Starting My Personal Brand
Last August I launched a blog. Why? Well, why not. I’m a writer, and writers have blogs. Today, every serious writer needs a blog and I didn’t have one. So, after breaking up with my boyfriend and facing lonely weekends, I decided to fill the time with something productive: Writing about myself and posting it for the world to see.
Fast forward a year later and my little, silly blog has turned into the main focus of my career, and on some days, my life. After just a couple months, it attracted media attention from the likes of The New York Times, TODAY, Ryan Seacrest and Headline News. Today, I have a national AM radio show based on that brand, I’m booked to speak at major conferences and I’m in partnership discussions with big brands. More good things are on the horizon. But I learned a lot along the way and made plenty of mistakes. Here are five things I wish I knew.
Photo courtesy of Emma Johnson
Find Good Role Models First
When I started blogging, I didn’t know anything about blogs. But I knew about a few personal blogs that were started years ago and made a killing in advertising. I also knew I was too late to that game, but I didn’t really know what other games there were. It was a long time before I found some role models, and those missed months meant lots of missed opportunities.
Today, I look to media entrepreneurs like Ramit Sethi and Marie Forleo who have very profitable online empires. I kicked myself a couple months ago when I realized that I’d spent very little effort in building my email list — one of the most important cornerstones of an online presence. I also recognized huge missed opportunities to build on my access to prominent authors and experts who I often interview for my journalism work, whom I could have brought into my brand in the form of video interviews and podcasts.
When I started my blog, there were no prominent voices speaking to professional single parents like myself. No one was talking about all the divorced families and our struggles and joys over issues of women and work, feminism, relationships and marriage trends. But I was talking about these things — with my friends, colleagues, family. I had a whole lot to say and, hell, I thought I was pretty interesting. I guessed some other single moms might have a peek, write a comment or two. Maybe they’d think I was funny or smart or provocative.
I was recently at a conference where Jonathan Fields, an entrepreneur and personal development expert, said (I paraphrase): “It’s much easier to launch something big than something medium — no one cares about another slice of tomato on their sandwich.”
His point was that if you have a giant idea and pie-in-the-sky goals, you get crazy-excited about them. Then it is easier to get other people excited too. Then there is energy and momentum. And you might just reach those goals. Or go even bigger. Otherwise, what’s the point?
For me, I never dreamed of having my own radio show. I didn’t even know I would be good at it. Spokesperson for brands? Moi? When some experts suggested my story might make for TV series fodder, I finally had the confidence to pay attention. Because, really, why not?
Don’t Do It Alone
There is a reason I have spent the past 10 years as a freelance journalist, pecking away at business stories in the isolation of my own home. I work well alone. But that is limiting — especially if you want to build something big.
I wasted a lot of time fiddling with the design and technical aspect of my blog – which was fun, and I found I have a facility for it — but it is also not a good use of my energy. Instead, I hired my lovely designer Nikki. She is way, way better at this stuff, and money spent with her frees me up to do what I do best: be a loudmouth and hustle. Same with the media coaches who help me with video and radio performance. I was a disaster on camera but now am finding big video project opportunities, thanks to these newfound skills. I also spent many months giving high-profile media interviews, which, now that I cringingly look at the clips, needed an intervention a long time ago.
Expand Your Network
Before my media project, I had an established freelance journalism career. I knew lots of great, successful colleagues I could call at a moment’s notice for leads, advice, brainstorming or troubleshooting. Because there is overlap between that work and my new project, I mostly continued to hang out with my old co-workers. But that was limiting. I was doing something different and I needed new people — new advice, new minds and new mindsets.
I now have a group of professional radio hosts who generously open their Rolodexes and brain trusts. I recently attended a digital marketing conference that opened up a whole new professional and social network that has generated new opportunities, ideas, contacts and friends. Had I known all these people a year ago, I would have been doing things very differently today.
Here’s a secret: People are nice. Really nice. Just ask for help. Ask for 20 minutes on the phone. They’ll give it to you. Then you help them out. Then you’re friends.
Be True to Yourself
When I started my blog I had vague ideas of making money from it: a paid discussion forum maybe, or a subscription-based travel network for single parents. But I wasn’t really passionate about those ideas. I was passionate about spouting my pie hole.
Today I look back at my older posts. They’re stilted. I was being politically correct (for me) and trying very hard to stick strictly to topics that fell within the realm of single parents and money. Writing so personally was new for me. I had always been a reporter — telling other people’s stories. Now I was telling my own story, my own opinions. It was scary. But people dug it. They read and gave me virtual high fives. This gave me the confidence to write more and more personally — about a wider array of subjects.
The more I wrote in a way that was true to my ideas and style, the more fired up I was about the topic, the better the writing. And the better the writing, the more my message resonated with readers. Traffic boomed. And that brought in media attention and sponsors and other opportunities — all of which only boosts my confidence in my product. I refuse to shut up.
Another example: When I hosted my first radio show, I was so nervous. I put on my tried-and-true reporter hat, lined up prestigious guests and held a very respectable first show. I was so proud. It sounded just like a real show! Maybe even Terry Gross!
“That was nice,” my agent said, condescendingly. “Very professional. Next show? Be combative. Combative is your sweet spot. Book guests you disagree with.”
So I did. And guess what? It’s even better.