THE Lemon and Birch BLOG
Something I’ve found that just isn’t talked about by other brand designers is exactly what makes a brand identity feel impactful and evocative.
To look at this we need to look at the core principles of what makes design (as a whole) impactful. Branding is about creating something that’s true to the business and the clients and customers the business wants to attract. But also, in simple terms, it’s about really great design.
There’s one key design principle I’ve identified that’s at the heart of impactful work. It’s the principle of Contrast. For example, shadow and light, colour contrast, empty space and filled space, size contrast.
I wrote a post about how and why contrast works as a branding principle in the linked posts below so have a read of those if you’re new round here.
In essence, the principle of contrast is used in all areas of design – interior design, architecture, music, all creative fields. In a world where we’re increasingly craving something a little different, getting inspired by those outside our own industry can lead to stand-out design that pushes the boundaries in our fields.
After identifying this key branding principle, I wanted to talk to some fellow small business owners about this idea and see how they use it themselves. I’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of ‘light and shadow’ is a key thing we can tap into for all aspects of building our brands and running our businesses. It can show up in so many different ways.
In their own words, I’ll share how some of my clients and small business friends use the principle of Contrast in their brand and how the idea can be taken further too – to the core of what they do.
Contrast can help us create a brand identity that feels alive. Contrast can help us create work that is striking and evocative. Contrast can help us run a business that feels balanced and doesn’t lead to burn-out.
“When I started painting, I mainly used pastel colours and stuck to a similar tone. But I noticed that I wasn’t ‘loving’ my results. Looking back I felt like there was something missing but at the time I just couldn’t pin point it. So I decided to try experimenting with different colours during my explorative painting phase. It was during this experimentation that I realized the importance of contrast and how it can bring a painting to life.
Incorporating contrast and playing with darks and lights has made a huge impact on my work, not just in terms of gaining more traction in selling my art, but also in terms of the overall look and feel of my paintings. By using value to create flow and tell a story through my art, I’ve been able to create a cohesive and engaging Instagram feed. I know my paintings need a backdrop and they sit very well with my moody floral photography in my feed, which I have always had a passion for capturing even before I started to paint.
My process involves planning and adjusting intuitively with colours, contrast, and scale. This approach helps me create art that is both visually appealing and tells a story. It helps the eye travel around the page and each flower gently guides the eye to the next. I’m really happy with how my art has evolved, and I’m excited to keep creating and improving.”
Safiyyah Choycha – Safiyyah Studio
“I create products for which scent plays the biggest role so selling online can always be challenging. Instead, I try to highlight a feeling or a mood that the scent evokes in order to give people an idea of the way one of my products might make them feel.
The idea of creating contrasts to bring life into your brand really resonated with my own experience. I had some photography experience in the past (shooting interiors) but I had never done product photography before and so when I started my business in 2021, that was its own challenge.
As a small maker, I was doing everything myself including my own product photography. Every tutorial I found online advised not to shoot in bright sunlight – the shadows that were cast would be too harsh and softer light was preferable but I was never really happy with my product photography. I knew my products were lovely looking (I had worked so hard on the branding to get that right) and I had plenty of styling experience from my interior days, but I felt like my product photography just felt flat – it was as if it was missing something although I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I began following some photographers on Instagram hoping to pick up some tips or inspiration and I noticed the photos I was always most drawn to were the ones which comfortably played with light and shadow. And so I decided to toss out that rule of shooting only in a softer light.
I began experimenting with shooting in bright direct sunlight, playing with the shadows the textures created and embracing those light/dark contrasts. Once I started to do that, I realised how much more life my photographs had. Those feelings I was attempting to evoke became so much clearer and stronger in my product images. I’m slowly working through my entire product collection to reshoot everything in this new style.”
Kimberly Duran – Swoonworthy Scents
“HUSTLE has long been a word that resonated with me. It can get a bad wrap, but in my mind, HUSTLE means leaning into high, positive energy and activity, the DOING.
I wanted to explore a counter energy to sit alongside the HUSTLE, something to balance that high, go-go-go energy. Still positive, but one that allowed me and YOU to rest, recharge and reflect. One that gave us permission to BE.
Our company name HUSTLE + hush represents my belief that we need both HUSTLE and hush (in our own unique, dynamic ratio) to be our most brilliant, authentic, wonderful selves.“
The Venn diagram sitting in the heart of the logo represents both the hush and the HUSTLE energy and the space within us that exists in the intersection between the two.
Tee Twyford – HUSTLE + hush
Read more about the meaning behind the branding on the HUSTLE + hush website here.
Does this branding principle resonate with you? I’d love to know if you can identify areas of your business where you’re already using contrast. Join us in the Tree House Community (it’s free) to chat! Sign up here.
This post has been created from a transcript. If you’d rather watch it as a video you can click here >> Storytelling through visual branding.
What your visual brand identity does is it helps you to express your values, your ethos, what you are all about in a way that is easy to absorb quickly.
Creating a brand identity really is simply telling your brand story through typography, imagery, illustration, if that’s what you need, and colour, all that stuff.
And if we’re talking about a brand as a whole, you’re telling the story through your words and actions too.
Back in the day before I knew anything about branding, when people would say “we’re trying to tell a story” it used to confuse me because that kind of means like a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
It’s really linear and in writing when you are writing for your brand, that might be the case. But telling a story with visuals for your brand is different.
Storytelling with visual branding isn’t linear.
Think of it as telling a story with layering instead. Layering up different elements in your brand to build up a technical picture.
Okay, so we’ve talked about what brand identity is and what its function is. So next up, let’s get clear on all the different assets within the brand identity.
We all know what a logo is, but what’s its real function? Logos can take lots of forms.
Most often they’ll be simply just typography or typography and some kind of icon or illustration, but really there are just two functions of your logo.
The logo should one clearly state your business name in a way that is easily readable. And number two, it should be an identifier and have something that makes it recognisable as yours.
We can weave some lovely things into the logo, like symbolism and meaning, but really you don’t have to. This is something that my clients and I like to do, so that their branding is imbued with their energy and the energy of what really inspires them, and then they can really get behind it.
That’s really the beauty of working with a designer. You can start to bring layering into the actual logo design in a way that feels balanced.
I usually make sure that we have typography that can stand alone and an illustration that can be used with it as well as in other places in the brand identity.
Okay, so secondary logo, or sometimes they’re called alternative logos. In many of the brand identities I create, we have a main logo like we’ve just talked about, and then we’ll have secondary or alternative versions. You can have one or more alternatives.
It really depends on your brand. These logos are variations in layouts so that the logo will work in more places.
In this day and age, there are so many places your logo needs to be used, so don’t get bogged down with having one logo to rule them all.
You can create alternative layouts for those other places.
So the function is really the same here, clear and legible and something that makes it recognisable as yours.
And it’s hopefully the same font and the same sort of recognisable features as the main logo so that it all feels cohesive.
And here is an example for the Forest and Cove brand. So with this one, the main logo is quite tall. It’s got a few different features in that one logo, and then the secondary logo is a bit simpler. It takes it less space height-wise, so it can be used in places where the main logo isn’t necessarily going to fit. It’s really useful to have different layouts like this.
Now, moving on to Sub marks circular marks, maker’s, marks, monograms. I’ve grouped these together because they have a similar function and you definitely don’t need all of these. It depends on your brand and what needs to be branded up.
For example, if your work is mainly based online, you might simply need one sub mark, and also these names can be interchangeable as well. Some people use the word sub mark, some people literally call them what they are.
I work with a lot of jewellers and they always have makers marks, it’s basically the same thing as a monogram or a sub mark. It’s a simplified version of the logo that fits into a smaller space. So, there are these interchangeable names for them, and it depends on the industry that your brand is in.
If you are a product-based business who needs to brand up packaging, then you might have all these different versions. You might have a circular logo and also a monogram and all these different things. They’re extremely useful for printing onto stickers, labels, turning into patterns for tissue paper and all of that kind of thing.
Here’s some examples of the different versions that I did for a Forest and Cove. So we’ve got another little alternative logo layout, then we’ve got just the typography, that’s a sub mark. We’ve got circular logo, and we’ve got another little illustrated mark with the brand name inside.
There’s really no hard and fast rules with what you call these really. And then we’ve used some of the details from the illustration and the circular mark and turned that into a pattern so that can be really effective.
And then moving on to colour palette, and I’ve got a quote here at the top from the Little Book of Colour by Karen Haller – such a lovely book.
So the quote is:
“Colour is light, and light is energy. When that light strikes the eye, it is converted into electrical impulses. Those electrical impulses pass through the same part of the brain that processes our emotions.”
When I read about this years ago, it was just such a light bulb moment in my mind, and I find it fascinating that a colour is not just a colour.
Green is really not just green, it’s blue is really not just blue. When we look at a colour, it can change the way we feel. And I find that really fascinating and really useful knowledge for branding when we’re looking at colour palettes.
So really recommend this book if you want to understand colour from an emotional impact perspective. It brings together the work of various people and sort of ties it together in a lovely way. It’s just a useful book to dip in an it dip in out of often, and it’s not just applicable to branding either.
I really like to use resources that aren’t just about branding so I can understand things from a wider perspective. I think that gives you more well-rounded knowledge.
With colour for your brand, this is where that layering starts to come in. The colour palette can bring in a layer of personality, it can create emotional impact and emotional connection. But it doesn’t need to say everything. It doesn’t need to tell them the entire story.
When you’re trying to tell the whole story with each and every piece in your brand identity, this is where things start to feel busy. I may feel counterintuitive, but it doesn’t make things feel cohesive, it just makes things feel messy and muddled because there’s too much going on with each piece.
We want to build in that layer of personality and leave room for other layers to tell us more. With each layer, we’re inviting people deeper into the brand. Exciting, huh?
Typography hierarchy just means our heading fonts, our subheading fonts, and the, the rest of the text. I’ve found that a bit of contrast for the heading fonts particularly works really well.
So for example, say the logo font is quite thin and refined, and then the heading font is something slightly more chunky – that contrast works great.
The reason I say contrast works firstly is because we want the logo to stand out as being the logo, we don’t want it to blend in. We don’t want it to become invisible.
And secondly, so that we’re starting to bring in like another layer of personality. Again, I’m gonna keep talking about these layers because I feel like it’s the key to everything. Layering, contrast, balancing out opposites. These are the things that are at the root of all of this from my perspective.
Moving on to things like textural backgrounds, icon designs, illustrations and photography. I’ve grouped all of these together because they are supporting elements.
It’s nice to have one or two of these different things. Most people will have photography, whether that’s photography of your products or lifestyle photography, photography of you as the business owner, or it can even be stock photos, that’s absolutely fine.
Having one or two of these different things usually can feel like enough layers. They’re all supporting elements that deepen the emotional impact of the branding. So it’s where you can really start to have fun and bring in those contrasts and those opposing themes. Build in those like real true to life paradoxes.
Let’s show you some examples here for Forest and Cove. The typography here, we wanted to keep it luxurious because of their tagline – Luxury, handmade treasures.
The typography, we kept it really luxury. And then with the textured background that’s painted, it’s got lots of energy in it, it’s very earthy. That brings in an opposing theme and just makes it feel really interesting. Rather than having the background as a flat colour or having something else that also feels very luxury, that would make it starts to feel kind of one-dimensional.
I’ll just talk more about the Forest and Cove branding, and remember this is just one example. I chose this branding to illustrate my points here because they are a brand that had all of the different assets that I’ve been talking about. They’re a bricks and mortar shop, so they needed to have lots of different moving parts.
I also chose this one because of immediately opposing themes in the brand name. We needed to bring both Forest, and Cove themes into the branding in a way that felt balanced. I also wanted to show you that forest doesn’t always mean greenery and the ocean or the coast doesn’t always mean like sea foam blues and turquoises. And like I mentioned before, luxury can have its place balanced with earthiness.
You can see the shop front here and the textural background with the typography layered over that. They painted that textured background on to the back wall as well. We brought in some nice textures with the the bags that they used.
This is the mood board that we began with, and because we used quite literal illustrations of leaves in the logo, it was important to balance this out with other parts of the brand story. Rebecca was inspired by these red cliffs in the sea coves that she visited when she was younger. So this was an important thing for the palette, to get these beautiful red colours in there.
It also kind feels like falling autumn leaves, which brought in the idea of the forest as well. The teal side of the pallet is a literal opposite on the colour wheel. The colour wheel by the way is a very handy tool and it means that the teal is a perfect contrast to those red and orange colours.
All the time we are playing with contrasts and opposites. And in my humble opinion, this is what brings a brand to life.
Just like your personality in real life has paradoxes and contrasts and that’s what makes you unique, this is what a living and breathing brand should have as well.
In this blog post I’m sharing advice for creative small business owners, written by members of my online community
What’s one piece of advice you would give to past you?
Nothing that is meant for you will pass you by. Don’t stress about your ideal timeline – it’s going to unravel in the way it’s meant to, and it’s not a race.
What’s one thing you learnt or implemented in your business where you thought ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?!’
I definitely would have done the SEO work I’ve done this year much sooner, if I could go back! Because SEO is a slow piece and takes a long time to make an impact, it would have been beneficial to work on it from the start and not be so dependent on a platform you can’t control, like Instagram or TikTok.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to past you?
Trust my instinct and listen to my inner voice for guidance more. I’ve spent a long time looking externally for direction, thinking that everyone else had insider info that I was lacking, but when I’ve followed advice from external sources, it hasn’t fit right. I realised I just need to trust myself and follow my own path.
What’s one thing you learnt or implemented in your business where you thought ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?!’
This is going to sound really behind the times, but downloading apps onto my phone for the platforms I use for my business. For example, I sell on Etsy, and I used to transfer all the photos from my phone onto the laptop, to upload them onto my listings. It was so time consuming, then I realised I could download the ‘sell on Etsy’ app, and I can upload images and edit listings straight from my phone. Game changer (that probably everyone else is already aware of!) Lol.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to past you?
I’d say: “Everything will get so much easier when you stop fighting against yourself.” I spent so many years focusing on all the things I disliked about myself, and rejecting my true nature as an introvert and someone with anxious tendencies, and actually, the more I’ve been able to face and then embrace those parts of myself, the more peace I experience.
I never used to believe in the power of self-compassion (“If I stop being horrible to myself, surely I’ll never get anything done?!”), but now I see it as an absolutely essential ingredient for a happy life.
What’s one thing you learnt or implemented in your business where you thought ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?!’
One of the most important lessons for me has been “be a farmer, not a hunter,” as I think the saying goes. I spent so much of my first couple of years in business on a constant (and tiring) treadmill of trying to find my next new client, that I’d often neglect to appreciate my existing clients.
It dawned on me that it’d be much more worthwhile to cultivate longer-term relationships with everyone I worked with so that I didn’t have to rely so heavily on outward marketing. I started to get more repeat bookings and referrals when I actively encouraged them, which may sound obvious but I think a lot of us overlook this, especially in the early days when your confidence may still be wobbly and you’re just so relieved when a job goes well that you quickly move onto the next thing without looking back.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to past you?
Stop letting other people tell you your limitations. Only you can decide what you are and are not capable of doing. You get to dictate what happens in your business, not everyone else.
Be authentic. It sounds simple, and maybe almost obvious, but it’s so easy to feel like you have to conform to some type of ‘appearance’. Even when I thought I was being authentic, it turns out, I was still trying to hide. It wasn’t until a gentle marketing coach suggested that I look at what I do through the lens of, ‘Does what you’re doing make you love yourself?’ that it really opened my eyes..
I was genuinely surprised at how often the answer was ‘no’. It prompted me to take a good hard look at what I was doing, especially in terms of marketing, and adjust things so that I could finally answer ‘yes’.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to past you?
Charge. More. Money.
What’s one thing you implemented in your business where you thought ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?!’
Oh, I love Starling Spaces. In my business account with them I have Spaces for all sorts: different tax years (I automatically put away 30% of all income), Christmas bonus, my next three months’ wages, new tech fund, and ‘investment’.
It’s made everything to do with finances so much more visible for me. I never used to feel financially safe enough to spend any business money, but Spaces help me to see what I can afford to spend.
I’m really excited to share this with you toda! I was interviewed by Ruth Poundwhite for her podcast Quietly Ambitious all about the benefits of asynchronous communication, and it was such a lovely chat! This is my first time speaking on a podcast!
I have wanted to get into podcast guesting for a while, but being a quiet, introverted person I was putting it off 🙈. I applied to be part of a summit Ruth was hosting, and as a result, she felt my topic would be better on her podcast instead.
I really hesitated to reply and say ‘yes please’ because I was so scared of putting myself out there in this way. Inevitably, it felt like fate had stepped in to stop me putting this off, and I knew from listening to Ruth’s podcast already that she was lovely and all of her interviews sounded natural and laid back.
I’m so, so glad that I got to have this wonderful conversation with Ruth – it didn’t feel like an interview at all, it was just a really soul nourishing chat!
We talked about the benefits of asynchronous communication (and what that actually means!), how we can put our needs first and create freedom with the way we support our clients, and all the ways I have reduced 1to1 calls in my business. This will be a great listen if you’ve ever wished you could have a little more freedom and spend a little less time on Zoom.
You’ll find all the links below of how you can listen!
I knew that having a child would mean life would be a little different, but there were a few things that I really wasn’t prepared for when balancing motherhood and running my business. I guess it’s the sort of stuff you can’t imagine beforehand because you need the lived experience to really understand.
I’ve seen loads of people talking about the run up to having a baby, preparing their business, maternity leave, and even setting up once you already have a child. But I don’t think I’ve seen any one talking about having to change the way they were running their business after having a baby. In this blog post I’m talking about 3 changes I made in my business when I had a baby.
I didn’t prepare my business for having a baby. I feel like those people that were able to do that are in another league of being organised. I had some vague plans about setting up a digital product shop before giving birth and that earning a little money, but then the pandemic happened while I was a few months pregnant and it was honestly hard to concentrate on anything else other than getting my client work finished off. There was also a grey area with what I could earn while claiming self-employed maternity allowance from the Government (UK) and it was easier to be not earning so I knew I could claim the allowance.
Although it occurred to me that life would be different, I guess I thought I’d just pick up work again once I was ready. My husband had a really good full time job and I knew we’d be ok for a while without an income on my side.
Then Kieron got made redundant the week that Logan was born and our whole world flipped on its head. He was a Manufacturing Engineer and we’d thought that those sort of jobs were always safe. Of course with manufacturing of everything slowing down to a halt, his company had to make redundancies to keep trading.
We had spoken about how his heart wasn’t in engineering any more though and the redundancy turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We decided Kieron would stay home with us so that I could focus on my business still as I was continuing to get enquiries for work through the pandemic and my short maternity leave.
I thought that with having Kieron home full time with us, it would be really easy to just slip back into work and it be the same as it was before.
My God, that was not true for me!
It initially felt great starting back with work. It was something to pull me out of the fog of new Motherhood and it felt grounding to be doing creative work again.
With having an already established business that had been really active on Instagram and especially on Pinterest over the past 5 years or so, I already had built a bit of momentum for people finding my work and website, and enquiries.
With the pandemic, I’d had a spike in enquires through Pinterest because so many people were at home thinking about starting businesses on the side, or finally having time to dedicate to forgotten things like branding and marketing. I had bookings for work straight away and so that part was the easy bit.
It all felt almost too easy…
I soon realised that even with another parent at home, Logan would want me an awful lot, and that would mean I wouldn’t have the longer periods of focus I was used to.
I was surprised at how long it took me to get back my focus each time and would often end up having Logan in a sling sleeping on me while I worked. I have lovely memories of wearing him in the sling when he was small, and at least while I was wearing him, I didn’t have to think about what he was doing or whether he was ok all the time, so that part of my brain could focus too!
There was the added stress of me now being responsible for paying the bills when it had never been a sole responsibility before.
With work enquiries coming in thick and fast I booked people in as I had done before, sort of always on the verge of being overbooked, but thinking it would be ok. The thing is, it had always been ok in the past because I had the time to work longer sometimes if I needed to. I never did too much that I was burnt out, and I guess it was a bad habit that I didn’t realise would need to change.
It didn’t take long before I was feeling perpetually exhausted, was overbooked, stressed and crying in the middle of the night.
I honestly had no idea I wouldn’t be able to keep up the same sort of schedule and work in the same sort of way I’d worked before (overworked masquerading as well-organsied). I had Kieron at home full time, I felt like I was failing and I should be able to do this!
Needless to say, something had to give. And of course, it was work. Over the course of the next year or so I slowly allowed my business work for me rather than against me. Here are the 3 changes I made to balance motherhood with business.
A big part of my new ethos for my business is making it fit around my life seamlessly, and leaning into what feels good rather than overthinking and doing things the way they’ve always been done because that’s what people expect.
I moved almost exclusively to communicating with my clients via voice notes, texts, and videos that are sent asynchronously. Asynchronous just means ‘not existing or occurring at the same time’. So we send voice notes when we can and we don’t have to be available for a call at the same time.
I’ve felt more anxious since having a child probably due to hormones, plus I’m a relatively shy person anyway, and I just found myself really getting wound up about Zoom calls during the time when everyone was zooming in the pandemic. So I decided to stop.
I still do the odd call when it feels necessary, like I sometimes do training with current and past clients on design software. But as a rule, even discovery calls before a client books can be done by voice note instead. If a person seems to have a problem with it, they probably aren’t going to be a great fit for working together.
I’ve built some structure into this for my different packages and have specific days where we chat and plan and specific days when I’m doing the design work. I’ll go into that more in next point.
The real benefit is that I have ultimate flexibility with communication – Having a baby or toddler means your schedule can change last minute if they didn’t sleep well the night before, or they’re poorly, or they’re just having a day where they want Mum. I wanted to be able to lean into this
An unexpected benefit is that this works so well for clients I have where there is a time difference! I get clients from all over the world thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, and it allows us to communicate in a personable but flexible way.
I spoke about the magic of asynchronous communication on this podcast interview with Ruth Poundwhite.
As I mentioned I was accidentally overbooking myself and you might wonder why I would do this.
A few things were at play. Firstly, I’ve always had a very flexible process where there is a loose structure, but I don’t set dates because I found it hindered the creative process. Instead I’d keep the client in the loop along the way, giving an idea once I was into the design work when the draft would be ready to review etc but still keeping to any deadlines they had in place.
This is the hard way of doing things, and it was always a bit of a juggle to work different projects round each, but it felt right at the time. I had the extra head space to be agile with what I was working on day to day and switch between tasks.
Now I most certainly do not have that extra head space. That space is filled with toddler stuff! I can’t quickly switch between tasks and I have to give myself realistically just the one thing to work on each day, my attention span is much shorter. Just a quick note that this will probably change in the future too, but when talking about running a business during the baby and toddler years, this is definitely the case for me.
I am a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist, and so at first, even though I knew I was finding it harder to focus on multiple projects, I didn’t want to let people down. I thought that if I told people when they were booking in the process would be a bit slower, it would all be ok. It wasn’t and the work built up and it just added to the stress.
I found I didn’t want lots of projects going on all at once any more, I wanted to be able to finish a project in a smaller timeframe, with the process more clearly defined. But I did need to keep a lot of that flexibility.
I’d heard about Day Intensives/ VIP Days, where you plan beforehand, and then get all the specified work done in one day. I liked the quick sound of this, but I wanted to have the balance of it being quick…without the stress of only having one day.
And so I came up with a 2 week VIP Package. Usually with a 1 day VIP package or intensive the research and exploration will be done during the days before the intensive, and you’ll kick off with a call. I didn’t want to do calls and I wanted everything to be contained and explained inside the process.
I developed a process where during week one we chat via the voice messaging app Voxer to plan what I’ll be designing during week two. The pacing is the key for this package. There is enough space during the two weeks to check in with the client each day and work through thoughts and ideas, but as long as I haven’t got a load of other things booked in at the same time, it leaves room for life to happen.
I priced it relatively low at the beginning and each one went so well and had great feedback. I’ve increased the pricing now so that I can almost block off the last 2 weeks of each month specifically for one of these projects. There is a really well defined timeframe, so it’s great for cashflow – I’ll often be booked a few months in advance for these, and I know that what I’m charging for that is enough to pay our bills.
Then I fit a larger branding package in, one starting every other month, and work it around the design intensive. I try to plan it so the two weeks of the design intensive are less intensive weeks of the full branding package, so the part when I’ll be doing refinements rather than the full on design work.
I know it’s really important to be super organised with everything now. I use Notion as my project management software – it’s not the same as other project management tools because you can set it up however you want to. It has the balance between flexibility and rules that I seem to be craving ?
Here’s a Notion template and mini course I made that you can access for free
As well as getting really organised with Notion, I have hired out for help on things like brand strategy for my own business, my end of year accounting, and even creating a course platform.
All of this just means there’s less in my already full head and I can concentrate on what I do best. Previously I really hesitated spending money on things but I’ve now seen how much time and headspace it’s given me!
Thank you for reading all about the changes I made in my business when I had a baby. You might like to join my online community called The Tree House. It’s full of wonderful, like-minded business owners, some of which have kids. Will you join us?
Recently, my bike had a bit of a spruce-up (stick with me…). The bike itself is a sweet ‘ladies’ style one I bought when we were on a campervan holiday in France years ago.
I had still been using an old Saracen mountain bike that was a bit rubbish and really uncomfortable, and in a bid to make bike rides fun again I bought this new one. I let the old, uncomfortable one go and it felt good.
This new bike made the holiday SO MUCH MORE FUN for me. I was excited about riding again because the ‘sit up’ style of the bike and the comfier (wider ?) seat meant I wasn’t in pain after every ride.
I bought a cute basket for the front from an outdoor market and we rode to the bakery and back again for baguettes and pastries in the mornings. I was living the dream.
Fast forward to when we got home again to our rather hilly area of North Wales. My low budget bike meant that the thing is made of steel and is HEAVY. That’s no bother when you’re cycling along the flat, but it makes life a lot harder when cycling anywhere means you have to ride up hill all the way back home ?
My lovely new bike sat in the garage gathering dust. Cycling just wasn’t fun again.
Now, my Dad is really into his bikes and cycles for miles up and down dales, and in a bid to get me back on mine again, he and my husband hatched a plan to fit it with a motor and battery and turn it into an e-bike for my birthday.
What a bloody brilliant idea – they did an epic spruce-up of my bike and it certainly did the trick!
A pregnancy and a newborn baby meant it sat for a little while longer until we found a kids seat that fits over the pannier and battery at the back…but now I’m all ready to go and am EXCITED and looking forward bike rides again.
I was reflecting on this and it made me think of our businesses and how they can either serve us well and feel light and FUN, or when things are no longer serving us they can just feel like a real hard slog.
Things change over the years, and our businesses need to shift and change with us. Things should feel exciting and light and fun and if they don’t, we need to think about how we can make moves in the direction of excitement again.
I’m not talking about ‘shiny new things’ necessarily. Sometimes ‘new’ is what’s needed, and sometimes it’s just about letting go of some things, sprucing some things up, and doing more of what feels light and enjoyable.
Here are some ideas for sprucing up your biz world and for tuning into what feels light and enjoyable!
Are you on ALL the social media platforms? Are you trying to do ALL the things to market your business? This can just make you feel scattered because you’re spreading your energy too thinly. Doing a couple of things well and with great energy is so much better than trying to do everything. Which social media platforms do you enjoy? Stick with those.
Go further and think about which features inside the social media app you enjoy using. Yes it might be true that apps like Instagram ‘reward’ (for want of a better word) those that go all-in and use every feature, but what’s the ‘reward’? A bigger following? Can you stay engaged with that following or are those numbers just a vanity metric? I’m absolutely not telling you to not try each feature. Please do try them all if you want to and have the headspace to do so. But find out what works for you and let go of the rest.
Do a digital de-clutter and shut down the profiles that aren’t serving you. I’m taking my own advice and shutting my twitter account down. I don’t really get it, it doesn’t serve me, and my mind will feel less cluttered with it gone. Remove people from your following if they don’t engage with you, and unfollow anyone that doesn’t inspire you.
Sometimes brand new is necessary, but not always. It’s amazing what a little spruce up can do, you could feel renewed and excited again. Refreshing your branding is an obvious one (you know I’m here for you for that ?) but there are so many other things like making improvements to your website or refreshing the things you share or the ways you share on social media. Mix it up!
Refresh your product offering, client packages, or process. Especially when you’re delivering services you can repackage things in a slightly different way perhaps with a refreshed process too, and suddenly it might click with people who have been following you but haven’t bought from you or invested yet. This happened for me with this new offering. For products, you could refresh your packaging and make the experience of buying from you even more magical.
Repurpose past things you’ve created/written. With a few tweaks it could feel like something totally new ??. Think about new ways of delivering what you’ve already created. I recently discovered HelloAudio (affiliate link) which is a way to create private podcasts. You can create audio content, or repurpose video (they’ll do it for you, just upload the videos) and create a link that will allow your audience to subscribe and get the episodes in their own podcast app. No specialist app needed, most podcast apps work – it really is like a private podcast feed! You could provide it for free, as part of a course you’ve created, or it could be a standalone paid offering. This is something I want to take advantage of because it means people can take your content AWAY from the screen and listen to it whenever, wherever ??. Even things that need visuals can work – it takes some of the overwhelm away just consuming the content with one of your senses first. Then people can look at the video or visual elements afterwards when they feel ready alongside the audio.
If there are some things you’ve let go of, can you start something new that feels aligned with your values and the way you want to run your business? I want to encourage you to experiment. Ask yourself ‘What would happen if..? and insert your own crazy new way of doing things that might just actually work. Sometimes we have to offer our audience NEW ways of working with us, at different price points. Sometimes people have been following along and for ages and are just waiting for the right time and the right thing to invest in.
If the way you’re presenting yourself and your brand online feels particularly misaligned maybe it is time for an overhaul. A new brand identity that perfectly shows the heart and soul of your business will make you feel excited about showing up and sharing your magic again. After working with me on her branding, Katie said “I’ve adored the experience of working with Meg on my branding and I’m totally in love with the final result. The concept she came up with is so stunning and so me – I still can’t quite believe it’s mine! I can’t wait to start using it.”
Is there a new tech tool or some new hardware that’s going to make your life or your work easier and more efficient? I invested in a macbook pro earlier this year which is loads more powerful than my desktop computer (and so is quicker with many tasks) and allows me to work away from my desk. That’s invaluable to me – I need ultimate flexibility because we want to travel soon and I’ll be working on the road more. Just because something is expensive it doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to invest in. Reflect on what will make your life/work/business easier, more efficient, or more enjoyable and invest in that.
I hope this has helped you to think a little differently about your business. If you feel like you need a little clarity I can help you un-muddle things via a 1to1 session.
At the end of 2018 and start of 2019 I had a really slow season in my business. It was crickets, I had not had a new project enquiry in a couple of months and I had really started to panic.
I set my business up in 2016, but I did some full-time and part-time design agency work alongside it for a while. 2018 was my first solo year and I earned only half (about £12k) of what my full-time ’employed’ salary had been.
It all came to a head in January when I seriously considered getting a part-time job to supplement my income, or completely quitting altogether. I felt so lost and completely stressed out.
Thankfully, I didn’t quit. In hindsight we all go through slow seasons in business. Truth bomb – sometimes it’s our own fault. Sometimes it isn’t and it’s just the way the market goes, but sometimes it’s definitely our own fault. We can be our own worst enemies.
I realised that my own slow season had been my fault because I’d just been drifting along. I’d got too comfortable in the easy-ness of clients filtering through to my website via Pinterest and Instagram. I’d got lucky that my work had been popular on the two platforms and I kinda stopped working for it.
I hadn’t sent an email to my mailing list for months, and I had taken down my opt-in freebie – I can’t even remember why. Probably imposter syndrome about it not being good enough. January put things into perspective, and I realised that I love my work and owning my own business too much to quit and I just needed to find the magic again.
I needed to explore what I really want this business to become in the future and how I could start to be more intentional about the way I was working rather than just drifting along expecting the work to keep on coming to me.
Here are a few things that I worked on, and that you can do too to get the momentum going again if you find yourself in a slow period.
Most of us are really lucky to have family and friends as a support network, so do not panic. The mindset you’re in when you’re panicking is not helpful to anyone. You’re not thinking clearly or rationally and you’re likely to start looking up jobs at the local Aldi like I did. I’m sure working at Aldi is lovely, but you’ll have much less time to do the work you love. Maybe a part time job is the answer, but it doesn’t have to be the only way.
Ask for help if you need it. Paying bills is more important than your pride.
Instead of panicking, sit down and work through some numbers. How much have you got in the bank, how much do you need, what bills are due soon? Facing the numbers head on is the only way to move forward. How much do you you need to earn for the year to be comfortable?
Work backwards from that and see how much that equates to each month. How many products do you need to sell to hit that, or how many projects do you need to book in?
As a small business owner you probably have some kind of accounting software (I use freeagent* – it predicts my tax bill, my bank transactions get added automatically and I can file my self assessment return directly through it ?) or an accountant, but I find it’s good to have a separate spreadsheet somewhere on my computer where I simply track my cashflow each month – the money that is actually coming into my business bank account.
At the top I write my income goal for the year, along with a stretch income goal. I write Jan-Dec down a column on one side and add up exactly what goes into my bank account each month and write the values in the next column. I can see at a glance how far along I am to hitting my yearly goal each month.
Accounting software is fine and necessary for logging business bills and invoices and you can pull reports etc. but there’s just something different about having a super simple spreadsheet that I open often which gets me used to looking at my numbers.
Remember to work out how much tax you’ll owe on your income goal and have that value written somewhere so you can set money aside accordingly.
Because I book projects a few months in advance I ask for a deposit to book, and then ask for two payments during and at the end of the project. I have a section on my spreadsheet where I write how much each client is owing so that I can add all that up and see at a glance what is projected to come in over the next few months or for the rest of the year.
Again, all stuff my accounting software or project management software can do, but the act of typing it all in and looking at it on at least a weekly basis means I am more intimately aware of my money situation. There’s also a section with my (small) credit card debt – the act of reducing the number each time I make a payment makes me feel good.
Seeing all these various numbers together in a file I can just open quickly has majorly helped to keep me on track and stay motivated this year. If less has gone into my bank account than a previous month it’s in the forefront of my mind rather than buried somewhere in my accounting software.
I’m not saying you need to become numbers mad because there is much more to life, but do look at your numbers often. I also feel like it’s a bit of a manifestation tool, but let’s not go into detail about that in this post!
Here’s the thing. It’s a bit weird to talk about ‘owning’ people, but, you do not ‘own’ your Instagram or Facebook following. They are amazing places to build community around your brand, but if one of them goes down forever, or your account gets hacked and you lose your following, where would you be?
This is something I am still learning myself, I rely heavily on Instagram for business, but we all need to make sure we have a business and a community outside of these platforms. Your email list is important because it’s a list if people that have let you into their private inboxes.
You can export that list of emails at any time and move to a different email provider. See the difference? These people are really valuable to you, so nurture them.
During my slow season I created a new freebie download for people who signed up to my list. I made sure it was really valuable and jam packed with information and I released it to the world. I said “not today, thank you” to imposter syndrome and just did it.
I placed the ‘download my free branding guide’ button in prominent places on my website and I promoted it (and continue to promote it) on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
Social media is fun and necessary, but try and use it to drive people onto your website and email list as often as you can, rather than just being happy with a growing social following.
With an increasing email list comes the need to nurture that list. Most mailing list providers will allow you to set up a sequence of emails that get sent out automatically when people sign up at any interval you choose. Set up a sequence of emails with some valuable content that goes out automatically, and then email your list at least once a month with updates and helpful things to build that sense of community with your audience directly.
A sure-fire way to get people talking about your business and create a buzz around your brand is to provide a top-notch client or customer experience that wow’s people. It’s not just about delivering a great end product, it’s about each touchpoint with your business being professional, or beautiful, or personal – whatever suits your brand.
For me this meant making booking easier, especially for oversees clients where it’s not as easy to just bank transfer money, and thinking about how I could better explain the process to clients in the beginning. I set up a template web page with all the information they would need for their project once they’ve booked in.
Now I duplicate the template page, change names and timeline dates etc, and send the link off to them. They feel that they have a personalised, dedicated space where all their project info lives and I also add all the work I do to the page so that it’s always in the same place and no one has to go hunting through emails to find things.
I did some research and got my brand discovery questionnaire up to date so that I’m asking the right questions at the beginning of projects – this means I can deliver thoughtful and well considered design work that hits the mark more often than not on the first concept.
If in doubt, research, refine, and improve. None of the changes I made to my client process cost any money – just my time and effort which I had plenty of during my last slow season ?
Got projects you’ve done but not blogged about yet? Get those case studies up on your website and promote them like crazy. Research what other people in your industry are blogging about, don’t copy, but it should at least give you some ideas of what you could blog about yourself.
New blog posts means there is new content on your website which Google likes. I am no SEO expert, but what I do know is that the Internet likes websites that are kept fresh with interesting new things to read. Don’t let your site get stagnant, even rewriting your homepage or services page is helpful.
Repurpose content you’ve sent out to your email list into blog posts. Repurpose instagram posts on the same subject into a blog post. Whatever you can do to get more content on your website, do it. Promote. That. Content.
Think about spending a little bit of money on a website audit if you need help. It doesn’t have to be expensive and sometimes you just need a helping hand. You can get pointers on what to improve with the user journey and the flow of the site. There is a lot of information out there on the Internet about SEO, do some research and try to improve things yourself, or speak to an SEO expert.
All these things that I worked on helped to build my confidence back up. I gathered momentum and soon I was receiving lovely replies to my newsletters, people were enquiring about working with me again, and I managed to book projects in for the remainder of 2019.
Remember that nothing changes if nothing changes. Do the work, try something new, and stay positive.
This post is written by guest contributor Sophie Livingston. Sophie is a website copywriter working with freelancers and small business owners who want to attract clients they’ll love working with.
If you’re delivering a service through your business, like coaching, photography, virtual assistance or design, for example, you are a big part of what your clients are buying when they invest in that service.
They don’t just want the service you’re selling, they want the way it will make them feel. And how they feel will depend on how you’re shaping the experience you provide.
Your words can have a big impact on that experience. How you talk in and about your business influences the conversations you’re having with people. Both your words and your visuals give you an opportunity to connect.
If you let your personality shine through in your marketing, you’ll connect with the right clients who’re going to truly benefit from working with you.
And finding the right clients is a big deal, right? One of the best things about being independent is getting to choose who you work with and what you work on.
When you put in time and effort to develop a consistent and unique brand, you’ll attract the right clients and projects naturally. You’ll get enquiries from people who want to work with you above anyone else because they’ve come to know, like and trust who you are.
With that in mind, here are my top three tips on how to write with personality in your business.
The visuals we use online play a big part in how people perceive us, and it’s no different when it comes to the words we use.
In the same way that a logo can be recognisable and invoke emotion, the words you use can help you build relationships and trigger actions.
But a brand is about so much more than just a pretty logo or a strong tagline.
Your brand is made up of all the impressions your clients and contacts have of you. It’s your reputation. It’s how people would describe you when you’re not in the room.
And, as you’re building your brand, you have the opportunity to shape those impressions. With a strong sense of what you want your brand personality to be, you can develop visuals and a voice that influences the way people see you.
To define your brand personality, start by asking yourself the following questions.
Q. What feedback have you had from people you’ve worked with? Why do they enjoy working with you? What do they say about you?
Q. What do your ideal clients need you to be? If they were to describe the kind of person they’d love working with, what would they say?
Q. Think of someone in your field or community who you look up to and admire. What is it about their personality that you enjoy or can relate to?
Q. Now think of those you might consider competitors. What makes you different from them? How would you describe their personality and how is yours different?
Q. And finally, which aspects of your personality do you want to see reflected in your brand?
After you’ve answered those questions, you should have a clearer idea of what makes up your personality and which of those traits you’d like to inject into your brand.
To keep you focused, you might find it helpful to create a list of three to five words that sum up your brand personality.
Is your brand personality bold, fiery, calm, direct, charming, formal, cheerful, playful, witty, reflective, friendly, supportive, inspiring or energetic, for example?
Defining your brand personality in this way doesn’t need to be about setting parameters, but it can help you find direction and be more consistent.
Write these words down and stick them up next to your desk so you can keep them in mind when you’re writing content.
One of the golden rules in copywriting is to write like you talk.
And writing like you talk is the easiest way to stay consistent.
A consistent tone of voice helps build credibility and trust. It does this because it feels familiar and unique. When your tone of voice is recognisable across all the different touchpoints in your business, it creates a seamless, personal experience for everyone you’re interacting with.
There is no one way to talk about a business or to communicate with an online audience. In your business, in your brand, there is only you and the way you talk.
Imagine how you’d feel if you decided to work with someone because, online, they come across as bold, fiery and opinionated, but when you meet them in person, they’re quiet, agreeable and reserved. Or vice versa.
We’d feel cheated, wouldn’t we? Like we’d been lied to or tricked into something.
Marketing isn’t about tricking people into doing business with us. It’s about understanding people and connecting with them.
After you write something in or about your business, read it back to yourself out loud. Does it sound like you? Does it feel natural? Would you feel comfortable saying the same thing to someone face-to-face?
Imagining that you’re writing to (or talking to) one person is a useful trick. If you’ve developed a good idea of who your ideal client is, it can help to give them a name and write directly to them when you’re drafting content.
It might be a made-up name that suits the persona you’ve created, or it might be a real-life person from your community who embodies all the traits you hope to find in the people you’re working with.
Write “Dear [name]” at the top of your content draft and write like it’s a message or email that’s going directly to them.
The copy or content you write for your business doesn’t need to appeal to everyone. In fact, if you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll be doing more harm than good.
It can feel scary, at first, to be so relaxed in your writing when you’ve probably been taught to always be “professional”. Being professional means delivering on what you promise. It doesn’t mean being formal or boring or writing like a robot.
Writing like you talk will help you feel so much clearer about who you are in your business and who you’re here to help. And it’ll help you attract like-minded people who want to work with you because they like who you are.
One of the things I admire most about Meg (the brand stylist behind this blog), is how authentic she is in the content she creates and the stories she shares.
In her blog post on the importance of being visible in your business, Meg says “What I love about the internet and social media is that it allows us to be seen just as we are. Real people telling real stories. You write the script, you set the scene, you can be inspirational just by being your very own self. People buy from people, and when you are visible and you share yourself and your story, people get to know you. They root for you, they want you to succeed.”
When you think about the people you enjoy following online, I’m sure you feel a connection to them. You probably feel like you know them even though you’ve never met them in person before.
As humans who spend a lot of our time online, we’re seeking those genuine connections. We want to feel seen and understood, and when we hear from other people who are sharing openly, it helps us feel a little less alone in the world.
Being authentic doesn’t have to mean baring your soul. You can share honestly about your working life without talking about the things that feel private and sacred to you, like your health or family life, for example. Or perhaps you’re someone who feels comfortable sharing some aspects of your personal life, but you draw the line at talking about the struggles you’re facing in your business.
Whatever feels right for you, it’s important to have boundaries and keep some things back. You don’t need to tell the whole story for the online version of yourself to be authentic.
Remember that the content you’re sharing is part of the experience you’re providing to your clients or future clients. You’re not sharing because you want the whole world to know everything about you, you’re here to help a small, select group of people overcome a problem they’re facing.
To help you find the right balance, consider what your ideal clients will find helpful or relatable. That’s who you’re here for, after all, and I know you want to show up in the best way you can for those people.
Q. What experiences have you gone through that your ideal clients might be able to relate to?
Q. What lessons have you learnt, in life or in business, that can help your audience with the challenges they’re facing?
Q. What do you wish you’d known 3, 6 or 12 months ago that could be useful for someone who’s a few steps behind you?
Q. Why have you made [X] decision? What’s guiding you? What do you believe in relation to this that’s given you the confidence to move forward?
Q. What fears have you had in the past that seem silly now? Or what’s something you’ve done recently that you wish you’d done a lot sooner?
After you’ve answered these questions, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of ideas for stories you can share with your community.
Keep a notebook close by or use an app on your phone to develop these ideas and add new thoughts as they come up.
Take inspiration from the real-life conversations you’re having with friends and clients, and remember to write these stories as if you’re talking to that one person who comes to mind when you think about who your ideal client is.
You are a big part of what your clients are buying when they invest in your service – let your personality shine through in your marketing and you’ll attract clients who value you.
A brand is about so much more than just a pretty logo or a strong tagline. Your brand is made up of all the impressions your clients and contacts have of you. It’s your reputation. It’s how people would describe you when you’re not in the room.
There is no one way to talk about a business or to communicate with an online audience. In your business, in your brand, there is only you and the way you talk.
People buy from people, and when you are visible and you share yourself and your story, people get to know you. They root for you, they want you to succeed.
The content you’re sharing is part of the experience you’re providing to your clients or future clients. You’re not sharing because you want the whole world to know everything about you, you’re here to help a small, select group of people overcome a problem they’re facing.
This blog post was written by Sophie Livingston. Sophie is a website copywriter working with freelancers and small business owners who are ready to start attracting their dream clients. Find out more about her website copywriting service, or join her community of determined creatives on Instagram.