If you’re a solopreneur, you know building a brand isn’t for the faint of heart. Sure, anyone can buy a website template, start an Instagram account, attend a few workshops to build content, and curate their feed to look successful to your everyday person. But creating an authentic brand that is a true expression of the heart you have for your business can be hard work.
When I began rebranding my wedding photography business in 2017, I bought a template from a talented web designer and thought I could do it all on my own. However, the deeper I got into the process, the more I realized it was a far bigger project than expected.
Trying to land on an authentic and professional brand launched me into what felt like an identity crisis.
Even though I had been shooting full-time since 2011, I had never created a brand I was truly proud of. Rather than just designing a simple and pretty website, I began to explore my core beliefs as a person and how I wanted them to be translated into my work as a wedding photographer. This process propelled me into deep waters with questions like:
Who am I? Who is my ideal client? Why do I do this work? What do I want to be known for? What sets me apart from other photographers of my caliber and experience level? What makes me worth my price? Am I worth my price? What if I create a brand that I fully believe in but that no one else does?
I quickly realized these questions (plus time and money) and a ton of fear were the very things that had prevented me from pushing my brand forward until this point. My nagging perfectionism wasn’t helping either.
During these early stages of building, a brand identity comparison began to set in as well. As I searched for inspiration, I couldn’t help but look at what other successful photographers were doing and not be tempted to recreate what they had done. I wondered what made these businesses unique and caused them to have widespread success and influence.
While I was in the middle of this process, I attended a business conference in Redding, California, where author and speaker Andy Mason talked about the difference between having an orphan mindset and living from a place of belonging.
When we’re not at our best, Mason said this orphan mindset can occur on a subconscious level and cause us to believe things like:
- I’m alone in this world.
- I have to… it’s all on me.
- It’s not safe to ask for help or expose my needs/weaknesses.
- There are only so many opportunities and resources to go around.
- I have to take what I can get.
Rather than getting stuck in these thoughts and letting them stay in the driver’s seat of our mind, there is a greater identity transformation available which takes us from:
- Living for connection to living from connection
- Earning and performing to receiving
- Protecting to trusting
- Comparing to celebrating others
This called to mind another concept from entrepreneur Jerrod Blandino, who said, “No one needs to fail for me to succeed.” A belonging mindset believes there is an abundance of work to go around, enough space at the table for everyone, and that I can cheer for others in the industry just as I celebrate my own success.
When we step out of an orphan scarcity mindset and into a belief system that says, “There is more than enough,” we experience a greater sense of freedom and are released to live into the fullness of who we are created to be.
Mason also shared a study from the Harvard Business Journal that highlighted the top five fears of CEOs. The study found the number one fear was being seen as incompetent or having imposter syndrome: the fear of being “found out” that I don’t actually have the skills to be successful and therefore am a fraud. The other top fears were underachieving, appearing overly vulnerable, being politically attacked by colleagues, and appearing foolish.
(Side note and plug for my friend Courtney Wolf with Invision Events: I’d highly recommend that you read her article about maintaining a positive mindset. She does a brilliant job of naming the importance of understanding your worth and how it translates into your business.)
This was the moment that changed everything for me as a business owner.
First, I realized even the most successful business owners battle some of the same fears I do. Second, I came to the understanding that I don’t have to change who I am out of fear of rejection. My perspective radically shifted. Building an authentic brand isn’t about me, the entrepreneur. Instead, it is the art of discovering my heart for this work and how it will meet the needs of my clients. This was the turning point I needed to move full steam ahead in my business.
If I were to create a brand that was simply a compilation of all of my colleagues and one that said nothing about me, I would be doing a disservice to the clients I want so badly to serve. After all, the goal of authentic branding is to provide clear messaging that communicates why anyone should be excited to work with you — not a version of you that simply emulates everyone else. The more authentic your brand is, the more transparent your messaging will be. This is arguably the thing that will set you apart and ultimately attract your ideal client.
As you pivot your brand moving forward, here are a few practical points I learned along my journey:
- You don’t always have to be your brand, but your brand always has to be you. For example, I love posting photos of our travels to France because I want people to know that’s something my wife and I love to do. It’s not being inauthentic just because I’m not there in that moment each time I post a photo, but it’s important to make sure it truly represents me in some way and that I’m proud to make it a part of my brand.
- Never compromise who you are for the sake of looking like someone else. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it.” But what if you’re actually faking a brand or business that doesn’t accurately represent you or what you’re passionate about? What happens if you actually do make it? You may find this lifestyle can be impossible to sustain overtime. I’ve met dozens of wedding photographers who never actually enjoyed shooting weddings. If you do anything for the sole reason of hoping to make good money, you run the risk of your clients not experiencing you as they expected or hoped because your heart isn’t in it, and you may quickly burn out trying to keep up with a brand that doesn’t actually represent the work you enjoy.
- Though it may be tempting to recreate what others have done, pave your own path. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We all know getting inspiration from others is beneficial and important. However, future-you will be grateful when you discover what makes you unique and how those one or two aspects of your business are the things that propel you into a new area of influence.
- Step away from working in your business. And rather than working on your business, start working on you. Begin to ask yourself the questions you’re afraid to ask. Entertain the conversations you keep avoiding in your head and pay close attention to what comes up in you. Most often, it will reveal the thoughts and feelings that are deep inside of you and can point to what needs to shift.
- Once you do this deep dive on what makes you come alive, turn to the people you can trust for feedback. Maybe it’s your partner, a close friend, or a family member who knows you well, but make sure it’s also someone who will give you an honest response. This will not only help you discover if your brand is a reflection of authentic you, but the outside perspective can also give insight into how potential clients will perceive your brand.
I’ve received such positive feedback from couples and vendors after doing these things and am so glad I pushed through the challenges to discover my unique voice. This journey taught me to recognize the importance of being consistent and remaining true to who I am. If you follow these same steps, you’ll build a brand that’s not only an extension of you, but also a true expression of the heart you have for your business.