Building a brand can be a challenge, but it can be a little bit easier when you can learn from the people who have been there before you. The people who have tried things, made mistakes, had successes, and learnt lessons that they can pass on to others.
Over the past three years I’ve interviewed so many amazing professional creatives about their journeys and asked a bunch of them what the biggest lesson they’ve learnt about branding their passion was. In this episode I’ve compiled them all together so that you can hear them all in one place when you need a dose of inspiration, motivation, or ideas for what to do next.
Let’s kick things off with Ariel Bissett, a writer and filmmaker based in British Columbia who hosts multiple podcasts and has a YouTube channel with over 300,000 subscribers, among many other creative endeavours.
Ooh wow, it's a big question Hollie.
I think actually it is what we were talking about just a few minutes ago, but it is that you can change your brand. This is something that I've talked about in different contexts and in different conversations, but I really am glad that I have always felt the freedom for my personal brand, to change things up. It always leads to the right path. Following my gut content-wise is always the right move. If I think that something is a good idea, that means it's a good idea for me, and that's the person that I should be trying to make the happiest. Because I'm the one running this whole ship, if I'm starting to get fatigue, or if I'm starting to resent my own thing, the whole ship will sink. The ship will sink, so it's much better that I'm making sure that I'm really excited about my content, proud of my content, and therefore if I start to feel like "Oh it's time for a pivot" or time for a slight change, then I should trust that gut. It doesn't mean that it's not scary, 'cause I mentioned the one big time that it's happened, but it's happened other times in my career and it's always scary. It's always really scary when things like that start to happen or I start to feel some sort of a change, but it always led me the right way to let that change happen.
“If I think that something is a good idea, that means it’s a good idea for me, and that’s the person that I should be trying to make the happiest.”
I would also say, similar to what we were just saying, but another important lesson for me, has been creating more of a team and not doing everything myself. Especially brand-wise, because I have no talent when it comes to like Photoshop or something, I now understand Photoshop, (thank god I've come so far!) I now understand PhotoShop and I've always made my own thumbnails and stuff and I think that i've definitely gotten better at a lot of my own branding. I can throw together a nice thumbnail, if I do say so myself! But I don't think that I'm good at creating a logo, or understanding what's the perfect font. I mean my reasoning for a font is that it's my name! You know what I mean? Like that's gonna be the extent of my knowledge, so reaching out to someone and hiring someone and investing in myself it's always scary, again, it is always scary.
I've had a lot of conversations with people about how important it is to invest in yourself, and there's a fine-line between treating yourself and investing in yourself! A year ago I desperately needed a new camera. Hilariously, I had broken up with my boyfriend at the time, and I had been using his camera. So I had to give him his camera back, that was literally the only reason. So because that happened I had to go back to using my old camera, and I was like “you know what I need to trust myself and have confidence in myself that an expensive purchase like a brand new camera is going to be something that will help my brand, my confidence, my content, everything.” So it was a very expensive investment but I've never regretted it. The second I paid off that credit card, I was like “I have not regretted this!". So in the same way I am really glad that I had invested in good branding for these different projects that I care about. Yes, maybe it's a bit more expensive, it's obviously more money than doing it myself,( 'cause if it was just myself then it would be free!) But like, yes it's money, but it has completely paid itself off, not only in I think, how good it looks and how others perceive it, but how proud I am of it. Those are my two lessons I think.
“I need to trust myself and have confidence in myself that investing in myself with an expensive purchase like a new camera is going to be something that will help my brand, my confidence, my content, everything.”
Next up is Terence Tang, A.K.A Tinlun Studio, a hand-lettering artist and designer from Houston, Texas who creates murals and other lettering pieces, has his own apparel store, runs the HumanKind Project, and more!
There's two lessons, one is business-related, and one is personal.
The business one is that you set out to build a business and you have this idea of what it's going to be and how it's going to function, but rarely does it ever work out perfectly in the way that you imagine.
So you need to be ready to pivot in some way, some form. You're gonna need to change gears and do something different. Something that you never expected to need to do, or some other way of doing something because of the audience that you're reaching that you didn't expect to reach. Now you have to get on this other platform, or sell it a different way. But there will be something that calls upon you to pivot your thinking and you have to be ready to do it. Because if you are too stubborn about it and just stick to your guns you may not make it, and I have learned that running a business, it can be pretty ruthless. You kind of have to approach it from a kind of cutthroat perspective. If you don't make this change someone else is gonna do it and be more successful than you are. So you just need to be ready to shift gears and pivot for the good of the business if you want to make it.
“you need to be ready to pivot in some way, some form. You’re gonna need to change gears and do something different.”
The personal one is this. You know, I'm married with two kids and when I started my business my first kid was just born – he was like 3 months old – and so I was spending a lot of time in my studio 'working.' And I know I'm working, but them out there, they don't feel that I'm working, they just feel that I'm not there.
I learned the hard way that I have to find a way to balance my time between the business and family life. Because I kept telling myself that I'm building this business for the family, I'm doing this for the family. But what good is all that effort if the family's not going to be there when you come out of the office. I almost learned that the very hard way, that you need to be intentional about where you spend your time and how you spend your energy.
Charli Prangley is up next, a marketing designer and side-hustle addict based in Valencia, Spain.
Alongside working full-time at ConvertKit as a Marketing Designer, Charli hosts the DesignLifeFM and Inside Marketing Design podcasts, runs a YouTube channel with over 175K subscribers, designs and sells digital products, and speaks at events all around the world.
I would say that you have to start from knowing what the heart of it is going to be. How do you want people to describe this brand, and what do you want people to think about it? What sort of people are you trying to attract, what stage of their life are they in when they're seeing it, when they're experiencing the content that is under this brand? That's the sort of things I've been thinking about for sure. And with Design Life, for example, it felt like a handwriting logo made sense because we wanted it to feel like a really personal show and that it's a show where it's at your level. We're not above you giving you advice, we're going through the same things that you are in your design career. And we just felt like the handwritten stuff was really friendly so that's why we went for that. I feel like it's sort of the same reason that I’ve done that with all of my other projects and I know there's ways to make things friendly that doesn't involve hand lettering, but also I just really like it.
So yeah, that would be the main thing I think, knowing what the heart of it is. But also not being afraid to put a lot of yourself into it as well. If I was approaching my YouTube channel as a client project I probably wouldn't end up with the colours and the logo and the thumbnail style that I have, because it doesn't make sense on paper for that to be what it is. But it makes sense for giving the brand a personality, and the brand's personality is my personality, right? Because it's my personal brand. So figuring out how to bring that through in the visuals so that it all connects when people see the content and not being afraid to do that even though it doesn't technically make sense.
Illustrator & Designer, Mia Saine shares with us next, whose work focuses on the empowerment of minorities in their personal and professional pursuits!
Mia has collaborated with many incredible brands and organizations and their work discusses important topics such as racial injustice, PCOS, mindfulness, saving the bees, and more.
I think again the biggest thing that I’ve learned was, your brand should be definitely a reflection of you. It should be authentic to who you are. Let’s say I'm like a unicorn and I'm like “no I wanna be a horse and I’m gonna stay in this barn,” it just doesn't work out. It doesn't feel authentic and you can tell because then things are off, your messaging is off, and all this stuff.
“Let’s say I'm like a unicorn and I'm like “no I wanna be a horse and I’m gonna stay in this barn,” it just doesn't work out. It doesn't feel authentic and you can tell because then things are off”
For example, I love robots. At some point I'm gonna put that in there, and it's fine. And it doesn't have to be me drawing a robot, I can do something like play with the texture of steel or play around with numbers, play around with bars, do whatever. But once you can figure out those things, you just can pull it together and it just feels right. And you’ll know you're on the right track because you'll start to feel better. You're like "this is what I want." You’re like that 18th century artist who actually found what they wanted to do before they died, you're like "oh my god, the masterpiece! let me copy that!"
I know for a fact that I recently made this illustration, I did an image of the boy with the yellow bubble coat, and he was amongst some flowers, enjoying himself and that was the portrait that I was like "wow, I got it" like that was my "ahuh!" even though it was for a client.
It was just the fact of me accepting things I enjoy and obviously took reference from. In that illustration I literally took images from my phone that I took while walking in the park, or I like fashioned bubble coats, I pulled it all together and it's just like, boom, you create this creation that no one else can create. They can try as much as they want to, it's not the same 'cause YOU did it!
So you just have that confidence and you start, build off of that and it works its way out. After you reach that point you just need to kind of buffer it out, very slowly like a metalsmith person. Just treat it well, don't go and zoom off unless you're very confident, but play it off, see what else you can add to the blend, see if it works out, and see if it represents what you want to do or what you want to say.
“you create this creation that no one else can create. They can try as much as they want to, it's not the same 'cause YOU did it!”
Now I’m joined by Sophie Timothy, AKA Sister Scout! Sophie is a brand photographer, mentor, and creator of the Sister Scout Hood.
I think just the power of being yourself and stripping back all the "shoulds" - all that stuff that we tell ourselves we need to be. It wasn't until I really, truly stepped into who I am as a person and owned that, that my business actually grew properly and flourished, so I think that's been a huge lesson and blessing. It's given me so much freedom and a good vibe that I'm actually able to be myself and people still want to work with me.
"It wasn't until I really, truly stepped into who I am as a person and owned that, that my business actually grew properly and flourished."
I think there's just so much fear and shame around comparison - comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like, "I'm not like them", but it wasn't until I decided, “Stuff that, I'm just going to be me and put myself out there and do things my way” that it turned out a whole lot of people were into that.
The more you can do things with authenticity, the more people can see that and then you can find your people.
"The more you can do things with authenticity, the more people can see that."
In my purpose statement now, I talk about encouraging people to lean into their uniqueness. I think that's just so important because the last thing we need is a whole lot of people who are the same. The world needs diversity.
"I encourage people to lean into their uniqueness."
It’s time to hear from Alexis Teichmiller. Alexis is a podcaster and coach who helps women live a deeper life, show up consistently for themselves, and be proud of who they are. She’s ALSO a consultant for SAAS companies, helping them grow their affiliate marketing programs. A multi-passionate creative with a passion for people, Alexis has an amazing understanding of what it means to embrace your creative instincts.
Never underestimate your intuition. Intuition is something that needs to be stretched, and built overtime. And intuition builds confidence, and security. It builds this belief in yourself, that I can do it. That I believe in myself enough to know myself enough and be in alignment with my values enough that things are organically a yes or organically a no. And sometimes when you're building brands or building businesses, there's a lot of doubt and there's a lot of second guessing and there's a lot of "well I don't know." This might sound contradictory to me just saying you should ask your community what they want, but I think that you're the one that has to lay your head on your pillow at night and go to sleep with your choices, so as much as it's great to ask for advice, or ask your community, or ask mentors, never underestimate the power of your own intuition and the direction that your body, that your soul, that your mind and your spirit is leading you, because sometimes that can be more powerful than anyone else telling you where you should go.
And I think that for a really long time, I felt this pull, like this natural force pulling me in this direction and I didn't go, because I was seeking affirmation. “Do you think I should go in this direction? Do you think I should go in this direction?” Instead of just being like, “Alexis, intuition. Trust yourself and trust the fact that you're having these feelings and these desires for a reason and they're pulling you, not pushing you, they're pulling you naturally into this direction that's organic, that's not forced.” And we often want to get that affirmation or validation. And as much as that can be really helpful with launches and prices and all the things that's great, but when you can really come down to this grounded, rooted feeling of knowing that you're in a direction that really aligns with you, it really aligns with your values and your dreams and you're becoming who you want to become every single day. You can't learn that from someone else, someone else can't teach that to you. That's something that you really have to tap into yourself and I think that's been the thing I've learned the most over the last 10 years is that confidence and trust in myself, and valuing that equal as someone else's opinion or even more. Instead of putting someone else's affirmation or validation 50 steps ahead of what I think I should do, instead I’m just kind of evening those out and seeing. I'm still open to feedback, I'm still open to other people's thoughts about where I should head, but at the end of the day I'm making the choice and there's power in that.
“you're the one that has to lay your head on your pillow at night and go to sleep with your choices, so as much as it's great to ask for advice, ask your community, or ask mentors, never underestimate the power of your own intuition and the direction that your body, soul, mind, and spirit is leading you, because sometimes that can be more powerful than anyone else telling you where you should go.”
And the beautiful thing too, is that mindset of building intuition and security in self, it's really rooted in connection with yourself. I feel so connected with myself, I know myself so well, that I know that this is a choice that I want to make. And whether that's in business or your brand, or your life. The questions of, what are you gonna go to school for, when are you gonna get married, when are you gonna have kids? Everyone has these thoughts and this path that they put you on – I call it "the path of should'' – you should do this by this certain age you should should should. And that's fine in it's own right, but I don't subscribe to that anymore and I ask myself, what path am I on and what pace do I want? When do I want to get married? When do I want to have kids? When do I want to start my business? Do I even want any of those things? And if I don't, that's okay. And that intuition that's calling you away from motherhood or into motherhood, or away from marriage or into marriage, or away from your dream job or into your dream job, following that energy and really learning. Because if you push yourself into an area of life or into a decision that you feel like you're being pushed into, instead of pulled into, you are compromising yourself, you're compromising your values. And there's no shame of judgement there but just be conscious and aware of who you want to be, versus what society or your family or your partner or whoever is pushing you to be.
“if you push yourself into an area of life or into a decision that you feel like you're being pushed into, instead of pulled into, you are compromising yourself. You're compromising your values.”
Now introducing artist & illustrator, Pepper Raccoon. Pepper is a digital and ink illustrator who creates original artwork and merch for sale on her online store, as well as running a commercial consultancy for illustration.
I think it's been adapting to the ebbs and flows in energy, income, time - just everything. It’s understanding that I'm the only person who's driving this, so when I feel unproductive, I need to take a break. When I feel like I don't have enough money, that's just sometimes the way that it is and you have to plan for the future. There's so much adaptability that you need to have, and that's definitely the hardest thing to learn. I definitely haven't mastered it yet. But I've been doing this for 5 years, so I've learned to not completely freak out if I don't make much money in a month, because I know the next month is usually better.
It also takes time to get used to being assertive with yourself and with your clients. You have to learn to be like, “You know what, I need to take two weeks off this year in the middle of the year. I can't work during this time” or “Oh, you know what, I need to send that email to that person telling them that what they did wasn't okay.” That ‘being your own boss’ stuff can be really hard.
If I drew a pie chart of how much time I actually spend making art at the moment, the pie chart piece that would be art-making is probably 30-40% of my time. It needs to be more, but also - I'm trying to run a frickin business here, so I’ve got to do the work. That's always going to be the tension with freelancing, especially when you care about what you do.
Next up is documentary filmmaker and creative extraordinaire, Henry Thong.
Diving all-in on his passion at a young age, Henry produces short films, documentaries and web content about all kinds of different creators and artists - anyone he finds inspiring, really! His work has taken him from Adelaide, all around Australia and now the US capturing artists, their creative processes and their experiences through his filmmaking.
I think there are two parts to this.
Here’s part one. The biggest lesson that I’ve already lived through at this point is that when you’re starting out, the most effective way to brand yourself is to get known for doing one specific thing. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do a whole bunch of things, but it really helps to narrow down onto one genre or subject matter, like I did with making films about creators and artists. That opens the door to other opportunities that help you build your career in that field. Obviously, it’s important to choose a field, subject matter or brand that is something you’re passionate about, because you’re only going to get the work that people see from you.
The most effective way to brand yourself is to get known for doing one specific thing.
The second part that I’ve just recently learned or am still in the process of learning is that once you’ve gotten to the stage where you are getting that work and you are known for that thing, which is where I’m at now - it’s okay to start branching out and expand your brand into different things.
I have yet to figure out how to do that, but I look at some of the artists that I’ve made films about, especially Poh Ling Yeow, who is one of my close friends back in Adelaide. She’s known for being a celebrity chef because she was on the very first season of MasterChef, but she was always an artist before she was a chef. She’s written cookbooks, she’s a television host, she acts, and even in her art, she doesn’t just paint. I’ve seen works that she’s made with bird feathers. It’s so incredible to see how she’s not tethered to just one thing and she’s known for many different things.
Once you’ve gotten to the stage where you are getting that work and you are known for that thing - it’s okay to start branching out and expand your brand into different things.
I’m in this weird transitionary stage at the moment where I’m realising that it’s okay to grow beyond the one thing that people have known you for and to start expanding into different areas of interests that you might have.
I think those are the two things I’ve learned the most about branding in my short time doing this
Now we have Roxy Prima, one of two muralists and educators behind Pandr Design Co.
After meeting and bonding over their love of art and lettering, Roxy and Phoebe realised they had met their creative soulmates. Lettering turned into murals, meetups turned into business coaching for creatives, and before they knew it, they were all-in on an incredible 6-figure creative business.
I think authenticity is the most important thing. You have to really love your brand, you have to be your biggest supporter of your brand. If it’s not authentic, your clients or customers are going to see that this is not true, this is not real, this person doesn’t believe in this. So I think you really have to look deep into your soul to figure out who you are and make sure your brand is in alignment with that.
Authenticity is the most important thing. You have to really love your brand, you have to be your biggest supporter of your brand.
Personal stylist, Fashivly founder, talented TikTokker and writer, Ashlyn Greer is here to share with us next.
Ashlyn has always had an undeniable passion for fashion, before she even knew what it really was, let alone that it could be a career! But even after finding her career in fashion, she knew that she could do what she loved AND create things that mattered and made a difference. Enter, Fashivly - an online personal styling service for real people living real lives.
Oh man. That is really tough. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is from going through a couple of those time periods of questioning what my passion was. I’ve always identified as this girl who loves fashion, loves clothes and believes in getting dressed as a way to express ourselves and our confidence. I think it’s just remembering what that is, even when you go through those periods where you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing with it at that moment.
At my core, this is who I am.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that lesson again - that at my core, this is who I am. I’m so many other things, I can write, I can do all these other things too. But whether people agree or not, I think we all have one given thing that is just our number one. It’s our passion, it’s what we’re great at, and we have to hold onto that as much as we can. That is usually where you will end up or figure out that it’s what you need to do.
I think we all have one given thing that is just our number one. It’s our passion, it’s what we’re great at, and we have to hold onto that as much as we can.
Whitney Manney joins us now. Whitney is a fashion and textile designer from Kansas City with a BFA in Fibers and a desire to create art through her fashion - something she’s most definitely achieving with her independent label WHITNEYMANNEY. Creating a narrative between colour and pattern is a signature of her work, or as she puts it, “My job isn’t done until everybody in the world believes fashion is art”.
Whew… I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned about branding is to really not take it too personally.
If you think about getting up every day and having the nerve to say - I’m gonna sell some stuff and people will love it, they’ll buy it, they’ll wear it, and they’ll just keep doing that. That takes guts.
First of all, you have to have a bit of an ego to be an artist. I don’t think a lot of us like to admit that. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s really ego in the sense of drive, because if you think about getting up every day and having the nerve to say - I’m gonna sell some stuff and people will love it, they’ll buy it, they’ll wear it, and they’ll just keep doing that. That takes guts.
But at the same time, you gotta keep that in check. I have learned to separate WM and Whitney. They are the same person, however WM has to do her taxes on time and she’s got to have good customer service, while Whitney wants to go frolic and roller skate and have fun. And just because somebody has critiqued what WM has put out does not mean they are attacking you as a person.
I have learned to separate WM and Whitney. They are the same person, however WM has to do her taxes on time and she’s got to have good customer service, while Whitney wants to go frolic and roller skate and have fun.
To be able to have that separation doesn’t mean that I’m detached from my work or that it’s not the same person, but it allows me to have a little bit more freedom and a little bit more of an aerial view when I’m looking at the work that I’m producing and the business choices that I make. It’s a bit of a Beyonce/Sasha Fierce kinda thing happening. But it really helps me because otherwise I would be walking around with my feelings hurt all the time.
It’s a bit of a Beyonce/Sasha Fierce kinda thing.
And last but not least, lets hear from Renata Paton, also known as GremRen, who is a Melbourne-based indie artist who's all about fun creatures and punchy colour palettes.
You can see her messing around with paint pens, yarn, wood carving, and the list goes on. AKA, if it's vibrant and fun, she is in. In this episode, I talk to Renata all about her secrets and I find out how on earth she has done it to build thousands of followers worth of audience, an amazing art style and that kick ass brand.
Ooh, that's an interesting question. I would say for me personally, the biggest lesson is it's okay to change a certain part of your visual branding throughout your cute little journey or whatever.
I have changed my personal online name, once at least with my Instagram. As far as visual style, if you scroll back far enough in my Instagram feed, you can see that I've picked some things up and I've definitely let some things go.
It's okay to make those changes. I don't think a soul has come up to me and said “the inconsistencies, I can't believe it! I can't believe you're not running with this one colour palette that you loved two years ago. Unsubscribed, unfollowed, blocked” or whatever.
If you don't try, you don't know if those things are going to work for you or not in the long term. So even if you don't have that 100% perfect vision of what you want your brand to be, just make something and then tweak it as you go along. I promise that's way better than not making it at all because it's not perfect in your eyes. Just give it a go. That's all you need to do.
September 13, 2023