The Essential Elements in Developing a Strong Brand

Personal + Professional Branding

We constantly hear this word thrown around: branding. It’s a popular term that’s become a bit of a buzzword -- and one that’s widely misunderstood and often misused. Here’s why: most people confuse the term “branding” with a company’s logo or how they visually represent themselves, but that is only a small part of what a company’s brand really is.

Branding is vitally important to businesses who want to grow and reach new customers. For one-woman shops like us, it can help us stand out in the crowd and look the part. However, with the term branding being used to often mean different things, where’s a girl to start?

Let’s talk about exactly what branding is, the essential elements for a brand, and how you can create a strong brand of your own.

What is branding?

Branding is the term given to sum up how you look, how you act, how you represent yourself, and what others say about you. It’s the statement that is often used to describe your business and what you do.

The best way to get a grasp on exactly what branding is is to relate it to any single person. When you are asked to describe a particular person, you often describe how they look and dress, what they do for a living, how they carry themselves, their personality, how they act, and what others say about them. All of this together constitutes that person’s “brand.”

It can be summed up in four different areas:

  1. identity (how others visually see you, i.e. logos, colors, typography, imagery)
  2. recognition (what you want to be known for, i.e. writer and editor, web designer)
  3. perception (how others perceive you, i.e. professional and on point; laid back and knowledgable)
  4. reputation (what others say about you, i.e. “top notch” writer, “mediocre” designer)

In order to create a strong brand, every decision you make has to take into consideration each of these four areas. If one of them is missing or lacking, the rest of the brand falls apart. As they say, “the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Essential elements of a strong brand

To make sure you have each of these four areas of branding covered, there are essential elements that every strong brand must have. Each element helps to formulate and build the different areas of a brand discussed above.

Definition

Definition is defining what it is that is being offered. Determining the exact product, service, or deliverable offered focuses the brand on making sure its other elements, such as messaging and positioning, are crystal clear to customers. Since no one business can do everything, it’s important to start with defining the exact product(s) and/or service(s) offered and how they’re delivered.

Position

Positioning carves out your ideal spot in the market, built on a mixture of price point and target customers. Are you more on the affordable side or premium side? Do you work with clients large or small? It’s called “positioning” because it is always relative to your competitors: i.e. “I charge higher (pricing) than the average for writers, but I also work with large clients (type of client) who need specialized writing services.”

Message

The next element of a strong brand is the message. This is often the force behind marketing strategies. The message tells others about who you are and what you do. It’s what you want people to know about you and how you can help them. For example, “I design and develop visual identities that help medium-sized businesses grow.” For someone you might recognize? Marie Forleo’s clear message is that she helps entrepreneurs “build a business and life you love.”

Drivers

Another element of a strong brand includes your drivers. Brand drivers are adjectives that describe you and what you offer. Most brands have about 3-5 short and sweet drivers. These drivers help steer your brand and are often the basis of your brand’s personality (up next). An example of brand drivers for Apple would include: sophistication, high design/style, upscale.

Tone/Personality

The next essential element of a strong brand includes the tone or personality. This is how you communicate or talk with others and includes how you talk about yourself in your marketing messages, how you write your copy and marketing materials, and how you talk with clients. Is the tone professional, relaxed, fun, and/or serious? For example, if you want to have a relaxed tone, write and speak as if you were talking to a friend: avoid language they may not understand, stay warm and friendly, and joke around every now and then.

Visual identity

Visual identity is the most common element of a brand. It consists of visual elements such as your logo, color schemes, typography, and overall design aesthetic. This term, as mentioned, is often interchanged for “brand” but is not your brand in its entirety; only a small part. When you think of a visual identity, remember it is the visual aspects that should allow people to easily and quickly point you out (think Starbucks and its iconic logo and green color scheme).

Six steps to create a strong brand

Now that you’ve got a handle on the essential elements of a strong brand and how they support your identity, recognition, perception, and reputation, how can you go about using them to create your own?

1. Define exactly what it is that you do (essential element: definition). Define the services or products you offer and the ones that you don’t. It’s important to narrow down exactly what your best offering is to your clients and be crystal clear about it.

2. Define who you you serve (essential element: position). Are you looking to work with medium-sized clients that employ more than 20 people? Or do you enjoy working with smaller businesses? This is where you’ll position yourself based on price, as well. Are you on the low end of the pricing scale or the high end? Positioning is always relative to others in your industry, remember.

3. Perfect your pitch (essential element: message). Think of this as your billboard headline: short, sweet, and explains exactly what you do, very quickly. It will take some time to craft that perfect sentence or two, and I highly recommend you get friends, family, others in your industry, and even your past clients to help you review your message.

4. Define how you want your brand to be perceived (essential element: drivers). Develop 3-5 drivers based on how you want your brand to be represented. Remember, these should be adjectives that you hope people would use to describe your brand. Is your brand funny, smart, and driven? Professional, driven, and passionate? Quirky, approachable, and motivated?

5. Develop your brand’s tone (essential element: tone/personality). This should fall closely in line with your drivers in how you plan to communicate with clients and others. Do you want to be perceived as relaxed, but always use a professional tone? It’s possible to be a blend, but be sure the tone you use in your messaging and communications supports how you want to be perceived.

6. Develop your brand’s visuals (essential element: visual identity). Only once these essential elements are defined can you begin to work on visually representing your definition, position, message, drivers, and tone. Work on developing a logo that represents you well and aligns with your tone, pick colors that work well with your drivers, and choose typography that aligns with your positioning.

Build your brand a home

Think of branding in terms of building a house. You have different rooms: identity, recognition, perception, and reputation, and those rooms are made up of essential elements (definition, position, message, drivers, tone, and visual identity). The rooms are each made up of a different blend of elements, but are only as good as the elements within them. Build a strong foundation, and your brand will be sturdy for years to come.

Your turn: how can you use the steps listed above to create or strengthen your brand?

Let Your Site Do the Talking: 5 Ways to Successfully Convey Your Brand Via Your Website

Personal + Professional Branding

When it comes to your brand online, your website is at the forefront. In many cases, it's a person's first interaction with your brand. As such, it's incredibly important that your website represents your brand well. After all, with your website speaking for you, don't you want it to be making a good first impression?

Here are five ways to successfully convey your brand via your website.

1. Choose your colors wisely

Every color has certain moods attached to it, which means it plays a big part in how your brand is perceived. Using the wrong choice in colors can negatively affect how others see your brand.

For example, if you have a natural foods company and use red in your branding, how do you think that would come across? Red is not a color people associate with nature and freshness. Instead, it is seen as passionate, assertive, and (sometimes) angry. Not exactly the connotation you want with your natural food brand, right?

Think about your brand's values and choose colors that correspond. If you want to come across as cheerful and friendly, orange and yellow are good choices. Blue is seen as trustworthy and calming, while purple is associated with luxury and wealth. Your choice in colors can help you get your values across -- or, choosing ones that evoke a different feeling can can confuse your audience.

2. Use appropriate fonts

Every font has a personality, and like your site's color palette, it's important to choose fonts whose personality matches that of your brand. The fonts used on your site in conjunction with your color palette will have an impact in making an impression on your site's visitors.

Are you looking to come across as trustworthy and professional? Then keeping it simple with a serif or sans-serif font is the way to go. If your site caters to children, then a fun, whimsical font might be a better choice. Keep your audience in mind and use fonts that are geared towards them as well as the values you want to present.

When in doubt, choose a serif or sans-serif font. They're simple and can be used in a variety of circumstances. In fact, it’s wise to use them for your site's body copy anyway since they're easy to read. Any other fonts you choose are better suited as accents, such as headings, due to readability.

3. Select photos that reflect your brand

The photos displayed on your site can really support your brand if done right. If not, like colors and fonts, they can send the wrong message.

Choose a photo aesthetic that reflects your brand. Yes, just like how you chose your site's colors and fonts, your choice in photography should represent your brand. A rustic brand should include images that are warm, inviting, and of course, rustic. Light, airy images would look out of place here, as would dark and moody photos.

Besides the style of the photos you use, one other important thing to keep in mind is to use high-quality images. Regardless of your brand's values, using low-quality images will make you look like an amateur. Images typically take up a large amount of space on a site, so it's crucial that they make a good impression. Using grainy, poorly lit images won't make a good one.

4. Use your voice

The tone you use in your site's copy is just as important as aesthetics in conveying your brand on your site. Your brand is composed of everything you put out there, whether it be visuals, products, or content. If your words and imagery don't match up, your brand won't be as strong as it could be.

If your brand's audience is children, you probably won't be using large words and very formal language. In contrast, if your brand is professional, you won't be using chat speak. Regardless of how you talk, it's important to really think about the words you're using for your brand. Channel your brand's values and audience when speaking for it.

Every little spot on your site is an opportunity to let your voice shine through, so don't just think in terms of paragraphs and blog posts. Think of the small details that make up your site.

That small little button on your sidebar? That's a great place to showcase your voice. Think of the difference between "contact us" and "get in touch." Both essentially mean the same thing, but one is a lot more formal while the other is friendlier.

5. Be consistent

Perhaps the most important aspect in branding your site is to be consistent. Everything from your site's fonts, colors, and photos to the tone used in your site's copy should inspire the same feelings.

That means picking a color palette and sticking with it. Don't introduce new colors where they're not necessary. Pick 2-3 fonts and use them throughout your site. Choose a photography aesthetic and make sure all the photos on your site align with it. Use the same tone in all your site copy.

Keeping everything consistent helps your brand remain cohesive and therefore, memorable, which is key to staying top of mind for your customers and clients.

Let your website do the talking

Your website is often your brand’s first impression on potential clients, customers, and readers. With consistent and on-point colors, fonts, photos, and tone, it’ll pave the way for your audience to get to know you and your business how you want them to.

To Be or Not To Be… Your Own Brand

Personal + Professional Branding

Whether you are establishing your first brand or are thinking it might be time to reposition your brand, we, as solopreneurs, have a choice of using our own name and being our brand, or creating a unique name. Both have strong upsides – you just need to discover which positives you can make the most of in your business. Let’s lay them out.

Upsides to being your own brand

1. Natural passion with unlimited growth

You already live what you’re passionate about. If you started your business out of your own interests, using your name brings authentic personality. You don’t have to try to be consistent or on point when you are your brand. You already know, in your gut, if it’s you. In addition, as your offerings (products/services) expand in subject matter, you aren’t limited by a creative name that’s descriptive of a certain expertise. Using your own name allows you to share what you love and be what you love.

2. Instant branding

Only you can be you. You don’t have to worry about trying to create a brand that stands out or differentiates enough from the competition. You won’t have to try to tweak one thing here or there to be “just different enough.” There is only one you. You are already unique. As you are creating your brand under your name, you can be proud of the individuality and distinctiveness built in.

3. Easy communication

This is such a pragmatic reason to be your own brand, but it’s a reality and something to consider. If you are your brand, it’s very easy for people to confidently contact you by name. However, if you are functioning under a creative name, your first name might not be immediately obvious. This is especially true if your brand name happens to sound like or play off another person’s name. If you are using a creative, unique name, make sure your real, personal name is used often throughout your brand content and readily available.

Upsides to not being your own brand

1. Provide context

While your name is specific to you, it doesn’t shed light on exactly what you offer or sell. Your unique brand name can allude to, or fully describe, what your brand is about. There is so much competition and noise out there –- a brand that can tell its own story in a name can sometimes gain the upper hand.

2. Common vs. original

In a world of domain names and social media accounts, we can’t all be “JohnDoe” or “MarySmith.” And some of us just have those names. (My maiden name ensured that there was always a name twin in any large group I was in.) By creating a unique name for your brand (so long as you’ve researched to make sure it’s not already taken), you get around all of that and are able to nab the domain and social media names you want.

3. Ready for (team) expansion

When your name is your brand and your brand is you, it can potentially be limiting in the future. As you expand your services or seek to bring on new employees, you may start to feel like your brand name is limiting. Of course, plenty of big name brands and celebrities have done it with ease (cough, Marie Forleo, cough) – but if you anticipate wanting to distance yourself from your brand and let your brand be emblematic of your employees, you may want to think today about choosing a creative name that allows for expansion.

“This above all, to thine ownself be true…”

Whichever direction you choose, make sure it feels natural and comfortable to you. Whether it’s your own name or a creative one, it’s a name you will be using often –- to represent you and your business. If it feels forced or just isn’t working, keep looking. Naming isn’t easy, but when you find the right name, all the authentic pieces of your brand will come together. And after all, “a rose by any other name is just as sweet,” but that’s a different play.

What road did you take for your brand -- and what have you found to be the pros + cons?

The 4 Building Blocks of your Solo Business’ Security Strategy

When we start following our dreams of building a business, we get emerged in the flow. We are inspired and excited about this new chapter in our life. We are flooded with enthusiasm and joy. And then, we get really, really busy. There is lots of work that needs to get done in so many areas; many of them we never had to do before and are just not familiar with.

Security matters is one of those areas. For a solopreneur, security often isn’t top of mind until their website is hacked or a computer dies and leaves a big black hole.

To put it bluntly, there is no miracle way to absolutely prevent an attack or accident from ever happening, but there are some solid steps that can be taken to minimize your risk of having a security issue leave a negative impact on your business.

There are four basic building blocks that make up a business security strategy:

  • an awareness of keeping your website protected from common security threats
  • the habit of creating regular backups
  • the responsible use of cloud data storage applications, and
  • the use of secure passwords

It’s never too early to start putting these steps in place. Let’s dive in.

1. Apply website security

Making sure a website is protected against common threats is a key step in establishing a business that’s seen as trustworthy. Many entrepreneurs understand the urgency behind this topic, yet they lack the knowledge of how to implement basic security features on their websites.

A fair majority of websites are run on WordPress today, which is fortunate as the software is pretty safe in and of itself. However, there are always possibilities for hackers to access other people's WordPress applications, from themes to plugins. And it most often has to do with users not taking the required steps for an appropriate security setup.

Reasons for this are manifold. Not being very tech-savvy and not knowing how to get started is one cause -- but let’s not let that be yours. Here are some steps I recommend to everyone in order to close commonly weak security spots:

  • Delete the default admin user from the system: the “admin” user is the user -- that is, the account that has the username “admin” -- that is most commonly attacked by hackers. Not having this username in your system at all closes a security hole. To remove this user, I suggest you create a new user with administrator rights first, and then delete the admin user. To create a new user, go to Users in the WordPress menu and click on Add New. Provide name, password and email for the new user, and choose the role Administrator. Now, log out of WordPress and log in with the newly created user. Go again to the Users menu and then All Users. You can now delete the admin-user from the system. (For an in-depth tutorial, go here.)
  • Create a strong password. We’ll get further into what makes a solid password below.
  • Secure your login screen. There are phases from time to time when WordPress sites all over the web notice massive attacks. An excellent way to protect your site from bots that try to enter your site by massive brute attacks is to install a plugin that puts some sort of captcha onto your login screen.
  • Keep your WP software, the theme and the plugins up to date. The best way to maintain a secure application is by updating all the components your website is made of. Keep an eye on the little update notification in the top left area in your WP dashboard and apply the updates as soon as possible.
  • Delete unused/inactive plugins and themes. This is also a common entry point into WordPress applications. Remove the pre-installed themes from WordPress (if you are not using them) and delete plugins that you don’t really need.
  • Install one or two security plugins and follow their instructions to secure your site. There are a handful of very good plugins that will take care of security threats on your website. WordFence Security is the most downloaded security plugin for WordPress, and even its free version is pretty powerful. Other recommended security plugins are Sucuri Security, iThemes Security or Acunetix WP Security.

2. Create regular backups

Even though it's not that rare of an event that a computer's hard drive or external hard drive dies or a website is hacked, it's surprising just how many businesses don't get into the habit of backing up their data.

In your online business, there are basically two areas that could be affected by a digital calamity: your computer and your website. Having a backup on hand that can replace a corrupted website or a dead hard drive is an incredibly valuable thing.

Here's what I recommend for every solopreneur or online business:

  • Invest a few dollars into two external hard drives (1-2 TerraByte each)
  • Commit yourself to a backup schedule: run computer backups on a weekly and monthly schedule (one hard drive for weekly; one hard drive for monthly backups)
  • Get familiar with a professional backup software that you can schedule accordingly (TimeMachine is great for Mac computers)

What applies to backing up your computer's files is also true for your website files.

Your website is the central spot of your business. Developing the habit of backing up your website won’t take away the risk of any one of the imaginable ways your website data could suddenly be lost, but it will make recovery an easy option.

Running backups is a different matter depending on which platform your website is run on. If you have used a website builder (e.g. Weebly, Wix, SquareSpace) to create your website, you might be bound by the website's builder rules. I recommend contacting their support hotline to find out how backups are handled, and how much control you have over what is happening with the backups created. It's often a disadvantage of website builders that the users are not in control of their own data.

Working with WordPress allows users to take steps on their own with little effort to backup their website's data. The best option is the installation of a plugin that can schedule backup runs and store them in cloud storage or locally on a computer, such as:

  • BackupBuddy - $$ - A popular, premium plugin that lets you backup your site and easily schedule upcoming backups. You are licensed to use the plugin on the number of sites mentioned in your plan. You get access to premium support forums, updates, and 1GB of cloud storage to store your backups.
  • BackWPUp - Free - A plugin that is extremely easy to use and allows you to schedule automatic backups according to your site's update frequency.
  • UpdraftPlus - Free - The #1 most installed WP backup plugin with a 4.9 star rating (out of 5).
  • VaultPress - $$ - A subscription-based service from the makers of WordPress that offers automated, real-time cloud backup solution starting at $5/month.

3. Cloud data storage

Cloud services are amazing: They allow us to save our data in a very convenient way, and make our files accessible everywhere and anytime. Using services like Dropbox, Google Docs or Box to store our data offers more effective and collaborative working routines that weren't possible before.

But let’s also be aware that by using them, we give up several layers of control.

Being realistic here, none of us have the time to study vendor policies, so making an informed decision is a tough thing to do. But you can put certain parameters in place to protect yourself. I recommend you use a multi-faceted strategy:

  • Don't save anything in the cloud that contains confidential data for yourself or your business
  • If you really need to store some of your confidential files online, either encrypt those files before uploading them, or choose a file storage service that provides secure encryption to protect your files. SpiderOak and Wuala are both secure cloud storage applications that encrypt your files before upload. All you need to do to encrypt your data is have a solid password available; both storage applications encrypt your data before upload. Witkit is another data storage, but also a collaboration platform with highly sophisticated security features that uses end-to-end encryption for all your data.
  • Don't use the same password for all of your cloud applications and apply a safe password strategy (see below)

4. The art of creating secure passwords

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of passwords to memorize for the dozens of applications we all use.

Here’s the sad truth, though: when Adobe got hacked and the list of passwords circulated, the amount of accounts using '123456' or 'password' as their choice of security was amazing. When these lists circulate in the dark web, together with the associated email addresses, it is all too easy to connect the dots and use the same combination on other web applications.

To prevent your personal accounts being hacked and your business being affected by it -- and vice versa -- it makes sense to invest 10 minutes to learn about a password strategy that is safe. This technique creates safe passwords that are easily adjustable and easy to remember.

Here's how it works:

  • Choose a long-tailed word first, that preferably cannot be found in any dictionary. The purpose is that it cannot be figured out by trial and error, so it's time to get creative and have some fun here. (Mine below: BananaTeahouse)
  • To add an additional layer of security to it, add a 2-4 digit number (to be placed at the beginning, end or middle), as well as one special character and at least one capital letter.

Example: "73BananaTeahouse%". That is your password basis and all you need to remember for now.

  • Next, set up a rule of how to implement parts of the website's domain name into your master password, so you know which password goes with which site. For example, use the first and second letter of the site name and add it to your password basis. Optionally, you can also add up the number of letters in the site's name and add it to the end of your password.

Example: if you were applying this to a password for Dropbox, then your "individualized" Dropbox password would be: '73BananaTeahouse%dr7'.

You can, of course, make adjustments to the letter and number combinations, or even include a simple mathematical series instead of a number if you are good with mental arithmetic. But surely, with this method you can quickly and easily create unique passwords for any service you use, and can be assured you have handled the password part of your business' security strategy with the appropriate responsibility.

Take a multi-faceted approach

A business’ security strategy is all about the preservation of the confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of your information.

Many solopreneurs are not aware of potential security risks and therefore don’t prioritize the improvement of their online security for future business growth. Managing these risks by developing the habit of applying website security, creating regular backups, and using responsible authentication techniques, are solid steps toward protecting your data. The most dangerous thing you can do? Disregard potential threats. There’s no better time to start mitigating your risks than today.

5 Branding Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Kardashians

Personal + Professional Branding

Whether you love them or hate them, when it comes to the Kardashians, three things are probably true:

  • You feel strongly about them, one way or another.
  • You can probably name at least three of them.
  • You’re likely able to recite five of their news story headlines. (Yes, that includes you too, haters – don’t pretend you don’t know the stories relating to ‘Break the Internet’ and ‘Married for 72 Days’!)

No matter where you stand on the divisive cast of characters, you can’t argue that their branding game is on point. And when it comes to your business, I’ll bet you’d want the three above statements to be true to your brand’s target audience as well. Entrepreneurs and small business owners alike can learn from these principles that have helped the Kardashians become one of America’s most recognizable brands:

1. Take lemons and turn them into lemonade

A former boss of mine always used to say that every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. The Kardashians have certainly taken this mindset to heart, always spinning negatives into opportunities. What did Kim do when her private tapes leaked online? She used it to her advantage to build an empire. How did Khloe react to all the negative comments about being the ‘chubby’ sister? She became the fittest sister of the group. As a business leader, there are always going to be challenges that could drag you down, but take an opportunist attitude and learn from seemingly negative situations and use them to your brand’s advantage. Become that business that always sees the glass as half full and make every situation work for you.

2. Define what you want to be known for

Over the top. Always primped and polished. Curve central. Those are three traits that are undeniably associated with Miss Kimmy K herself. She wants to be known for that famous derriere, hence moves like the infamous cover shot for Paper magazine’s winter 2014 cover. She wants to be known for her fashion-forwardness, hence never leaving a hotel with as much as a single strand out of place. Kim has defined her brand personality’s characteristics and lives them every day. When thinking about both your personal and your business brand, clearly define how you want them to be perceived and always execute accordingly.

3. Stay true to your brand’s foundation

Whether they’re developing makeup, kids’ clothing, apps, retail stores or blow dryers (yes, seriously), every product slapped with the Kardashian name on it will share certain common traits: sleek, aspirational and on-trend. There’s no saying that your brand has to stay within one niche category, but any brand extensions you develop as a business owner must remain in line with the overall brand story and perception to maintain recognition with your target consumers.

4. Consistency is key

Remember before Kimye was a thing, Kim’s style was all over the place? Since pairing up with her famous rapper hubby, she’s evolved to a mostly monochromatic, streamlined and smile-free bodycon style. We’d be shocked if we ever saw Mrs. West show up on a red carpet in a pink princess-style dress. In business, your customers will grow to expect certain elements from your brand – a consistent tone of language, a specific colour palette, blog posts on a specific day, even a signature font. Deliver a constant and stable brand experience for your customers so they become familiar and comfortable with what they can expect from you.

5. On the other hand, don't be afraid to experiment + evolve

While maintaining consistency is a staple for the majority of brands, what if your brand personality is known for constantly experimenting? Looking no further than the youngest of the K-sisters, Kylie Jenner. Kylie brands herself as the chameleon of the group, always playing with a rainbow of hair colours, lengths and styles. If something doesn’t work, she’s okay with hitting the reset button and trying something new. Evolution is a staple of the Kylie brand, while still staying in line with the overall family brand positioning of being sleek, aspirational and on-trend.

While not all of us may be interested keeping up with the Kardashians and their publicity-driven family antics, as business owners we can all most definitely take a page from their book of branding.

Breaking Through Mental Money Barriers as a Solopreneur

There’s a lot to learn when getting started as a solopreneur. But with so many great resources that can help you, step-by-step, to start and grow your business, it should all just be easy breezy, right?

Not so much. So often, when it comes to actually putting what we’ve learned into action, we just get stuck. For solopreneurs, money is often one of those places where we feel ourselves trudging through mud.

What’s keeping you from moving forward to earn what you deserve? You may think lack of time, or maybe lack of knowledge. But so often, it’s the mental money barriers we unintentionally put up. Yep, mental money barriers are real and they’re keeping you from becoming the awesome business person you’ve dreamt of becoming.

So what’s an ambitious business owner like you to do? Identify your mental money barriers and create a strategy to get past them. Read on to see how you can move past four common mental money barriers -- because earning money as a business owner is as much about mentally getting into the game as it is learning the skills to run your business.

Money barrier #1: Don’t like the idea of charging? Create an epic value proposition.

Do any of these quotes sound familiar?

  • “I struggle with the idea of charging my customers for this product/service.”
  • “I don’t want to seem like I’m selling all the time.”
  • “It’s okay to give a friend (or a friend of a friend of a friend) a discount.”

For most people, myself included, the actual act of selling products or services makes their skin crawl. We picture pushy salespeople and disappointed customers. The concept of selling is intimidating, often leaving entrepreneurs significantly undercharging for their services.

It’s time to bury that barrier by creating an epic value proposition: a statement that clearly lays out what value you are providing to your customer with your product or service.

While many people use their value proposition to attract their customers’ attention, another way to use this is to get over your money barrier. When you focus on the value you are delivering your customer, you are mentally taking the emphasis off charging people and replacing it with the value you are delivering.

There no one way to create a value proposition, but author Geoffrey Moore provides this easy template to start with:

For (target customer) who (statement of need) our (product/service name) is (product category) that (statement of benefit).

A nutritional coach might frame their value proposition as: for busy working mothers who don’t have time to eat a healthy breakfast, my product is a book of 3-minute breakfast recipes that make eating a nutritional breakfast easy to work into their morning routine, giving them the great start to their day that they deserve.

Writing a value proposition is not an exact science, but the key is to focus on the amazing value you are creating for your customer.

Money barrier #2: Struggle spending money to invest in yourself and your business? Adopt an abundance mindset.

As entrepreneurs, most of us know what it’s like to pinch pennies and debate spending money as we work to get our business off the ground. While that’s not a bad thing, it can lead to a scarcity mindset, creating a money barrier that stands between you and the leveling up you deserve.

In the scarcity mindset, we focus on short term results and only having a limited set of resources. In contrast, the abundance mindset is focused on long-term growth and endless opportunities to grow.

To move into an abundance mindset in your business, stop looking at money spent on your business solely as expenses, and consider them as investments.

To be clear, moving out of a scarcity mindset and into an abundance mindset isn’t about spending recklessly and viewing everything as an investment. It’s about carefully considering the expense and measuring whether it is a true investment that is going to grow you or your business.

The next time you are considering spending money on something and you begin looking at the cost, take a minute to think about what it could potentially bring you. Will an improved inventory system help you ship more products? Will that course or mastermind help you move past a business plateau? It’s these important distinctions that can help break the scarcity money barrier.

Money barrier #3: Feel uncomfortable with the idea of becoming wealthy? Define your goals with a purpose.

Money gets a bad rap. There are so many bad examples of wealth and greed, that many of us unconsciously put up money barriers to keep ourselves from becoming wealthy. You might think this barrier doesn’t apply to you, but before you dismiss it, fill in the blank below to reflect on what wealth means to you.

Being rich/wealthy looks like ______________.

If the image that you come up with is primarily negative, you might have a money barrier related to becoming wealthy.

To move past the negative image, work on defining goals with a purpose. While most of us will set goals for our business related to how much money we want to make, try adding a purpose to create a new image of wealth.

For example, if you want to grow your business to have profit of $150,000 per year, what does that amount mean to you? Does it mean that your partner is able to quit their job? Or perhaps it’s that you’ll be able to spend more time with your family or contribute to a cause you love.

Spend time defining that purpose to create your new image of wealth. Write it down and keep it somewhere you’ll be able to see regularly.

Money barrier #4: Avoid mundane (but necessary) money tasks? Create a powerful habit.

When I started my first business, I was a pro at avoiding the mundane money tasks like invoicing, logging expenses, and just keeping things generally organized. I would procrastinate for as long as possible, making up excuses that it wasn’t as important as other things on my list, or that I wasn’t in the mood to do it.

And the longer I put it off, the larger these mundane tasks became. I had created a horrible mental money barrier with all of my excuses, which ended losing me quite a bit of money.

To break this, I created a weekly money habit. I know that a weakness of mine is logging receipts and sitting down regularly to go through my books. I also know that Friday afternoons I’m not up for anything requiring much brainpower. So I decided to create a money checklist and go through it for 20 minutes every Friday after lunch. The first few weeks of sitting down to do it were tough, but after a month these actions clicked and I began automatically doing them right after lunch every Friday -- no excuses.

To stop avoiding your necessary money tasks, create a checklist of the items you want to complete weekly and set a time do it. I recommend creating a list of items that will take 15-30 minutes to complete to start. To create an actual habit, tie it to something specific that you do every week. When you do that first action (for me, Friday lunch) it triggers my habit of completing my money checklist.

Break past the mental money barriers to grow your business

There may be other money barriers that are standing in your way (shout them out in the comments!), but the key to not letting them hold you back is to recognize that they exist and create a plan to move past them.

Choosing Your Solopreneur Workspace: Cafe vs. Coworking Space vs. Home Office

Since 2013, I have been a digital nomad, traveling full-time while building a location-independent digital marketing business and blog.

Because I’ve built my business from the road and haven’t slowed down since, I’ve worked from countless homes, cafes and coworking spaces. They have all had an impact on my productivity and motivation in different ways.

I want to share those experiences with you, fellow solopreneur -- so you can decide what might work best for you. Here’s what I like (and dislike) about each of these options.

Workspace Option 1: Home Office

Working from home is the default option for most solopreneurs. Some of us have designated home offices while others hang out on the couch, work from the bed or even camp out at the dining table. It’s the most flexible and private workspace you could ever ask for.

The Pros

  • It’s cheaper to work from home as you have no office rent to pay.
  • There’s no commute involved, saving you time, energy and expensive fuel money.
  • You are free to set up and customize your workspace however you like.
  • It’s completely private. (And as a bonus, you can turn up to work in PJs.)

The Cons

  • It can get lonely when you’re not working or interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.
  • It’s easy to get distracted by household chores. Kids, pets and TV also challenge your concentration.
  • The lines between home and work become blurry. Your home ceases to be a place for relaxation and you find yourself in work mode, 24/7.
  • There is a tendency to overwork and burn yourself out.

My Experience
While living in Vietnam, my primary workspace was at home as we had solid internet and a great desk. However, I did get antsy after a few days of working from home and realized I liked the energy of having other people around me. To combat isolation and burn out, I would mix it up by going to coffee shops a few days a week and this was a welcome break from home.

Workspace Option 2: Coffee Shop

Working from cafes is a great way to get out of the house and stimulate yourself in a different environment. With the growth of WiFi-enabled cafes around the world - the ‘coffice’ is a trend that solopreneurs have embraced with open arms.

The Pros

  • The coffee, naturally.
  • Free WiFi. Especially great if you’re on the go and need to clock in a few hours of work or check a few things.
  • The background noise in coffee shops is known to enhance productivity and concentration. I’m not making that up.
  • You can rotate and go to a new coffee shop each time. Changing up your work environment can often boost creativity.

The Cons

  • WiFi can be unreliable in cafes. Plus, if you’re sharing it with a lot of other people, it can be slow, too.
  • Sharing WiFi also comes with some digital security concerns.
  • At some cafes, you can’t just stay all day. Sooner or later they’re going to want you to leave. Even if they don’t mind that you hang around all day, what about when you need to go to the bathroom? Who is going to keep an eye on your stuff?
  • Being able to find a spot near an electrical socket isn’t always easy.

My Experience

Cafes are great for short bursts of work. However, I can’t imagine myself hanging out in a coffee for a full 6 to 8 hours of work. While living in Chiang Mai, I would work out of cafes about three times a week. I got a lot of writing done as I found myself very stimulated by other people’s energy around me (or maybe it’s just the caffeine?).

Workspace Option 3: Coworking Space

Thanks to the growing number of freelancers, solopreneurs and remote workers, coworking spaces are popping up all over the world. These office-but-not-really spaces usually aim to capture the flexibility of working from home, minus the isolation.

The Pros

  • They are designed for work. You will have access to quality WiFi, desk space, wall sockets and, if you’re lucky, they’re ergonomically designed for comfort.
  • It’s a welcome solution to beating isolation as you meet and interact with other entrepreneurs and freelancers. In fact, you could even meet potential collaborators for your business as solopreneurs are often looking to partner with other solopreneurs.
  • Seeing other people around you working hard often motivates you to kick into high gear on goals, too.
  • Because they’re designed for work, they’re usually less distracting and quieter than a coffee shop (no eavesdropping on other people’s juicy social lives) or even your home office, where household tasks and other errands can often be a concentration-killer.

The Cons

  • Most will require a membership. Depending on where you’re located, some can cost a pretty penny.
  • Sometimes it can start to feel like you’re going to an office (with a commute). You probably became a solopreneur for the freedom, and a rigid office-going schedule can seem like the antithesis of this freedom lifestyle.
  • While some spaces have the option to reserve conference spaces, for the most part, you never have complete privacy as you’re working with several other people in the room.

My Experience

I’m currently living in Mexico and I work from a coworking space almost every day. I have a lot going on with my business so I find the need to be in an environment that forces me to be productive -- so this is perfect. I love this spot but I occasionally get over having to come to the “office” and on those days, I recharge by working from home.

So, what is a solopreneur’s ideal workspace?

The simple answer: the one where YOU feel most productive and get the most out of your working day. That being said, we all have different styles of working, and respond differently to various environments. It’s important to experiment with workspaces to see what works best for you. Here are some ideas of how to do just that:

  • Build an office space -- yes, with a desk! -- in your home to inspire productivity if working from the dining room table or your bed doesn’t always cut it.
  • If staying home every day is slowly sending you crazy, try mixing it up a with a coffee shop visit every few days.
  • If the coffee shop environment is entirely distracting but you enjoy the hum of people, consider using an app like Coffitivity that creates the ambient noises of a coffee shop but allows you to work from the comfort of your home office, instead.
  • Perhaps you enjoy the discipline of having to be somewhere every day to get your work done: invest in a coworking space to ramp up your productivity and meet other solopreneurs, too. Most spaces will offer “open house” days or a discounted day pass so you can give it a go before committing.
  • Or, if you’re like me and like being stimulated by different workspaces, you could just leave it open and change it up every few weeks/months depending on where you’re at in your business. The change in environment often boosts creativity and prevents you from becoming bored with your space.

Fortunately you have the freedom to choose and customize your workspace according to your needs. It’s just another perk of this awesome solopreneur life.

Where do you like to work from and why? Tell us about it in the comments.

Business Myth: Always Be Pitching to Grow Your List + Business

One Woman Shop business myths

One Woman Shop Business Myths

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: we often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Amanda Berlin shares her (expert) take on why "always be pitching" isn’t exactly the right advice -- and how to effectively pitch yourself for the most impact, instead.

You’ve got the training. You’ve developed the programs. You’ve got a great website with excellent content. And you’re working with clients. You just need more of them. Now what?

Get your name out there. Start pitching yourself for interviews and guest blog opportunities. You’ve heard it before, and that’s why we’re here.

Here’s your myth:

You need to constantly be pitching yourself for guest blogs and interviews to grow your list, get your name out there and convert like-minded audiences into fans and clients.

Here’s the truth:

You need to be pitching. But instead of constantly pitching willy-nilly and saying yes to every opportunity, you need to be courting the right kinds of outlets, describing yourself in the right way, delivering the right kind of content, and following up in the right manner so it reflects positively on you and your business.

Let’s back up. First, what do we even mean by pitching in this context?

The best pitches sell an idea for a story or interview that’s really valuable to the reading, listening, or viewing audience. Great pitches also incorporate your expertise to showcase the value you can bring to people you work with and to the ongoing conversation on a particular topic in your industry.

Mini-Myth: Cast a wide net.

Quantity over quality. Pitching is a numbers game, right? False. You don’t need to cast a wide net when you’re pitching. You need to find outlets that are strategically aligned and offer the biggest bang for your pitching buck.

Sites that syndicate their content will enable your article to have the biggest impact and offer you the greatest return on your time investment. To figure out if a site syndicates its content, look for bylines that indicate the content came from a different site. For example, if you’re on The Muse, you’ll see there are pieces that offer the author’s name and a different site that he’d written this piece for, often Inc. or Mashable. You can even see an examples of a syndicated One Woman Shop article, here on Levo. When you see this telltale sign, this means the site you’re on has a content sharing relationship with the site mentioned in the byline.

When you place an article on a site that syndicates its content, your article has the potential for expanded reach to more like-minded audiences.

Other sites that will have a big impact for you are sites with very specific demographics that you can uniquely speak to.

To find outlets that serve very specific demographics, look within yourself to where you’ve been, what you’ve done in the past, professionally or personally, where you are now in your life, your interests and passion, and figure out to which of these audiences you might be able to tailor your message. Then go after them. For example, if you teach people about how to better organize their closets, and you have a passion for fitness, you could take your expertise to a website that speaks to health and wellness and talk about keeping all your workout wear organized and in good condition. Your content will resonate because it’s been developed specifically to serve this very precise audience.

Mini-Myth: You need to sell yourself.

It actually doesn’t matter to your pitch how awesome you are. Your idea is really what you need to sell. And then you need to sell yourself in the context of that idea. Answer the question: Why are you perfect to be delivering this information? This will help you dive into your past personal and professional expertise and pull out only the details that are relevant to explaining why you’re a valuable resource for this information.

Mini-Myth: Once you’ve delivered great content, you’re done. Watch the results pour in.

Great exposure can do great things for the size of your list. Hit a well-trafficked site with excellent content and, BAM!, you’ll have them streaming in and signing up for the list. Sure -- it can work that way.

But, you can make it even more attractive for people to sign up by offering a free giveaway or something unique and useful to that particular reading, viewing or listening audience.

For example, I did a training for jewelry designers on how to develop their brand voice and implement it on their websites and social media. To make the most of my opportunity in front of that audience, I created a free giveaway on how to write product descriptions (in their new-found voice). I knew from my partnership with the team leading the training that product descriptions were something their audience has been requesting. With that insider information, I could easily fulfill their need and provide something useful. As a result, I received about 60 new sign-ups for my list.

Deliver great content, but figure out a way to engage the audience to the point where they want to come back to your site and see what else you’ve got, either in the way of more informational articles or in the way of giveaways that are perfectly relevant to their unique challenges.

The more “pro” you become at pitching, the more you realize it’s about more than just coming up with ideas and selling yourself. Pitching successfully is about finding outlets that will maximize your efforts and connect you with the right people who will truly appreciate what you are putting down.

So tell me in the comments below: What’s your biggest challenge in putting yourself out there?

PS (from the editor) -- Want more on pitching yourself with the greatest impact? Check out our One Woman Shop Chats With... Live episode with Amanda!

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

OWS goes back to school

Get Schooled: 4 Free & Affordable Ways to Learn More

backtoschool_pinterest

Whether you have just begun your solopreneur business or are a seasoned professional, there is always room to grow professionally and personally. One of my favorite ways to do this is through online learning. That’s because there are a plethora of online learning resources available that are free or affordable, can be done independently at your own pace, and are packed with information from business management to personal development. That’s a win-win for any One Woman Shop!

Ready to get your study on? Try out these free and affordable ways to learn more:

1. Coursera

The beauty of Coursera is that it has a catalog of scheduled sessions in various areas of study. Each course comes with lots of structure, including a syllabus, audio and visual lectures, quizzes and tests, along with an online instructor from a qualified institution.

Before you join a course, Coursera provides you with: available sessions (current and future), the length of the course (in weeks), hours of study suggested per week, and a brief overview. Taking classes through Coursera gives you the opportunity to earn a course certificate with valuable credentials from the best universities. In addition, they also offer a Specialization program which includes select courses in a given topic, a capstone project and a specialization certificate.

Personally, Coursera is one of my favorite online learning resources because it marries lectures, self-study and resource reading in a way that best suits me. I like to be at a desk with my Coursera class on my laptop and a notebook to take notes.

Cost: Free to Variable

2. iTunes U

I was overwhelmed (in a good way) when I was first introduced to iTunes U a few years ago. Available via the iTunes Store, iTunes U allows you to subscribe to classes and curriculum from some of the top universities. Primarily used as an extension for instructors to bring their curriculum together on iPad, the app is complete with an index of areas to learn from, lectures, notes, quizzes, tests, webinars, documents, books and resources. When you see the structure of the courses and the subjects available, you will certainly understand why much of the younger generation is provided with iPads over traditional textbooks.

Because the iTunes U App is from Apple, the design is similar to the iTunes Store App and Podcasts App, making it easy to use for any one familiar. Many of the iTunes U classes I have taken are provided as lecture videos while others emulate a condensed ebook with assignments. Due to this format of online learning through the app, it is much easier to take the course(s) while on an iPad.

Cost: Free

3. Khan Academy

Khan Academy has self-paced videos to learn, interact and assess your knowledge in different areas. The site has over 4,300 videos to learn from and skills to practice for students, parents, teachers and the lifelong learner. Topics they tackle range from math and science to history, and the Academy's resources are being translated into more than 36 languages. A fun feature Khan Academy provides is a way to track your progress on what and how you have been learning.

One of the best things about Khan Academy is they have no ads and no subscriptions because they believe in a free forever world-class education for everyone!

Cost: Free

4. TED

TED began as a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. The purpose of a TED Talk? To share ideas worth spreading. TED Talks are driven, concise and inspiring from the most renowned leaders, movers, and shakers in the world. Today, TED covers almost all topics in powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. Topics range from consumerism to activism and productivity. These talks will instantly inspire you to engage in conversation or take action.

TED provides TED Talks and Playlists for free. You can also attend TED Conferences, TEDx Events or TED Live at additional costs.

Because of the length of time given to do a Talk, it breeds more passion and intensity from the speaker and in turn, has the listener more engaged and in tune with what is said.

Cost: Free to Variable

What are some of your favorite ways to engage in lifelong learning, fellow solopreneur?

PS: Looking for more great sites to learn from? Check out past posts here and here.

How Much a WordPress Site Really Costs

A few months ago I saw this exchange in one of my favorite Facebook groups for solopreneurs:

"I am about to pay $4k for someone to make my webpage and I'm having a hard time stomaching this… that’s almost my entire bank account. Do others charge this kind of money?"

This post BLEW UP. There were over 300 comments on it, most of them appearing within the first hour of it being posted.

Each response fell into one of these categories:

“I just paid $5,000. I would be suspect of the quality if someone was charging less."

"If a $4,000 website would enable me to make $40k/month, then yes. Investment mindset vs. Cheapskate mindset."

“I’ll do it for you for $1500. PM me."

“Web developers are sharks who are just out to make as much money as possible. You can do it yourself for under $100."

“I’m offended - we are not sharks, we have a highly developed and refined skill set and we deserve to get paid for our time."

I was captivated. I read comment after comment. And as someone who has spent years building WordPress sites and currently building my own business, I disagreed with EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Well, except this one: “Don’t empty your bank account for anything, let alone a website.”

My fingers scrambled to type a well-thought out argument to counter every single one of those responses, but my typing skills are no match for the speed at which this thread was growing. So I kept reading and reading and shakin’ my damn head... They all think they are having the same conversation, but this was the most epic communication breakdown I’ve ever seen online. And no one noticed.

So I decided to take a minute to clear up all the confusion and explain the different types of WordPress experts, how they decide how much to charge, and give you a clear path for deciding whether to DIY or hire it out.

What is a Developer?

Everyone has a different definition of what a web developer is. In my many years of experience there are four levels of WordPress pros:

A WordPress Developer knows PHP and CSS and could code a WordPress theme or plugin from scratch. They know the WordPress Codex inside and out; they might even contribute to the development of the core of WordPress or code and sell their own custom themes. They likely are active in the WordPress support forums and submit bug fixes. They make WordPress work for the rest of us. Unless you’re a theme developer or wanting to create and sell your own plugin, you’re almost never gonna hire a developer.

Then there’s the WordPress Expert. She knows WordPress up and down, back and forth -- and is also an expert in web hosting technology. She knows where every single last option can be found in the Dashboard. How to troubleshoot and fix any problems. How to maintain + optimize it. How to extend it with plugins to make it perform any task you can dream of. How to customize any theme even if she’s never seen it before (because really, they all operate on the same basic WordPress principles). She knows every single plugin you need and don’t need, how to make your site do anything you would want your site to do. She knows every WordPress trick in the book.

Next up is the Design Expert. She knows popular WordPress themes like the back of her hand and has a talent for making WordPress sites look ah-mazing. She’s an ARTIST. She's going to select fonts and colors for you, design layouts and graphics, and maybe even write some copy for you because that’s part of the design.

Finally, there’s the Content Expert. This girl knows how to create and format new pages, add media, create and categorize blog posts. She knows how to apply and customize themes, set up menus, customize widgets and keep things moving. She may also be great at writing copy.

Here are a few things you need to know:

  • No one reading this article needs to hire a WordPress Developer. That’s the point of WordPress -- it was created by developers to give the PEOPLE the ability to make their own websites. Websites for the people!
  • If you can find a legit WordPress Expert who is also a legit Design Expert, marry her. She is a unicorn. This is where people wind up disappointed. They hire a “web developer” assuming they have both of these skill sets. Then they end up with a site that can pat its head and rub its tummy at the same time but looks like it came out of 1998. Or they have a GORGEOUS website with five beautiful pages and absolutely zero brains.
  • You must become the content expert whether you hire it out or you do it all yourself. It is your duty as a business owner to know how this stuff works. Would you open up your business in a physical location you knew nothing about? NO! Just because your website is “technical” doesn’t absolve you of knowing how it works.

I cannot stress this enough. A basic level of knowledge is enough to maintain your site -- and it's crucial. That way, when you’re between experts, you won’t need to even break a sweat, because you’ll know exactly what you need to do.

Should you DIY or hire out?

If you do it yourself (which you totally can if you know how to use the internet, can point and click, can follow instructions and have a little cash and a little patience), you are eventually going to become a WordPress Expert. Maybe not a ninja-level-can-work-on-any-site expert, but you’ll learn enough to know exactly how to maintain everything about your own site. To do it RIGHT and set yourself up for success and future growth, it’s going to cost you a few hundred dollars.

If you are going to hire someone, you either marry a unicorn OR you hire WordPress Expert AND a designer. Your WordPress expert sets up your site for you (and they should ask TONS of questions about your business so they build everything you don’t even know you need), and hire a graphic designer to create your brand for you, and your WordPress Expert will implement the brand on the site for you.

Truth: the price for a WordPress site is completely arbitrary

It is determined by how much that expert thinks their time and talents are worth, and with cheap tech labor overseas, that skews the price range even more.

If you’re going to do your due diligence, there are four options to look at seriously:

1. How much time and money it will take to do it yourself, and what resources are available for learning?

2. How much does this ‘unicorn’ cost? You won’t know if they are a unicorn until you talk to them and ask the right questions.

3. How much a WordPress Expert costs - they might call themselves a web developer… pay attention to semantics. They really do matter here.

4. How much a Design Expert costs - they might also call themselves web developers. It is up to you to know the difference.

Yes -- this requires leg work, but it’s like finding the right physical location for your business. (Super important.)

To help you decide whether to DIY or don’t even try, check out this free decision guide. It includes:

  • A quiz to help you determine if DIYing is right for your personality (no, you don't have to be techie).
  • The BEST resources for DIYing your WordPress site.
  • Tips on how to find the web developer that's right for you if you determine DIY is not for you.
  • 24 questions to ask potential web developers so you can be sure you know exactly what you're getting before you get started.

How much money you decide to spend on a website has zero to do with an abundance vs. cheapskate mindset. It has to do with making good business decisions based on where you are in your journey. And there are eleventy-million ways to go about building your website, which is what makes deciding what to do so overwhelming! It’s important to do your research, make an informed decision, and not blow your entire start-up budget on a website.

P.S. Want more from Shannon? Check out her WP+BFF Academy -- so that you can build your website right the first time. Note: This is an affiliate link -- we believe in Shannon's work and think you might find it valuable.