in the brushing of your otherwise pristine teeth, but your writing must rock, you must hone it, get feedback, tweak and re-tweak, and keep writing, everything, every idea, all of it, writing, writing until you have a voice, any voice, as long as it yours.

    CONSISTENCY

    What’s important to you and how are you going to use it?

    Or said differently, what am I really all about?

    What are you going to glom onto, be, hype, create, craft, build on, build off of, use as your platform, and form of expression?

    Also, how are you going to say it? And keep saying it.

    SECOND PAUSE

    You must love yourself and your work.

    And then you must celebrate it, like your very own Technicolor dream coat. You are your brand and you must love your work. Love it so much that you want it out there because you know without question that people, some people anyway, will love it as much as you do. How do I know this? Because I do, this is how it works, even when it doesn't, see JT Leroy or James Frey.

    SECOND EXERCISE

    Determine Your Description

    What are the words I would use to describe my work? And feel free to build on the FIRST EXERCISE (and yes, that is purposeful).

    Determine Your Emotional Appeal

    How does your personality affect the experience someone will have with you?

    Determine Your Function

    What do I do that makes me stand out from everyone else?

    Put It All Together

    Combine the above words into a short sentence or phrase—no more than five words.

    SATURATE

    Now saturate. And produce quality content.

    Blog, Tweet, blog about Tweeting, update your Facebook status, more blogging, more Tweeting, share links, blog about your links, shoot a video for YouTube, start a Tumblr account, be funny, and blog, start a newsletter (Mailchimp, Tiny Letter), shoot another video for YouTube, get a LinkedIn account, Tweet, Facebook, Tweet about interviews, blog more, be interesting, and then Tweet some more.

    Do this compulsively. And then repeat.

    Really.

    CONNECT

    Get out, share links, make friends, make more friends.

    Be funny, swap books, be engaged, and available, go to readings, conferences, cocktail parties, ask publishers, agents, reviewers, bloggers, book store owners, and writers to meet for coffee so you can tell them how much you like their work, write media alerts, link to other blogs, leave comments on people's blogs, write press releases, schedule a reading, let local media know when you are doing readings, do interviews, ask people to do interviews, go to more readings, Support your friends.

    And do not pass-up opportunities to write, or read, or blog, never, or at least not until you can.

    FINAL EXERCISE

    Action Plan

    Clear Mission

    What’s your why?

    Target Niche

    Where are you going to shine?

    Social Media Presence

    What channels are you going to use?

    Content Strategy

    What are your primary topics and categories?

    Brand Story

    What is your journey?

    RESOURCES

    7 Highly-Effective Ways to Maximize Your Online Brand Presence/Huffington Post

    10-Step Personal Branding Worksheet/job-hunt

    Brand Yourself in 30 Seconds/Ivy Exec

    The First Step To Building Your Personal Brand/Forbes

    The Ultimate Personal Branding Checklist for Creative Entrepreneurs/Branded By Britt