This week on the Brand Your Passion podcast, I was joined by Charli Prangley, 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.
In this episode, we talk about being human and putting the personal in personal brand, accepting help from others who are experts at what they do, niching, evolving, and transitioning your brand over time, and more!
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Welcome to the show!
Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to be a guest
Do you wanna introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about what you do and what your creative life looks like?
Woah! That's a lot of things but I'll try to keep it brief. My main thing is I'm the marketing design lead at Convertkit and that's where I am Hollie's colleague, 'cause Hollie works with us on their design stuff at Convertkit, which is very cool. And on the side I have a bunch of different side-hustles; I have a YouTube channel where I talk about design called Charli Marie TV. I make weekly or sometimes twice-weekly videos, just about life as a designer. I have a podcast about design called Design Life. I have another podcast/video series now about marketing design specifically, called Inside Marketing Design. Those are the main content platforms, but I'm also just always creating and always coming up with ideas for things I want to be doing, and I made my first font this year, so yeah. A “creator in general” is how I'd describe myself.
Have you always felt just called to be creative, how has that come to be part of who you are?
Definitely. When I think back to why I became a designer, one of the reasons I think is that I used to be doing these creative projects in my spare time. While I was in high school, I used to make my own magazine layouts by cutting out words and pictures from other magazines, and getting A4 paper and making it a book and making my own magazine layouts. I feel like that was my first introduction and inspiration for design.
I'm always finding myself things to do, and as I've grown up and especially as I've gotten further into my career the creative things I'm doing turn into more projects or side-businesses even, rather than just making magazine collages.
Since the magazine, can you tell us a brief overview of your journey since then to where you're at now?
I decided very early on, I think when I was about 16, that I wanted to be a designer, so I've just always been on that career path ever since I first started thinking about a career. I went to school for design at Massey University, I did a Bachelor of Design with Honours there. I started working out as a graphic designer in the industry, doing more print-based stuff and then transitioned to working in marketing design in tech which is where I've been ever since. At a few different companies but I've been doing that kind of role and place in the company ever since then.
My first side-hustle though, I started while I was in university, and it was this t-shirt business. I just started designing these lyric graphics because I was a little emo kid who loved me some Fallout Boy, and some Panic! at the Disco, (I still do), and I started making these little type layouts and posted them to Tumblr 'cause that was a thing you did back in the day. People liked them and asked for me to put them on t-shirts, so I worked out how to do that and I ran that as a business for about 10 years.
That was a decade long business that I sunsetted - not too long ago actually - because I just wasn't passionate about it anymore. I wanted to put my focus on other things. Mostly the YouTube channel, the content, and writing, and that sort of stuff. As you mentioned, I had a blog previously, now I've got a different type of blog. I feel like I sort of pick projects up and put them down again when they run out of steam, or I'm just not passionate about them anymore. I want to make sure I'm always spending my time on stuff that I'm interested in, and that fuels me, rather than takes my energy.
“I want to make sure I'm always spending my time on stuff that I'm interested in, and that fuels me, rather than takes my energy.”
One of the things that I was curious to talk to you about is that - when I first met you, which was like 6 years ago now - you had your YouTube channel and your blog but it was quite different to what you're doing now, it was still about design but it was also about beauty, and lifestyle and you were getting makeup and things sent to you in the mail.
How did you transition from being known as this beauty/lifestyle blogger with a bit of design thrown in, to now being completely all about design - everybody now knows you as a marketing designer and someone who's an expert in design and design careers, so how did you transition that personal brand?
It was probably maybe 3 years ago that I made this transition. I was making videos about fashion, lifestyle, and DIY projects as well as design, and I decided I wanted to focus just on design because that was the thing I was most passionate about. I was running out of steam with the other things so, like I've done with other projects, I wanted to put those down, but not put down the whole YouTube channel.
Honestly my transition was just "Okay, I'm not going to make content about that anymore, I'm just gonna talk about design, and I'm just gonna do that" but it was surprising to me how long it took for the way other people saw my content to catch up with what I was actually doing. People would describe me as a design & DIY YouTuber mostly, and it took a long time, maybe even up to a year for that to go away in people's description of me. It was really interesting for me to find out what other people say and I always find it really interesting just, in general, to hear how other people describe what you do. I should have made you introduce me at the start of this podcast so I could get ahead of that here!
“It was surprising to me how long it took for the way other people saw my content to catch up with what I was actually doing”
It was really just me starting to make design content, and eventually the outside perception of that caught up, and other people saw me as that design content too. I remember when I started getting put on roundup lists for design YouTube channels and I was like "YES it's working, finally!"
So the main way you'd say you did that is through the content that you made?
“I remember when I started getting put on roundup lists for design YouTube channels and I was like "YES it's working, finally!”
In your Instagram bios and how you described your YouTube channel, did you change those as well to say, “Hey I'm a design YouTuber”?
Yeah I think I probably used to have a bio that said something about like making design, lifestyle, DIY videos, like trying to describe it all. So I think around this time I wrote new bios for myself as well, and I feel like I've been on this constant journey ever since, trying to work out how to say exactly what it is that I do. I've come around to now feeling like my content is about helping other creatives to increase their worth as a creative professional, that's how I'm describing things now. Because it is design but it's also about creative careers and that sort of thing too.
That's definitely what I kind of think of when I think about you. Especially in terms of the podcasts that you have – both of them are like very geared toward helping other creatives who want to progress in their career, whether they're designers or not. So when I think about your teaching, I think about career advancement and how to be a more confident creative who feels like they are getting what they're worth and feels worthy as well. So it's working!
Cool! Yeah I think it is a lot about - especially when making a shift like I did - you have to lead the way with not only the content you're putting out but with how you describe yourself, you have to kind of put words in other people's mouths in a way, and put out there how you want to be described.
It's always really exciting to me when I do hear someone describe me or like see a bio written for me on one of these article roundups or something, that just nails it and is like exactly something that I would say and I'm like "YES! I've done my job, it's working".
“You have to lead the way with not only the content you're putting out but with how you describe yourself. You have to put words in other people's mouths and put out there how you want to be described.”
Did it take you a while to feel confident saying,” I'm just about design now”, or did you feel pretty confident from the outset?
Yeah, it did take me a while, and honestly I wonder how long I would have kept up doing the other stuff if it wasn't for this camp thing I was a part of called YouTube Nextup. It's a thing that was run by YouTube at YouTube Spaces around the world. You send in a video to apply to be part of it and it's for smaller creators especially. But I got into that and I remember sitting in the YouTube space and making this decision because they were taking us through our content plan and who our ideal viewer was, and what we wanted to be teaching or sharing with them was. And I was writing all this stuff about design and no mention at all of the fashion or beauty or DIY projects, and I was like "Okay, I think I need to do this." And I think it took me a while to get there because I maybe wasn't confident in myself as a designer, that I could you know, just be about only that.
It felt like it was a bit of a crutch to have this other stuff. To be able to say "oh well, that design video wasn't very good but that's okay 'cause it's not really what I do, I do all this other stuff too." It was kind of like my out. I felt a lot of pressure - I think - since I committed to design content, to make it really useful and to make sure I talk about things that I know my stuff about, and just making sure that I'm proud of everything that I put out. I think it's been good pressure for me in a way, I needed that little change. My side projects in that way have helped my career, they've helped me advance as a designer. Even though I'm sharing advice for other people, it's helping myself as well.
On a personal level, I have kind of made a shift from doing design work to more like brand strategy, coaching, consulting, and only probably like in the last couple of months have I found myself introducing myself as a brand strategist and coach, instead of as a designer. And it took me a long time I think to feel confident doing that. I had these ties to how I was known in the past, and the pressure about being able to show up as a brand strategist and coach, and feeling confident in that, so I totally understand that feeling and agree that it's a good pressure.
Definitely once you've made that internal decision, you also think, I've got to externalise that now, and I've got to be the first person to say "This is who I am, this is what I do" 'cause otherwise how do other people know?
Totally, and I don't know if you felt this in making your shift from design to brand strategy, but one thing I worried about was, because I'd been focussing for so long on growing my audience on my YouTube channel, I was like "Okay, what if people are only here for the DIY projects and the fashion content, then they're all going to go away and I'm not going to have an audience anymore" Which now I know, like why was I worried about that? You shouldn't make content just because that's what people are interested in, you should make content that you care about and that you are interested in sharing, that's the most important thing. And if it means that there's a shift in this audience and a bunch of people leave, that's okay because a bunch of new people are gonna find you and it will be a bunch more, because your content is going to be coming from a more genuine place of passion than if you're forcing yourself to make the stuff that you're not really interested in but you think your audience is. So that's kind of like the approach that I try to take these days.
“You shouldn't make content just because that's what people are interested in, you should make content that you care about and that you are interested in sharing, that's the most important thing.”
So, since you have made that shift, what has kind of been your strategy for growing your personal brand and gaining recognition for who you are and what you do.
I have my idols in the industry where I'm like "you have an amazing personal brand and I like everything that you stand for, everything that you're doing, – I think you're really cool. I also wanna be really cool so I'm seeing what you're doing and not copying, but I'm taking inspiration from the way that you handle things" and I think it's always good to have people that you're inspired by and make sure that it's a place that you want to be going as well.
I think early on when I first started my channel, and I started my first blog, I was maybe following the wrong people, and trying to go more into that lifestyle/influencer type of personal brand, whereas now, I wanna be, like, a 'Maker' I wanna be a designer that people know about and who’s known for helping people. So I try to fill my content feeds with a whole lot of people doing that. I think it's really healthy to be surrounded by that sort of thing. You know how they say you're a makeup of the 10 closest people to you, or something like that, and I think the same applies to people you follow online. I guess I'm just trying to be authentically myself and to not feel pressured in any direction to do something just because I feel like it's something you should do as an influencer, or as a YouTuber, or that sort of thing. Have my own spin on things. Honestly it is a lot about content for me, so the main thing has been to put out the stuff into the world that I want to be seeing from others. Like I write these income reports every year on my business and the makeup of different income streams that I have. That's something that I would love to see from other people because I find it super useful to get ideas for different income streams and to see what’s having the most impact for other people, and so I put it out myself, you know.
I just want to be known as a person who is open and honest like that, and so that means taking the scary step sometimes and telling the whole internet what your salary is which is a thing that I did this year, but it's been rewarding for me. Because I think it's helped with my personal brand, to be known as someone who is very transparent.
“I'm just trying to be authentically myself and to not feel pressured in any direction to do something just because I feel like it's something you should do as an influencer, or as a YouTuber”
Are there other things that you have tried to become known for or known as? Is that something you've done - sat down intentionally and been like, “okay I want to be known as someone who is transparent and who is X” or has it just kind of come naturally out of who you are and what's important to you?
One thing that I don't want to be known as that I've been actively trying to push against has been just being a YouTuber. Because that was the main thing that my content was about and what I'd been putting out there and talking about across my social media and the main thing I was promoting a lot of the time. it ended up being that's how people would describe me. That was the first word out of their mouth. It's really important for me to be a designer first and an 'everything else' second. I think I have an unhealthy attachment to my career title or whatever as a part of my identity – we actually did an episode about that on Design Life, one of my podcasts – but that's something I had been pushing against. So bringing in a bunch of other creative projects and not having everything be in the YouTube basket is the way that I've done that. And also just sharing more of my work, sharing little work in progress screenshots and things like that, just to be constantly reminding my people - as well as myself I guess - that I'm a designer. I'm not just a YouTuber, the design stuff comes first and is the reason for YouTube videos.
It makes sense that people were describing me as a YouTuber because that's what I was saying about myself. It was a great lesson for me in what we put out there is what we're gonna have reflected back on us. All I was talking about was my YouTube videos, and like "go watch this video I'm making a video this weekend" of course people were describing me as a YouTuber, so toning that down a little bit and talking more about the design side has, I think, helped to have Design be top of mind when people think of me now.
That’s a great thing to point out that what you do put out there is what people are gonna know you for. If you don't put out the other things then they're never gonna know that you do those things, or they're gonna be drowned out by the one thing you talk the most about. Which is a good lesson in branding, that how you describe yourself and what you put out there about what you do, is what people are gonna know you for. So you kind of have to think about what you're putting out there and what you do wanna be known for, and how you can make that happen.
Yeah totally. I think having multiple channels to be putting that thing out has really helped too, so it's not just like "Oh I'm a designer and also I have a YouTube channel, and also there's a podcast" – everything is about design. Obviously I do things in my real life that aren’t design-related every now and then, (honestly not that often!) But I'm not putting out a different random project about house plants or something like that, everything is focussed on design.
“It makes sense that people were describing me as a YouTuber because that's what I was saying about myself. It was a great lesson for me in what we put out there is what we're gonna have reflected back on us.”
Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about the visual side of your brand. So you right now have a handwritten logo, and you have some colours that you use, great imagery of yourself, fonts that you use across your website, and a few distinct visual elements on your website and things, so how has that identity come about over time? Did you start with a logo or anything? What does that process look like?
I did start out with a handwritten logo, saying Charli Marie, that I made myself. Then it had an update when I hired Austin Saylor to animate it, I asked him to also tidy up the lettering as well and just make it better, because he is more talented at that than I am. So that's been the logo I've been using ever since really. The colours have kind of been the same since the start as well – purple is my main colour because that's what colour my hair usually is and it's just my favourite colour. And honestly I think that's literally the reason why purple is my brand, I think that's a perfectly fine reason. When it's your personal brand you can have your favourite colour as your brand colour, you don't have to go into colour theory and stuff.
I think people can overthink their personal brands, you know? It can be really easy to use that as a crutch as well, and be like "Oh I don't have my logo yet so I can't start this project" and that's just an excuse. So I've - I guess - not really focussed on updating my brand a whole lot over the past few years because I feel like it's fine, it represents me, the colours make me happy, I really like them. I like the handwritten aesthetic that comes into things, especially on my YouTube thumbnails so that's fine. Let's put the efforts elsewhere, into making the actual content and delivering value.
“it's just about picking what you love, being passionate about it, being excited about it, and then being consistent about it.”
For sure. I tell a lot of people who have personal brands the same thing "don't worry about a logo!" I just recently taught my course about Instagram, and I was like, I'm not even going to talk to you about logos 'cause I don't think you need one on Instagram. And you're right that it does stop a lot of people, unfortunately, from just starting the thing that they want to start, so you don't need one. And with the colours, you're right, just pick one that feels right. The point is to be consistent with it, and then people know. I think Charli and I think purple straight away, and that's the important thing, that people can recognise you with that colour. People do the same thing with me with orange. So it's just about picking what you love, being passionate about it, being excited about it, and then being consistent about it.
So, not using your logo on social media or anything, is that something that you intentionally thought about?
Yeah, it is honestly. I think that there's a line with your personal brand. I think the personal part of that statement is important. I always want to be a designer first before I'm a YouTuber or all these other things, I always want to be Charli the human, before Charli the brand. I'm on my Instagram and my twitter,to like literally spew my thoughts and share my life, that's what they're there for for me because that's part of my brand. I'm not interested in being something that I'm not. It's part of my brand to just be me, be authentically me, and the people who like that are the ones who will follow, and the ones who don't, won't and I'm okay with that. Because I'm always gonna be me first, rather than the brand. I do think sometimes that I don't know, I could probably be growing my Instagram audience more if I was doing more teaching on there, and sharing branded graphics with thoughts and lessons on design, 'cause I always stop and read those things if they're on my feed and click through on stories and stuff but that's just not something I’ve done yet because I think it would be very easy for me, (I'm a bit of a workaholic, to be honest,) to become too much of a brand and not so much of a person if I really leaned into it. I just need to be able to be myself to have a bit of an escape sometimes, and just make sure I'm staying true to me and not doing things just because it's' gonna get likes and clicks and things like that.
“I always want to be Charli the human, before Charli the brand.”
As well as your personal brand, you also have brands for Design Life FM, and you have the new one for Inside Marketing Design, so with those did you want them to kind of fit under your personal brand, was that kind of designed to all work together or kind or be separate? Tell me about that process.
Design Life wasn't really made to fit within my personal brand. It is purple as it's colour and I don't remember how we settled on that, Fem, my co-host, chose that purple. It's not the same as my purple so it's kind of like a bit of both of us. So that one was intentionally a separate project that ended up seeming like it fits with my brand, because it's a handwritten logo and it's purple, so I guess I just can't stay away from it.
And the other one; Inside Marketing Design, well, Hollie designed the brand for that – she did a great job. I wanted something handwritten because that is my aesthetic, and I wanted this to feel like it came from me, that Charli Marie made it, but that it was its own thing. Like, it was its own separate project that you could tie a bow on and say "That's Inside Marketing Design as a series." Just to make it feel a bit more special I guess, because of the amount of time and effort that I was putting into producing it.
“It's part of my brand to just be me, be authentically me, and the people who like that are the ones who will follow, and the ones who don't, won't, and I'm okay with that.”
Some of these, as far as I'm aware, Design Life FM you did yourself, your personal brand you started yourself then you got some help from Austin, then Inside Marketing Design you got my help for. How have you decided to kind of bring someone else in to help you, instead of doing it yourself? Like you said, you're kind of a workaholic and as designers we're often like "Oh well you know, I can do it, it's in my wheelhouse, it's possible" so how have you decided to bring other people in to help you?
I think that's honestly a sign of growth as a designer to accept help and to reach out for it. I did used to think that I needed to do absolutely everything myself because I'm a designer so I can and I should. Because otherwise it's not me, it's like a lie if I put this thing out and I didn't actually design it. Honestly, people probably assume I designed all those things because they know I'm a designer, but I guess I got to a point where I realised there are people who are far more talented at this kind of stuff than I am, and I want my brand to be good, and so I'm gonna outsource, I'm gonna reach for that help. I guess part of it came with when I started earning money from my side-hustles too, it meant that I felt like I could invest in hiring people for help. Because I'm always gonna reach for people who I know and people that I want to support by hiring them. You're never ever gonna find me going on Fiverr or one of those websites and being like "oh I just need help with this." I would rather pay quadruple the price and get someone who I can support in doing it. So that's been a joy to do that as well, to be supporting other creatives by hiring them, and getting things I'm really proud of because someone more talented than me worked on them.
“I think that's honestly a sign of growth as a designer to accept help and to reach out for it.”
How did you find that process of letting go, letting someone else come in, and getting some help with your brands?
Well I am very particular. I know what I want and what I like, I just want someone else to be suggesting it and doing the work for it. I'm not going to sit there and backseat design or anything like that. I think part of hiring someone else is letting them have their own ideas, and if you're not willing to let someone do that you shouldn't hire someone else, maybe you just need someone who is an operator of the software to put your idea together. But I have a very high standard because I am a designer myself, and because it's a personal brand, I have to love it if I'm gonna use it to represent my brand. I give feedback and I'm very particular, but also I hire people whose work I already know that I love so I know it's going to work out and it's going to be great because I already like all the other stuff that they've done.
“It’s been a joy to be supporting other creatives by hiring them, and getting things I'm really proud of because someone more talented than me worked on them.”
So in your years of building your personal brand and these other brands, what do you think is the biggest lesson that you've learnt about branding?
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.
Do you have any other advice for other creatives out there when they're thinking about branding their passion and kind of growing their creative business or side-hustle or whatever it is that they're doing? What advice would you give them?
I think that you should outsource help where you need it, but if you truly want it to be a personal brand that's a representation of you then you need to be very involved in the process and be bringing a lot of yourself to it. You can't expect to hand off to a stranger usually and for them to capture the essence of you in a visual brand by themselves. So spend some time thinking through the strategy and what you want this brand to represent before you work with someone, or hire someone who is gonna ask you the right questions so that you can figure that out yourself. That's I think a really important part of branding and making sure you end up with something a visual brand that feels representative.
“spend some time thinking through the strategy and what you want this brand to represent before you work with someone, or hire someone who is gonna ask you the right questions so that you can figure that out”
Perfect. I mean that's exactly why I preach about brand strategy because it's hard to ask and answer those questions yourself but it's so important to do.
And it's the start of everything right?
A huge thank you to Charli for joining me on this episode of Brand Your Passion - I hope you learn a lot from this conversation and are particularly inspired by Charli’s approach to branding multiple passions and keeping them all personal along the way.
Please check out Charli online, and if you’d like to support her work, consider purchasing her new font, Greyscale!
September 16, 2020
Brand Your Passion