I’ve had quite a few conversations recently with fellow female entrepreneurs about their Brand, with a capital B. Those conversations usually go something like this:
My logo sucks. I need a new one. And I need new headshots. I don’t like the fonts on my website because they don’t fit my brand. Uh, what is my brand, anyway? Do I need to rebrand? I need to rebrand. Do I even have a brand? Can I rebrand if I don’t have a brand?? Oh God, I don’t know. Help me, Obi-wan Brandobi, you’re my only hope!
blunt force questioning empathetic listening revealed that the logo or headshots or fonts weren’t the real problem. The real problem was some feeling of inadequacy, either business or personal or both. Not enough clients. Not enough work. Not enough money. Not enough experience, or time, or skill.
I have a lot of experience with the Not Enough monster, so I know that the easiest way to drown it out is to fixate on what I can control. Fonts. Colors. Logos. Headshots. Changing these things (read: spending money to have these things done for me LIKE A REAL BOSS YO) always makes me feel like I’m DOING SOMETHING businessy and productive, which will solve my Not Enough problems, right? (Three guesses on how well this works.)
I started to realize there might be something wrong with this approach a few years ago when I was still doing photography. I had a client hire me for acting headshots, which he promptly used as his profile picture. (Every time you do this, by the way, a photographer does a happy dance, so you should do it all day erry day.) Three months later, though, there was a new set of photos by a different photographer. Six months later, there was another. And so it went. Meanwhile, most of his status updates were about his crummy job in food service or how hard it was to get an audition. I don’t know anything about the talent industry, but I’m guessing that your headshot isn’t the deciding factor for getting a role. (Someone who knows these things, please correct me if I’m wrong.)
Not long after I worked with this client, I also decided that I NEEDED TO UPDATE MY BRANDING GUYS. In my defense, there was a mindful intention behind it; I had spent some time clarifying my target market and business goals, and I wanted my brand to reflect that, rather than using the, “These are colors and fonts I like and ooooh let’s put a penguin on it!!!” approach. I spent quite a bit of my hard-earned money on a custom logo design that I absolutely loved (and still do). The designer I hired understood that visual branding was more than aesthetics, and she created something that beautifully reflected my mission and values. Five months later, I decided to go back to teaching full-time and ultimately shelved my photography business. Womp womp.
I think the temptation is strong for creative business owners to focus on outward-facing details, particularly in an image-heavy, social media fueled marketplace. But a shiny brand, even one that is thoughtful and intentional and subtle and nuanced, will not replace a solid process for your business. More on that in a minute.
“Branding” was also a popular topic on a “blog and business friends” Facebook group that I was part of for a rather brief time. There were about 10 posts a day that read, “I rebranded my Instagram feed, can someone take a look and tell me what you think?” Obligingly, I visited said Instagram feeds, but 9 times out of 10 I could not figure out what, if anything, this person actually did for a living besides photograph iPads, succulents, and coffee mugs. (Which, if that’s your job, is totally fine, by the way. No judgment. Okay, maybe minor judgment.) Now I realize that presentation matters, especially for bloggers and other content creators. But does the cohesiveness of your Instagram images really make a difference if you don’t have a solid, marketable product or service behind it? DO WE NEED THIS?!
Psst, wanna hear a secret? Asante sana squash banana…oops wait, wrong secret. Start over.
Your logo is not your brand.
Your font palette is not your brand.
Your color scheme is not your brand.
Your headshot is not your brand.
Even your sparkling wit and scintillating copywriting are not. your. brand.
The work you do, and the way you do it, is your brand.
Here’s a minor truth bomb. Unless you’re a logo designer, no one is going to hire you based solely on your logo. Unless you’re a photographer, no one is going to hire you based solely on your headshot. Unless you’re a calligrapher, no one is going to hire you based solely on your hand-lettered business cards. (And even if you do provide any of those services, chances are those things may not matter as much as you think they do.)
Potential clients and customers want to know what you can do for them, and they want to know what to expect when they work with you. You need to figure that out before worrying about anything else. Period, full stop.
Now this might sound weird coming from someone who, uh, writes branded copy and designs branded documents and websites for a living. But my mission is to help you create a business that is good for you on all levels, not just one that looks good. And I don’t want us to invest a lot of time and energy working together on a blog or website only to see you get frustrated and give up within a year. It’s better for my business if you can make it for the long haul, so I will absolutely tell you if I think you don’t need to spend money on copywriting or web design right now. (I’ve done it before, and gladly!)
Your visual and written branding are important. They reflect your values, processes, personal quirks and other things that make you stand out. But all the fancy fonts and logos and headshots in the world won’t get you work. The way you do business and treat your clients is what will get you work. I work with my clients to understand the foundations of your business at the beginning of every project so that I’m not just writing or designing something that looks pretty, but something that helps you run your business even better.
(This has nothing to with anything but seems like a good representation of my life, so there you go.)