Back in January, when I was at Alt Summit, I sat in on a session given by Jasmine Star on personal branding. I've found myself meditating a lot on something that she said regarding being balls-to-the-wall (my words, not hers) about your personality, and how you portray that through your brand.
You either love me or you hate me.
When developing my personal brand, or – better yet – working and living my personal brand, I try to stay pretty full-throttle in my beliefs and opinions, sometimes causing some folks to know right away that I'm not the designer/consultant/friend for them.
And that's exactly what I want. Having people know right away that we're not going to mesh well steers clear of lots of problems right off the bat.
Likewise, those who can tolerate my opinionated, overly-passionate nature tend to become fast friends.
And not even fast friends, but dream customers. My dream customers respect me for being honest, being a bit of a work horse, and aren't offended by my occasional foul language here on the blog. When I'm very clear about my brand and who I really am, they're not surprised when we get chin deep in a project and I'm pushing them to say "no" to the idea adding Papyrus to their webfonts.
The more assertive I become regarding who I am, the more I enjoy my own work. I'm not getting hired by nightmare customers anymore because my brand is so in-your-face about what kind of designer and person I am. I'm attracting the people that I want to work with, and repelling those whom I don't.
Just to give you a clearer idea, here are a couple of things anyone who is ever wanting to talk to me should know:
1. Unabashedly, and unapologetically, honest.
Being painfully honest is one of my very favorite qualities. But it's also one that seems to push people away the most.
On one hand, if I think you're a genius, I'll gush about it. But, if I think your idea sucks, I won't just go along with it to save face. I'll let you know how I feel. I'm not going to be rude about it, I'm just going to be genuinely honest.
This also lends to me having some for-serious relationships. Completely honest relationships are something I wish a saw more of. Sure, you love your mother but you can't tell her that you don't actually want to be a lawyer? You're paying a designer to design something, but don't tell them you want edits because you don't want to hurt their feelings? (That is until you explode in anger when the project is completely finished.) Get real, folks. Own your own truths. Be who you are.
What this means for my brand: I'm pretty assertive when it comes to client requests, whereas I used to be pretty wishy-washy just to make a client "happy." And because using Papyrus makes no one happy, these projects always ended up with me ashamed to put something in my portfolio, and the client returning to me a few months later to make the same changes I had suggested, not "required." Now I don't let clients make bad decisions. My dream customers respect the hell out of me for this.
2. Hardcore potty-mouth.
I read something once, and I have no idea how accurate it actually is, that said that people who curse tend to be more honest. I believe it. And though it's not something I usually grade non-cussers by, it is something that makes me appreciate my own potty mouth more.
If you have problems expressing your feelings with a word, I can only imagine how hard it is for you to express them with a whole sentence.
I'll express my feelings freely, thanks.
And, honestly, I think the idea of a word being bad is just plain silly. Like, how silly would it be if I thought that red was a bad color, because of it's use in bloody horror movies. Silly, indeed. So, I curse openly, when in appropriate company, of course.
What this means for my brand: I'm pretty straight-forward here on the blog. I'll say shit if I want to. Literally and figuratively. But, I'll be the first to admit that I don't curse in client emails; I'm well aware of how unprofessional that is. But, I do have a general rule: if we've shared a cocktail, there are no holes barred. You're getting the full Emily Thompson vocabulary.
3. I call you out on your bullshit.
Part of my being unapologetically honest is that I don't take to bullshit very well. If you're being overdramatic, ridiculous, or are flat out making shit up, I'll call you out. Beware.
What this means for my brand: This follows up closely to #1 above. And this one plays a lot more into my "real" persona than my online/client one. Calling out others' bullshit works a lot more in person. Like when I recently had to put an organization leader in his place when he was up-playing the organization's role in our downtown community. I'm not as sweet/innocent/naïve as I may look, sir, and I will/did call you out on your bullshit. (A dream customer that was present for this event applauded my reaction, and then hired me a few weeks later.)
4. I've got some thick skin.
Sometimes I wonder if David wishes I were daintier. More sentimental. Softer. Maybe even less driven. Then, I realize that, after almost 10 years, if he wanted me to be then he'd have told me so long ago. Or left.
I've got some pretty thick skin. You can call me any name in the book and I'll laugh it off. I work my ass off to get done what needs to be done. I'll barrel through whatever is ahead.
What this means for my brand: I work hard. I will stick to my guns. I can take changes in pace, but will also hold course. I'm a pretty awesome person to have on your side.
Good! We probably wouldn't get along very well. See ya 'round, mate.
Then we're friends. For real.
I can rock a creative business because I'm so confident in who I am. I don't do wishy-washy or half-ass. I get shit done. I'm now taking on dream customers for summer projects. If I haven't offended you or made you angry with this post, then give me a shout. We just might be perfect for each other.
Yesterday I recapped my long weekend trip to Austin with my pal Mikey. I could go on and on about how great of a trip it was, again, but it wasn't just about good food and big laughs. For me, it was also a bit of a wake up call.
You see, sometimes, as a creative entrepreneur, people think that I just kinda get to do what I want. And, as that's partially true, as I am doing what I want, that doesn't mean that I just get to throw in the towel and jet set to wherever I want, whenever I want. At least not if I want to eat, pay rent, and keep shoes on Cute Kid's feet.
What being a creative entrepreneur does is give me the flexibility to do what I want, not just taking willy-nilly opportunities. But, it's not without consequence. We independents have to work our asses off. Like whoa.
I still have deadlines, an inbox of requests, and bills in the mailbox everyday. Being a creative hardly means that I can be any less responsible than anyone else. In fact, I usually have to work harder.
Running your own business (let alone two) means I'm often pulling 12-14 hour days, not always having a weekend off, and constantly obsessing over the right ways to social-media-ize. These are just a few of the prices that I pay to jet set wherever I want, "whenever" I want. My 9-5 friends don't usually have to be that involved (though I know that some of you are, so don't think I'm undervaluing you).
Mikey is one of those work-your-ass-off-like-whoa 9-5-ers (often 7-6ers). He brings home work much too often, but he freaking loves his job.
And so, while enjoying cocktails over brunch one morning in Austin, we talked about how much we work, but also how hard we play. And, how working that hard makes us never feel guilty for playing as hard as we do. (Honestly, for a moment, we pondered on whether or not we should be feeling bad about having cocktails so early on a Monday. We decided definitely not.) But also, how being able to play hard makes working so hard totally worth it.
And then we toasted our mimosas and adopted our new mantra:
work hard, play hard
You see, I've felt really bogged down lately: not into generating blog content, feeling weary about taking on new clients, and way overwhelmed with Indie Spaces. I've had several moments of wondering what it's all for. Why am I so into helping other businesses when I'm not feeling very excited about my own? What can I do to spice up my work life? And, ultimately, why do I work so hard?
So I can play hard, dammit.
Whether play hard is taking a long weekend with my pals in Austin, or taking an entire day to watch Disney movies in bed with Cute Kid, or spending a weekend night partying at an event at Indie Spaces, I'm doing this to enjoy life. As much as possible.
I don't think that I could free myself as much during my off-hours if I didn't love what I do so much. And therein lies the lesson. I love what I do so I can love what I do, in a never-ending cycle of hot-damn-I'm-lucky.
We've been out of the mountains for 7 months now. Seven months, and I'm still trying to figure out what life's supposed to be like. Get into a routine. Reposition myself into this new life of the usual mother, partner, web designer roles, but also where I fit into my new roles in new friendships, business guru at the space, and as a part of our extended family.
I often find myself thinking a lot about my dreams for where I want to be. Full-time web designer, or full-time entrepreneur cheerleader? Or part-time each, and which gets what part?
Dreams. What's my dream?
What's your dream?
I talk about dreams a lot. Not the ones that you have in the middle of the night, and not just my dreams. I talk to David about his dreams, I talk to our Indies to help them discover their dreams. Goals. Path. Purpose.
Dream customers. Dream jobs. Dream experiences.
Monday David and I had the pleasure of being a recipient of a pint of the elusive Shirey Ice Cream. I'll be honest, sometimes, maybe more often than not, my dreams involve ice cream. And I know David's does.
This ice cream was a dream. And talking to the ice cream-maker, Reese, was a dream encounter. He's my dream customer.
Reese is finishing up his last semester of college, and as I penciled in a meeting date for after graduation, I wished him good luck with finals. He shrugged his shoulders, then said something to the effect of, "Whatever, I'm not worried. I'm going to be an entrepreneur."
If I could make every person who walked into the space live life with that attitude, I would be in a constant dream state.
Guys, here's the stuff that dreams are made of: passion.
Passion makes us realize what matters, what makes us produce quality products, and what builds our dreams. It allows us to see through the muck, and focus on our goal. Reese has the passion, and he's not afraid of it. And he's going to rock his own world.
I admire the hell out of that, and find it so inspiring.
For me, I'm working on my own passion, and figuring out how to best organize my time to be most effective. My passion for many years has been micro-businesses. Creative entrepreneurs. Through Indie Spaces and Indie Shopography I breathe, eat, and sleep my passion.
What's yours? What's your dream? What's your passion? Promise me that you won't be afraid of it.
Since the opening of Indie Spaces I have become very aware of how creatives respond to people. It's things that I've reacted to in my own life as a creative, but now that my life is hanging out with creatives all day, I'm becoming much more in tune with what makes us all tick. In particular, how we respond to others.
Now that I'm seeing it in action, I'm able to compare it to my own relationships, in those that have flourished the most in the past 6 years, as opposed to those that have dwindled into nothingness.
Always, and about everything. Even if you don't agree with us, shoot us down in an encouraging tone. And try to finish hard conversations with "I'm proud of you," or something similar.
We creatives sometimes get a little blindsided due to an almost insatiable need to follow our passions. It's ok to occasionally sit us down and hammer in the importance of sleep, or eating, or health insurance. Let us know that our ideas are awesome, but that other things need to be taken care of, too.
It's also ok to tell us that we're boring the hell out of everyone with all our business talk. (See number 5 below.)
Spread the word. Pass out our business cards. And, if possible, buy one or some of our products. It proves to us that you truly believe in us and what we do, and will totally make you our best pal.
This is one of those things that I know I appreciate the most. When our friends don't belittle our even smallest accomplishments, you're cemented into best pal status. Jump up and down with me for a minute when I book a new client. Go out with David and I for a drink when we schedule a cool new event or book a new artist. Celebrate with us; it's fun for you, too. We usually buy the first round.
I try very hard these days to not talk about work all the time. 1) I don't want to get burnt out. 2) I don't want to bore my friends to death. As a friend of a creative, be aware that we're really excited about what we're doing, and that we're going to talk about work a lot (because to us, it's not really work, it's fun). Try to find a way to at least feign some interest for a while.
Also, be comfortable occasionally steering the conversation away from work, because sometimes we're really not aware of how painful we're being. And, most importantly, if we don't want to talk about work, let's really just not.
When I think of the three most influential pals I have in my everyday life, they hold each of these qualities. They believe in me, support me, celebrate with me, and help me talk and not talk about work. They're also very good about tactfully waving caution signs.
Now, in my role at Indie Spaces, I have to be this pal to every creative who comes in our door. I have to celebrate and caution, talk and not talk, and always, always encourage. It's becoming part of my personal brand, and my character in general. I'm emulating those who have believed in me.
And the best thing that we can do, as creatives, is to recognize and appreciate these qualities in our pals. Because, let's face it, sometimes we're not the easiest people to be around. Or is that just me?
P.S. HUGE thank you to my pals. You are why I'm where I am now.
I was hanging out in yoga the other day, holding a pose, when my yoga teacher said something that almost made me drop my pose and run for my notebook, for fear that I would forget it.
In order to transform there must be fire.
I know that in that moment she was talking about the fire in my shoulders and quads, but I also know that she meant it in a broader sense too, and for me, in that moment, it meant everything. I repeated in my head over and over for the rest of the class.
When times get tough, just remember how pivotal those moments are. Your reactions determine your transformations. And those transformations wouldn't be possible if not for the fire.