From Personal Identity to Professional Plan

Letting go. Holding on. Remembering. Dreaming.

There are so many phases to figuring out anything important  - art, love, identity, business plans, life goals - yet so many of these questions come down to defining who you are and what you want to do in the world. A definition that evolves throughout one’s life and experiences, certainly, but a question that is important to answer now. Today. And to continually remember.

Then comes the challenge of putting your work, your art, your life out into the world.

I talk to many creative people who want to do more, to incorporate their chosen medium into their daily lives in a way that is sustainable long-term. Making this happen requires passion, tenacity, community, and balance, and it looks different for everyone, but I truly believe that it is achievable.

We can talk about timelines, marketing plans, business strategy, the evolving world of social media, the power of referrals, and all of these tools are important and also teachable. But before you build the website, design the business cards, or meet with the clients, slow down for a moment and really define who you are and what you are doing. Your identity. Ultimately, your brand.

The term “personal brand” began popping up a few years ago, but many people still think of a brand in terms of a corporation, something that they might be working toward in the amorphous future, but separate from daily life. For creative professionals and entrepreneurs this personality, this identity, already exists and it is built every day with each interaction. So, you might as well take responsibility for it now. Your brand is your promise, your business, and your reputation. Many pieces go into creating and communicating a clear understanding of who you are and what you do. It is more than just a logo, color scheme, or tagline. It is more than your product or your art. You don’t leave it at the office at the end of the day. Your brand is the story of you.

When you talk to clients, when you network, when you send an email or post a tweet, your personality is on display and it is linked to both your business and personal endeavors. Before you hit send, before you post that shot of your dinner on Instagram, before you walk into the next networking event, ask yourself: How do you define yourself? What is important about you? What do you want people to remember about you? What is your niche? In other words - what makes you different from the 76 other people who live in your town and do what you do?

This is an opportunity and a challenge and it will build the foundation of your business, your brand, your decisions. Once you answer these questions you can then decide how you are going to communicate your message to the right people so they understand how incredible you are and why they want to work with you.

When you need a break from this personal soul-searching, try Googling yourself. What comes up? This is what many other people are seeing - make sure there aren’t any surprises and that your online identity lines up with your intended message.

Once you know who you are and what you do it is time to think about incorporating your personal brand into your marketing and business presentation - those tools we were talking about earlier in this post. The equation is different for everyone, but think about everything your potential contact or client will see, including your business card, letterhead, website, Facebook page, Twitter account, email address, even your personal appearance. It might seem shallow, but we all remember first impressions - make sure your clothing and speech are situation appropriate.

As you are thinking about the tools you need to communicate your message - the ways you can get people excited about your work - don’t get overwhelmed by trying to do everything. Instead, choose a few key venues and do them well, then add pieces as necessary. Do you enjoy writing? Try a personal blog and Facebook. Are you constantly glued to your smartphone? Try having your Twitter feed post to your website. Before committing to any of these, however, make sure that you really are committed. Starting a blog and posting once every few months is worse than never having one at all (part of why we are now having these Sunday morning conversations, because sometimes I have to remind myself to take my own advice). Facebook and Twitter are time-stamped so people can see whether you are posting on a regular basis, or only logging in when you have an announcement to make or an event to promote.

When creating a website or blog, think about the domain name and how it links into your personal brand as well as your business. If there are a lot of people who know you, but few know about your business, maybe a domain name that is based on your name in the best route. You want to be professional and you want people to know something about where they are going when they click that link. Same with email, sarah.smith@gmail.com tells consumers absolutely nothing about your business, and it looks like you aren’t committed enough to setup a business email. Sarah.smith@teaandcookies.com makes me curious, tells me your name, that you likely run a tea shop, which I now want to see, and makes my mouth water thinking about cookies. Sarah@wordsmithnyc.com give me your location and vocation, and, personally, I say bonus points when I figure out that you have incorporated your name in the web address.

Then there is the style and aesthetic of your presentation, how you visually communicate your identity, but as this post is getting rather long, I think we will save that conversation for another day...

Remember, no matter what tools you choose, there is still no replacement for a handshake, eye contact, a smile, and personal conversation. Your brand is your promise and if people have a personal connection with you, they will be much more likely to work with you professionally.

Make sure you first know yourself and that you can communicate what you do. Believe in it. If I can tell you are committed to and passionate about your life and work, chances are pretty good I will be, too.

Let go of past definitions. Hold onto the pieces that you know in your core are an integral part of who you are as a person. Remember that everything you do, each action and word, makes up who you are. Dream as big as you can imagine so that you always have more to try and work toward.