What happens when content creators stop creating?

As a content writer, creator, maker, whatever you want to call yourself, your biggest challenge is often consistency. Life gets busy. Clients demand all of your creative energy. You have to make a tough decision about next steps and somehow posting content as an “expert” when you’re feeling lost is inauthentic.

These are real challenges. I would never even imply that the past month hasn’t been anything but an extraordinary test of my values, self-worth, and yes, creative motivation. The decision to leave RedBrick Rooster has left me with a lump in my throat so large sometimes I have to check to make sure I’m still breathing. While vlogging and writing have often acted as therapeutic tools, I denied myself their usefulness. Why? Because I actually stopped creating many months ago and while somewhere in the depths of my soul I knew it was therapeutic, I couldn’t access that part of me that sits down and does it.

I know I am good at my job. I know that I can on a semi-consistent basis create interesting content that connects me to my clients, my friends, and other kindred souls. So why it is so easy to stop writing, vlogging, engaging on your social networks and hide from it all?

Shame is a part of it. A feeling of failure which is easier to hide from with busy work, excuses, and blaming your work for sucking your creativity dry, instead of admitting that it’s the only place where you do not feel dry and so you spend more time than is necessary there. There is no problem with expending so much creative energy on your work. It’s amazing. Addictive. Rewarding. The problem is that even with that there is shame lurking in the shadows. It hides there, constantly reminding you that you could be striving higher, writing more, writing for more people, becoming more recognized. So the longer you stop writing the craftier you get at blaming your work for not reaching that next level of success. Your brain takes this as a cue to start becoming stressed every time your plate is full with client work even though that is exactly what you’ve worked your little buns of trying to achieve.

Now the work stopped. Yes I am doing speaking gigs and workshops more frequently than I ever imagined possible but that work that forces you to stretch out and knead, to poke and prod, and shape a soft gooey dough into something unique is slowing down. Temporarily yes. But still slowing down almost at a full stop now. I am left only with that lump in my throat and shame that cannot be hidden with work anymore.

Here is the useful part of this inhibited period of my “recreational” creative life: it forces me to ask myself why I create.

I create because of my love of the process. Sharing it. Being in it. Reflecting on it at the end of a transformation. I think I genuinely forgot this. I was breaking my neck bringing in new business and that took priority over creating for myself. It also made the process of breaking neck a lot more painful because I had no tool for acknowledging and processing my transformation along the way.

I want to start making things again. I want to stop feeling like being “in process” or “under construction” is not a good enough reason to write. It is the only reason to write. So I ask that you join me in taking a step towards that lack of inhibition we all know and some even love about me. I need you now. Starting today I’m burning the bra. I’m breaking down these damn walls I’ve put around creating for myself. Starting with this admittance of letting that shadowy shame prevent me from doing something that makes me smarter and happier.

Anyone want to join me at the bonfire bra-less?

 

 

 

#RealTalk

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Toni-at-C2

My previous blog post focused on body language in a big way. When our bodies are forced into atypical “business” environments the way we connect with each other changes as we negotiate with our sense of personal space. Now I want to talk about – talking.

C2 obviously nailed it when they decided to break down the physical barriers between people and offer a more organic method of connecting. But let’s focus on the speakers. The rush after a particularly vulnerable and rewarding brain date is difficult to describe and the only thing that crushes that rush as fast as it sprouts is a bad speaker. One who has not translated their “industry speak” into the love language that participants were organically crafting.

Okay, to be fair, I was fortunate in enjoying all the speakers I saw but I thought this is would be a great opportunity to point out a problematic trend I’ve seen in public speakers. I will, of course, also continue my flattery of C2 and acknowledge speakers who subverted this horrible trend that I am calling “winners speak”.

As a speaker you have two jobs. 1) Know your shit. And 2) educate yourself in what words have become meaningless as they are overused and melded in with “industry speak”. Having a powerful message is one thing, but delivering it in a powerful way is what creates momentum and ensures your message will penetrate the behavior and thinking of your listeners. So how do you do this? You create a love language for the thing you are passionate about. You ingest it in all the forms its available in so that when you are asked to speak on it your words are as varied and rich as your perspective on the subject.

d0798b249e1ce19f7eced8a18acfc380

Jargoned speech is like a Coca-Cola. In the moment you could not imagine being more refreshed and satisfied as its carbonated sparks electrify your throat. Of course, this doesn’t last. The short term effects are fatigue, irritation, and yes, thirst. The very thing we were hoping to rid ourselves of. Real momentum is staying hydrated with clean substances throughout the day. Every once in a while we surprise our bodies with a fresh watermelon, which carries with its appeal a messiness, and inconvenience.

Before I get completely carried away with my analogy here let’s reel it back in. “Winners speak” is problematic. It relies on our fears of failure, it feeds our weakness for fast results, and it misses out on the “why”. Why this is important. Why this is truth. Why this is devastating. Why this is beautiful. Why this is sad. Why it’s allowed to be all of those things at once.

A speech is not there to flatter your senses and then just as promptly leave you craving the very thing you went to satisfy. Perhaps if you were about to play a football game and needed a bit of pep, or about to enter into a situation where nerves had to be met with a fierce sense of invincibility. These, however, are intended to be in short bursts. They are there to represent the larger more complex mechanics of something you’ve worked hard at. Key being – you’ve already engaged in.

Okay, so how do we fix this? I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I’ve been paying close attention to the speakers I have had the pleasure and displeasure of seeing. Partly because I myself am moving into public speaking and needed to see what worked and what didn’t. Here are my thoughts:

  • Find and nurture your love language. It could be your ability to turn a call to action into poetry that speaks to deeper human truths like Massimo Bottura. He nourished our minds and sense as he lovingly and poetically described how “cooking is a call to act”. Just like poetry we were feeling it before we understood it. So when he walked out onto the stage and began telling us of his project Food for Soul our mouths were already hungry for the realness and truth of the devastation of food waste.
  • Tasha McCauley spent the majority of her talk on VR and its potential for redeveloping our intuitive thinking. She started by telling us the story of “the first page”. As in, the first documented piece of history that humankind recorded symbols and language onto. What made it so special? What prompted us to shift from oral-only to a written language? Her love language is history, discovery, and adventure. She made me look at my own writing as a vehicle for exploration in a way I hadn’t before. It was through this unique and creative lens that I began to understand how we are moving to a more intuitive and symbolic thinking space and our language for it is not ‘text speak’, as some naysayers want to believe, but technology; things that allow us intuitive modes of interacting with our environment.
  • Struggle and failure cannot just be acknowledged. It must be treated with the same respect we inherently give a win. My biggest complaint against “winners speak” is its terrible habit of indulging in the win and acknowledging the suffering only as a means of enhancing the win. With mental illness being so prevalent, you’d think we would work harder to develop a love language for it that didn’t rely on a win. At C2 the vast majority of speakers chose learning over winning. Learning relies on failure. There is just as much, if not more, joy in seeing a child trying to walk for the first time than seeing a child walk perfectly for the first time.

The language we are given to explore a topic is in a large way going to dictate its course. When ideas start to shift in society, one of the first things that crops up is a call to action for a change in the language we use. So why in a business setting do we often forget this? Well, its fear. So first we need to acknowledge that for fear to grip us that badly, it must mean there is something deeply personal intertwined in the way we do business. Ah okay! We know this. So let’s make a commitment then to prioritize personal expression even in a business setting. Let’s not let our ideas only flow from our heads out our mouths. Let’s take it on the scenic route, straight through our heart, winding through our toes, up and down our shoulders, giving it a clean jump off our tongue and out into the world.

Save

Brain Dates Expose More Heart than Brains

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Toni-at-C2

Imagine a space where you are challenged to intimately and freely exchange expertise and vulnerabilities with strangers. Not just that, but the space itself is comprised of non-traditional seating arrangements. Two swings where knee bumping is inevitable. Rocking chairs. Salon chairs equipped with hooded hair dryer bonnets. Red and white pods. A swinging picnic table. Hammocks. At one point, even the staircase as the other space filled up. This was the crown jewel of the conference and they called these: Brain Dates.

What is a brain date? Every attendee has access to the “HUB” where you have the opportunity to write a little bio and set-up offers and requests. Offers are things you are open to talk about for 30min with people who are interested. Requests are simply you putting out a request to get some advice on a specific subject. My offer was this: “How do you turn a personal brand into a business?” I received 16 requests to speak on that topic and ended up “brain dating” with 14 of those people (I didn’t want to miss out on Martha Stewart talking about pot brownies and her homeboy Snoop).

From my previous posts and watching my weekly Vlog, you already know that online dating is a constant source of inspiration for me when it comes to personal branding. So the idea of brains from all over the world going on “dates” tickled me.

14 dates in 3 days and this is what I learned:

  1. Value does not have an age attached to it. We know this. At C2 you feel it. I spoke with people ranging in ages from 30-65 and often the biggest age gaps meant the best conversations.
  2. Seating had a huge effect on how the conversation went:
    • Swings: Our knees bumped immediately which meant we had to acknowledge a breach of personal space before anything else. Our conversation was playful, bubbly, and nostalgic. We are now collaborating on a project to integrate play into the way people network and learn.
    • Leather footstools (no backing): We both automatically leaned in to talk. Our conversation was brisk and to the point. We spoke in bullet points stopping only to check the time. She walked away with a to-do list.
    • Rocking chairs: Both of us took a minute to breathe and rock before jumping into the conversation. Most of the time was spent exchanging personal histories. We ended up having dinner together and talking about motherhood. We are going to be working together to bring some branding workshops to Toronto for both entrepreneurs and workplace teams to work together better.
    • Salon chairs: The conversation started with a joke about getting perms. Our conversation was driven by humour but relaxed and neither of us felt the pressure of time. We were getting perms after all. This meant I felt comfortable enough to tell him I wanted to meet with him because the language in his profile annoyed me. It was full of “this many start-ups make this many mistakes” and “you should do this”. I wanted to talk with someone who would challenge my more fluid approach to business. This conversation was honest and incredibly helpful. We’ve already connected again!
    • gliderPicnic table glider: You will certainly detect this in my tone – but this was by far my favourite brain date. I actually told this story to Tara Hunt who was part of the social squad for C2 and we totally bonded over it! Just goes to show how the momentum of one great event can lead to another. I added a picture below of a rocking picnic table to eliminate any confusion around how it works. Bill and I sat down and very quickly realized two things. One, we were actually sitting quite far apart. Two, we had to work together to keep the rocking movement of the bench smooth so it wasn’t distracting. This meant we had to not only listen carefully with our ears but with our bodies too. The best way I can describe our conversation is that we took out all our insides and showed it to each other. When one of us became vulnerable or passionate the other immediately felt how it disrupted the flow of our rocking. It meant that I really felt the excitement or nervousness, shared in it, and adjusted to its rhythm. Our brain date ended with big bear hug and a commitment to finding a space to work together in the near future.
  3. Console the broken hearts. E-180 Labs, the wonderful humans responsible for running the brain dates came up with a clever and thoughtful gesture of offering a chocolate with a small “sorry” note to those who had been stood up by dates. It acknowledged the personal aspect of the dates by appealing to the heart via its heart medicine: sweets. It helped set the tone even if you didn’t get to fully participate. Maybe next year we can convince them to hand out mini containers of Ben & Jerry’s instead.
  4. People want to share their expertise with you. Sometimes I met with someone and either because of social exhaustion, heat exhaustion, or in my case, a strong desire to take my 2pm nap, the conversation wouldn’t start out strong, You’d forget what you were there for or dance around a subject hoping the other person will pick up a thread and go with it. This was never a bad thing. Everyone was committed to actually adding value and expertise. The space itself had a lot to do with that. There were just enough rules and guidelines in place to make everyone feel safe, but the playfulness of the environment meant we were energized and motivated to be ourselves and show off our uniqueness. We understood what was required of us when we stepped into either of the roles in the brain date. Maybe I was just very fortunate but everyone I spoke to was committed to either finding value in you or giving something of value to you.
  5. Lastly, I learned that business cards are much more valuable as a token of thanks than an actual means of contacting someone. Give your business card at the end, not the beginning of a meeting. The “HUB” meant we had a way of following up with everyone we met without exchanging business cards. When someone gave me their card right away they set the tone for a specific kind of chat. One which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The kind where they were going to sell to me. When we exchanged cards at the end of the date, it was because we wanted to give the other person a token of acknowledgment for the value they added to our day.

 

Stay tuned for more posts on C2 as I untangle my thoughts and feelings.

Is Branding Just BS?

For a number of reasons we are all resistant to the idea of assessing or even creating a brand. As a small business or start-up we think, “Well this isn’t a priority. I haven’t even made money yet. A fancy logo and sales language can wait.”

I posted an article on Facebook a few weeks ago dissecting the notion of brand as a luxury expense but I want to tackle this from a different angle.

I consider myself very lucky so far that in my career as a branding coach I have come across almost no one who didn’t have some idea of why branding is good. Then, just as my comfy couch of perfect clients was starting to form its perfect butt indentation, something or someone jabs me in my left ass cheek. Perhaps its because I’m forced to use words like branding and marketing when even I find them cringe-worthy. I hate having to rely on industry jargon to simplify my ideas around marketing. It makes them feel empty and manipulative.

Coming from an arts background means my education opened up my world vastly. So vastly that it let in a lot of ugly lofty thoughts and judgments about the value of creating. Art school teaches you many valuable things but when it forces you into a competitive environment with yourself and your peers, creates a highly structured grading system, and tells you that you should be “industry ready” by the time your program ends, it does something to your creativity. It eats it up and spits out cookie-cutter thoughts disguised as discerning taste, analytical thinking, and success. It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being inadequate or not living up to that lofty idea of what a true artist is. I still fall into this trap. Most days though, I am reminded of something inherent in all creators – resourcefulness. I am reminded of this because each and every day I work with clients who introduce new levels of scrappiness into my world.

Innovation, creativity, and art are all forms of resourcefulness. It is about using our imagination to stretch beyond the immediate meaning or use of the thing in front of us. When else do we see this? Well, when we play – or more accurately, played. So is our job as creators then not to create the most bad-ass sandbox to play in? Is it not to immerse ourselves in an environment where boundaries are bendy and following rules is failure. This doesn’t sound much like any education system, does it?

Before I digress into one of my most adored ranting topics –education – let’s keep this train on its tracks.

This is how I define branding – being able to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both a literal, symbolic, and visual way. Good branding should be so embedded in who you are at your core so that whether people are looking at your website, hearing you speak, chatting with you over a glass of rouge, or working with you, they know what type of experience they can expect from you. Before you can get to that though – you’re going to need your sandbox. You’re going to have to forcefully inject creative problem solving into your world. Now you try explaining this to someone who has no concept of branding. It’s seriously fucking hard. So you turn to your marketing jargon encyclopedia and begin spouting out buzz words like “social media engagement”, “conversion”, “web traffic”, and “sales”. No doubt these things are all extremely important. But they are not at the core of a brand. YOU are at the core of the brand. YOU are the common factor. Your thinking, your method, and your obstacles. Those other things are – mind you quite amazing – tools to help sell, get people to read your authentic content, and spread your good-hearted message to the world.

Think of your business as that beautiful sand castle you want to build. The things you find in the sandbox are the tools or add-ons for your biz that can help you build it, and make it better. The other kids in there are people who will believe in and work for your vision. So what’s missing in all this? Well kids, the sandbox. Part of what I teach in brand coaching is play. Get back to that core version of yourself. That version of yourself that could build worlds, delegate roles, invent new rules, and solve problems creatively with only sand and discarded, often broken, tools or throwaway toys. That version of yourself that could intuitively spin a tale and have people begging to be a part of the crew, even it is only to scoop and pile dirt.

Branding is not just developing your credibility, reputation, and visual language, it is knowing on an intuitive level who you are, how you do things, and how you solve problems. This is what you want to communicate consistently to your clients or customers. That is how you become a many-pronged market superstar. In a nutshell, be the shit out of yourself and share it with everyone. If you can’t do this – cool. Hire me. I will be that nurse you love/hate who injects play back into your world.

Ps. Warning. This blog is sweary.

 

The Mindful Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are often a labeled as aggressive, stubborn types who let nothing and no one stand in the way of their vision. I have no qualms with this type of entrepreneur. They have given us Facebook, intuitive tech and software, and agency to customize our daily experiences from apps that track our monthly cycle (down to our eating and pooping habits) to adjusting to our music tastes to give us only what we desire. But I am finding another type. They have existed for a long time but their space is opening up in a more integrated and interdisciplinary way. These people I am going to call “Mindful Entrepreneurs” and as it happens, my clients so far all fall into this category and it’s exhilarating.

These are some traits I have found these people to possess in various combinations:

  • Holistic in their approach
  • Their mission involves contributing to a social good
  • They desire a “tribe” and often feel lonely or disconnected in traditional friendships
  • Their inspiration can reach the heights of Everest but just as quickly they can get caught up in a web of existential worry about their own worth.
  • They’ve undergone at least one major transformation if not more
  • They have not always known exactly what they wanted to do but they had a pretty good sense of they wanted to feel about what they do
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

So why do we need to pay attention to these people? They are going to be the ones who connect the two seemingly disparate paths of our desire for the simplicity of the past and the drunken lust with which we stumble to our complex futures. When I talk about the past I mean our dreamy vision of “simpler” times where language was less important than spirituality and storytellers played the roles of healers and magicians. I also mean our own simpler pasts as children. The time where we felt an inherent connection to the dirt beneath our feet and freedom felt like outside.

So now that we understand these types a little better let’s talk about their typical business challenges and is often what brings them to me:

  • How to monetize (this being the biggest and most difficult challenge)
  • How to balance maintaining professional relationships without comprising their natural desire to connect deeply with people on a truly personal level
  • What to call themselves (job title, position etc.)
  • How to make a sustainable business out of doing but also teaching others how to do
  • How to make a living doing what they love without losing the love by making it about money
  • When to protect their ideas and when to share them with anyone who will listen

An unexpected calling that has revealed itself to me this year has been to understand these challenges and find solutions for them that resonate with the mindful. Second to that, I feel a strong need to curate these ideas and solutions into a larger vision for the world to start seeing how valuable these people will continue to become.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions since my feeling of renewal and the need for freshness only came Jan. 8th after an impromptu night out with my tribe. That aside, I am on a clear path to deep dive into these topics and challenges. Because I believe that we do not need to be afraid of business. We do not need to feel like a cop out. We just have to pay attention to what we are offering in the exchange between us and a client or a customer. Because while money is a necessity of modern life, we are all capable of more meaningful exchanges and one does not erase the need for the other.

 

 

ARTPRENEUR 2015

Chicklets and chuckles – this past weekend I attended a seriously rad event. It is a trade show held at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans for artists of all kinds looking to turn their craft into a business. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend any of the seminars as I was the only one at my table and had to guard my free chocolates with my life (and my mouth…sluurp). It was my first trade show and I as such I wanted to share my findings and observations. Keep in mind I wrote these as the day went on so they don’t necessarily reflect my overall view. This is more of a play-by-play of the day.

  • Some delegates only come to give YOU advice. Not the nice encouraging kind either. The mean kind that leaves you eating mini chocolates for breakfast.
  • The size of your display is meaningless. It is the size of the personality behind the display.
  • Make friends with all the vendors. Not only are they totally awesome people but they will send people your way.
  • Everyone likes chocolate.
  • Artists are apparently a step ahead of the game. Their outfits were so rad and so reflective of their personal brand that I was inspired!
  • DO NOT make a sales pitch. Engage in real conversations and give out real advice! It was like a free focus group and I’m so pumped to work on content aimed at artpreneurs over the next couple of months.
  • Anyone can inspire you if you just ask the right questions.
  • Art organizers are such a wonderful and entertaining combo of jaded and passionate.
  • Mini Crunch bars and by far the favourite.
  • If you see people you know tweet at them to come to your table. They will bring friends!
  • I need a cool hat.

When Personal is Professional – by Catherine Brunelle

Way(yyyyy) back in the early days of high school, I was 25% keener, 25% nerd, and 50% wall flower. But you know what else I was? A hundred percent hoping to be noticed. Between my highs and lows, all I really wanted was to be seen. So here’s what went through my brain most days: “Put up your hand! Say what you’re thinking!” Quickly followed by: “But what if you offend someone? What if other people know better? Be safe, say nothing!” A gag of nerves stifled my voice.

Then and Now

All this was before social media entered my life. It was also before I did a lot of other things like realize everyone is insecure and to some degree we’re all afraid of screwing up. However, for the sake of this post’s theme around online personas, let’s just stick with the whole ‘social media changed my life’ thesis, because it did. It really did. And I’ll prove it to you with three quick stories: Voice, Social and Career.

 Voice

“I didn’t realize you’re funny,” said my friend after reading my blog. This was itself hilarious since I’d known her literally my entire life and my blog was about having breast cancer. But I took it as a sign of a good thing.

At first Bumpyboobs was a secret from everyone, even my parents who I hadn’t then told about my suspected disease. Because it was secret, the blog was easy to name. If it had been created for the eyes of others, I probably would have called it ‘my super noble journey in conquering breast cancer’ or something like that. But this was for my eyes only, so I named it exactly what made me laugh most. The name was my unfiltered voice, aka, the endearing smart ass. That way of starting things, of doing it for myself and not others, has stayed with me over the years of writing.

Number one personal rule for blogging: If it’s my blog, it’s my story. As someone writing about breast cancer, after the blog went public I was quickly labelled a cancer blogger – people would email me asking to review their health products or just expect me to write about cancer all the time. But it’s my blog and I associate it with my identity both offline and online. Adhering to an imposed label, even one that gets attention, was just another form of self-censoring and I didn’t need that. I’m a whole lot of things and that is reflected in the posts. Those readers who dig it, dig me. It’s that simple.

My website has since changed to CatherineBrunelle.com to shake off expectations. But I have to say, it was always a secret thrill at executive networking events to direct politicians, CEOs and government officials to my website: “Bumpyboobs.com.”

Social

Once upon a time, someone I know complained about a person on their Facebook. He didn’t understand why they kept posting so many updates about their day. Who cared? Not him, that’s for sure.

These words stuck with me for a while and I had to chew them over. Why bother saying anything online? Who was I to share a stupid reflection, or picture, or anything? But then I realized, these thoughts felt like high school all over again. I don’t want to put that gag back on. And so I thought about it, and came to realize something important: different platforms, different expressions.

It’s absolutely okay to tweet a stream of observations while riding the bus in Ottawa. But if I did that on Facebook non-stop, it would flood timelines. It’s important to know your platform, regardless of whether you’re talking personal or professional. A while back I did a photo shoot of two dolls in love, which were definitely best shared on Tumblr. Any and all food pics go on Instagram. Business and life articles on Linkedin. Articles and vacation pictures go on Facebook. But best of all is Twitter, because it’s my catchall.

Be respectful, have fun, and know your platforms. If social media is a voice box for things you find interesting, weird creative experiments, and brave introductions to awesome people – then I say just go for it. Who cares about “Who cares?”

 Career

Here’s the thing. I say all this about voice and expression, but I also realize that the first thing many employers or clients do before working with you is check your social media. What we do socially reflects upon us professionally. This is a GOOD thing.

I wanted to write, so I started a blog. Suddenly I was a writer. I wanted to talk about writing, so I co-founded a podcast, suddenly I was a presenter. I wanted to become an author so I crowd funded online, and suddenly I had a novel. I was sick of being a cancer blogger, so I redesigned my website to cast off the pink ribbon vibe and suddenly I felt better. When it comes to the internet, you create the impression. There are no grades or degrees to be won – we gain our cred by taking action, and there’s no limitation on the actions we can take.

This might sound naïve, but it actually does work. I landed my first writing gig by attending a networking event and simply telling everyone there that I was a writer. All I had was my blogging and guest posts to back up that claim, but it was enough to secure steady work. It was an incredible feeling, and no one at any point said, ‘you can’t do that’; instead they said, ‘can you do that for me?’ Since then, I’ve literally created opportunities and expertise through experiments online. Today I get to work an incredible marketing job in a position that resonates deeply with my interests and values. It’s awesome.

(And even if I’m making it up as I go, at least I’m going!)

So there you have it. Three very quick stories about creating an online persona helped me find my voice. Thanks to Red Brick Rooster for this opportunity to share a piece of my story!


Catherine Brunelle is a content creator, marketer and author of the perfect book club novel, Claire Never Ending. Visit her website at CatherineBrunelle.com and do be sure to say hello over on Twitter.

Crazy Little Thing Called Clients

rooster3

 

Let’s crack open the elephant egg in the room – clients. You may want to buckle up, because we are going to talk about this via my favourite source of inspiration – online dating.

Why, you ask? Two words: personal branding. Online dating was a moment of confidence and clarity in my life. I knew who I was and what I wanted. So when I was faced with doubt and anxiety at finding clients I turned to that experience for help.

Spoiler alert! Despite my best efforts to avoid being a poster child for anything conventional (convention, yuck!), I am a poster child for online dating. I joined on a Tuesday and on that Friday I went on my first date with the man I would end up marrying 2 years later. And ladies, this is not some Cosmo bull$h*t on how finding a husband is like climbing the corporate ladder. This is instead about a trend we should take note of in terms of how we connect to people online and offline.

Personal Branding

Your typical online dating site works using a three-pronged system; photos, match %, and a descriptive profile. While I could easily draw conclusions about the use of photos and personality-based metrics, for the sake of space I will only focus on the third-prong: the personal description.

Lets start off by filling out a profile on OkCupid and along the way I will show you how in meeting my husband, I learned an incredibly important lesson in branding and client hunting.

Fill in below and find love instantly…

Below I have copied the sections from OkCupid that they ask you to fill in. As an aside, this was no random choice. I am not just a fan of this site for delivering me my husband (express): I am a fan because they really understand what connects people. The questions below may look fairly standard but in them is a goldmine of critical information. You just have to know how to read it and then write it.

* If you are interested in doing this personal branding exercise – scroll to the end of the post and print out the detailed list. I encourage you to try and fill it in before reading the rest of this post and then again at the end of reading this post. Please feel free to share some of your insights in the comments section.*

  1. My self-summary
  2. What am I doing with my life
  3. I’m really good at
  4. The first things people usually notice about me
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food
  6. The six things I could never do without
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about
  8. On a typical Friday night I am
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit
  10. I’m looking for
  11. You should message me if

Step 1: Who am I?

Imagine for a minute that you are doing this exercise for the purpose of dating. You may see self-summary and think, “I will list all my relevant experience to prove how valuable I am”. You begin with a list of your schooling, dating experience, relationship skills, and end with an account of all the high-fives you’ve received in your climb to being an excellent partner. We do this when we look for work so why don’t we do this in dating? Because we know that this is not how real connections are made. Entrepreneurship relies on the relationships you build with customers and clients. So why do we forget that when we enter a professional situation?

There is evidence all around us of the things we are good at. That evidence doesn’t just take the forms of certifications, awards, recognitions, and degrees. Open your mind and think about all the things that you do well: all the moments in your day/week where you feel particularly strong. Here are mine:

When I first did this exercise (as in, when I decided to go off on my own) this was my list:

  • Video production
  • Project management
  • Strategic thinking
  • Team work

The list goes on but I think you get the idea.

Now I will show you my list after I decided to open my mind and take away those pesky boundaries that are reinforced in resume writing:

  • Meeting new people
  • Connecting friend groups
  • Hosting parties
  • Public speaking
  • Caring for pets
  • Communicating my boundaries
  • Getting people excited about something new

I look at that last list and see a few themes pop out at me. One of those themes is nurturing. So how does that translate into my work? It is important for me to feel like I contribute to the quality of life of the people (and animals) around me. So maybe instead of presenting myself as a digital media service, I should talk about how I love to: nurture projects, understand each clients needs, and help clients develop a work environment that strengthens the type of work they do.
Boom! I am good at that! It is my authentic self. “Nurturing Toni” is going to attract much better suited clients than “video production Toni”. Why? Because not only is it authentically imbedded in my sense of self, there are way more access points for a conversation about my skills as a nurturer than my skills in video production.

Step 2: What are my tastes?

Ira Glass says it best when he says:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”

Your taste is important because it foreshadows your professional thinking. Even in online dating, this section can be the most revealing if you know how to read it. Some people will list EVERYTHING they like. The “cover my bases” thinking is counter-productive. If you want someone to taste a new wine, you don’t drown them in it, you give them a small glass of something you’ve carefully selected based on their palette. Under ‘what books I like’, you might only put those you read as part of your high school curriculum. This could mean you aren’t a big reader, or perhaps you fear admitting you don’t like to read (or, even worse, that you secretly only like to read trashy crime novels). But imagine going on a date with someone who is super into literature and was attracted to your profile because you like the modern classics. Well by lying you’ve not only become unappealing but also untrustworthy. If you’re not comfortable with your own taste (or you’ve misrepresented it), how is a client expected to trust the choices you’re going to make for them?

Step 3: Are you my taste?

Clarifying your tastes will also help reveal the type of client you want. Filtering out the incompatible types is often a self-reflective exercise in business. It is about understanding your authentic self to attract the right fit. I am in no way suggesting that you are responsible for attracting shifty clients or dates; even the best of us can encounter people who misrepresent themselves. This is certainly not some sideways argument on short skirt means open invitation.

“I’m looking for” and “You should message me if…” exists for good reason. If you can define yourself, you can define your ideal client. If you can define your ideal client, you will have a point of reference to begin your search.

So here’s the deal – there is no way to get clients without doing the modern day door-to-door; talk to everyone you know about what you’re doing; cold call companies you’d like to work with; look for other small companies where you might compliment their services. However, if you have the tools to describe exactly what you do, how you’d like to do, and with who you’d ideally like to do it with you are sure to hit the target more often.

The Exercise

Now look at the questions below, fill those suckers in, and tell me what you discover!

  1. My self-summary – I encourage you to fill this in last. Treat it as the section on your website or Facebook page where you would describe who you are and what you do. You’ll need more info before diving into the belly of the beast. So come back to it!
  2. What am I doing with my life – What you are doing with your life in a combination of what you are currently doing (for real) and what you are working towards.
  3. I’m really good at – Take a look at Step 1: Who am I?
  4. The first things people usually notice about me – These are usually aesthetic. Start thinking about how your personal style reflects your business personality.
  5. Favourite books, movies, shows, music, and food – Taste! Check out this video for more of Ira Glass’ supreme wisdom. Don’t just think about your favourite things – think about your favourite apps, entrepreneurs, inventors, writers etc… and figure out what it is you like about their work so much.

  6. The six things I could never do without – If you are finding that what you need to do relies too heavily on resources you cannot yet acquire, think about shifting your offered services to reflect more accurately what you could immediately do. This will save you a lot of grief and self-doubt.
  7. I spend a lot of time thinking about – Your aspirations, fears, academic obsessions, etc… Knowing what you want and what you are afraid of can put you ahead of the obstacles you are going to face.
  8. On a typical Friday night I am –translate to – how do I imagine a typical/ideal work day?
  9. The most private thing I’m willing to admit – “Willing” being the key word. This doesn’t mean share beyond your comfort zone. Take a look at the previous blog post I wrote about vulnerability in business: Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan
  10. I’m looking for – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?
  11. You should message me if – Take a look at Step 2: Who are you?

Until next time!

An Office of One’s Own…and One Own’s Dog

IMG_0870

Boris (my Great Dane) and I spent most mornings the same way these days. My husband gets up to start his job in carpentry bright and early. Boris and I make lazy attempts at getting rubs and cuddles from him, but soon enough Boris plops onto the warm space where my husband was sleeping and the two of us drift off for another hour.

Once Boris has been for his morning walk and I’ve made my cup of coffee tea (I’m trying) I go back upstairs, where on the other side of the bedroom I have set-up a cozy little workspace. I will usually start building my weekly schedule on Monday mornings. Now don’t get me wrong, Mondays are not my favourite part of the week, but I love this part of it because I do exactly what I did in all my years at a Montessori elementary/middle school.
Let me first tell you a little about my time there.
We used to get all our work for the week assigned on a Monday and then it was up to us how we wished to complete it. During the week we’d have lectures, art classes, music classes, and other once-off activities as well. We were many grades in one class so we all had the benefit of listening to the same “lectures” – we just had different projects to complete at the end of it.  We were even allowed to try an older grades project if we wanted a challenge. But before I gush my way to a novel-sized memoir of my Montessori days, let’s get back to scheduling.
As boring as it sounds (it’s not!), this entire post is will probably end up being about scheduling.

“I am my own boss” means I make my own week.  On Mondays I sit with about 15 little sticky notes on my fingers and rearrange them on the side of my bookcase under titles that indicate the day of the week. Stickies include: research and development for workshops; video editing; bookkeeping; current clients; new clients; and my favourite – blogging. Now, as good as Montessori was at teaching me how to schedule, I found these lessons quickly evaporating in a conventional work environment. When I started my own business I found myself wanting to adhere to those conventional rules and frankly it was a completely demotivating exercise.  For a while I didn’t understand that I was doing this. I actually thought I was living by my own rules. Then I stumbled upon Braid Creative.

A creativity consulting and design company, they wield strong weapons against falling into traps of being anything except yourself. So naturally when I saw that they offered an e-course in “Personal Branding” I jumped – hard. One of the exercises I completed was to map out all the traditional rules or norms associated with being a professional. I thought back to my jobs in corporate marketing and started to uncover the expectations – what they refer to as “the optics” – of what a professional is. These were things like: work hours; when to take lunch; how to dress; how not to dress; what language to use; when to take personal leave; what an appropriate stress level. Ironically, if your answer to elevator small talk didn’t at least reference being stressed or “over-capacity”, the general assumption was that you weren’t serious enough about your job. It took writing out these “rules” to realize just how this had impacted my perception of a ‘professional’.
As I was taking stock of my workweek, I started rewriting these rules. In doing so, my definition of a professional began to shift.

I love Fridays. I’m energized and stimulated from the week and full of restless energy. I love the energy of the 9-5ers downtown as they ramp up for the weekend by taking a slightly longer lunch to grab a beer with a pal, or walk in the denims they only get to wear on Fridays. It feels like everyone is giggling at the same joke on the inside. So a little while ago I decided – no work on Fridays. By Sunday I’ve usually had my fill of domestic chores and family BBQs so I like jumping into some of the more free-flowing creative work on a Sunday afternoon. This means that when I wake up on Mondays I’ve already started, though I still hate Mondays.
But now, I love Sundays.
They are not that bitter reminder of a Monday.
They are their own special day where work blends with BBQ and white wine. Fridays are my very own day. Most of the time I’m out and about in one of my favourite Ottawa hoods – Hintonburg. When I’m there you’re likely to find me perusing the sales items at St. Vincent De Paul, then going next door to Flock to longingly stare at each and every beautiful creation in there. Then I walk to The Hintonburg Public House where I treat myself to a glass of wine and something to eat. Dessert is ALWAYS Suzy Q donuts and I ALWAYS buy half a dozen. They make a lovely snack later when husband and I are watching Netflix.

IMG_0819

Now before you think  – well of course YOU can do that, YOU work from home. Let me just say that you are completely right. I chose to build my life in a way where my personal life and work life, my personal self and work self all blend together. In order to help people tell stories, I have to have stories of my own. In order to help local businesses brand and create unique content, I have to understand the Ottawa appeal. It is my job to love my work as much as it is to do my work. And – if I have to be honest – I think we all need to change our thinking to be a little more in line with that. You will be better at your job if you love it – even if what you love about it is that it gives you time or money for something great in your personal life. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Work to live. Don’t live to work.

Any other “dad style” advice-sayings you can all throw at me?

I’m lovin’ it. So should you.

 

Why Women Need to be a Part of Your Business Plan

At the risk of whacking you over the head with yet another preachy article about why women are awesome (side note: women are awesome), I want to spend a quick minute putting my two cents in the ceramic pig.

womeninbusiness

Diversity is not just about visually representing everyone equally. That is a crucial aspect of course, but I want to talk about the importance of diversification in emotional thinking.

Women are trained to be vulnerable. Not all women are and certainly a lot of men are as well but hear me out. Women are often very good at communicating the greyer, messier, much harder to track and measure aspects of life. Maybe it is because society has bashed it into us that its okay for women to be vulnerable, talk about feelings, and have every step of their journey publicly scrutinized. So let’s think about a recent work situation where it would have been useful to bring some of these elements to the table.

An example I see a lot is a company making a blunder. Some companies will immediately jump to re-positioning or rationalizing their way out of failure. But this is a real opportunity to demonstrate reflective thinking to those who feel betrayed by your brand. Start by saying “we made this mistake” “we grew too much, too fast” “we missed a key step when developing this product” and change the conversation to a chance for learning. Give your customers the opportunity to rationalize for themselves. This will generate a much more authentic sympathy. A great example is one in our very own Ottawa. I won’t disclose any details but I think this example will still serve well.

Last year a local business was on the path to launch early 2015. The launch date was set, the press was buzzing, and the people were ready to engage in the business. Then a crisis struck. Red tape and permit restrictions put the business in a position of not only having to delay its launch date, but suspend it indefinitely. Then they did something very clever – they started the conversation about failure. They went to the media and talked openly about the difficulty in the current process for getting these permits and how it’s been a huge learning experience for them. These articles were full of feelings! Frustration, anger, confusion, disappointment, hope, passion, etc… – but it was coming from the company. Once the ball got rolling again they posted updates every step of the way and instead of seeing a drop off in interest, the opposite happened. People were now invested in the success of this business. They wanted a win for passionate people looking to break through the red tape and do something interesting. They demonstrated immense emotional resilience as a company.

So why women? No, it’s not because they are very good at saying sorry and still making you feel at fault. It is because they are good at feelings. Being vulnerable is something we are faced with whether we want it or not. Every time we post a selfie we are judged, every time we assert ourselves we are scrutinized harshly . So a good number of us have developed some level of comfort with being vulnerable even if it is just out of survival. So a lot of women have naturally learned to be emotionally resilient in the workplace. Of course, this can be achieved without women but with diversification of employees comes a diverse set of emotional traumas, failures, and successes. Women just happen to be at the front lines of scrutiny so trust us when we tell you that it is better to be the first one to tell the story, even if its difficult to tell, than to let others tell it for you.

Vulnerability can be a real strength in business and I am by no means the first person to see this. There are tons of amazing people out there talking about just this. So below I have shared one of my favourite teachings around this marvelous subject:

Feelings are awesome. Thanks for reading!

Toni