I NEVER KNEW that branding my copywriting business would (pardon the melodrama here) → alter my life, forever.
I never knew that living my brand would impact …
- the people I attract (and repel)
- the decisions I make daily (cotton or polyester?)
- the cereal I eat (Cinnamon Toast Crunch – don’t judge)
- the shoes I wear (umm … def Vans high-top checkerboard sneakers)
- the experiences I introduce to my kids (puzzles and puppet shows)
- the animated GIFS I share (anything with Will Ferrell or Oompa Loompas)
Even the way I style my hair:
I NEVER KNEW that dressing up like a teddy bear, punk rocker, eccentric chef, mad hatter and corner-office executive (you’ll meet the entire gang in a few…) would help me:
- DOUBLE my rates in less than 6 months (I know, kind of obnoxious to boast within the first 100 words of this expose … but it’s true. I now have a 3-month wait list for the first time evah).
- LAND invites to run a copywriting workshop for James Wedmore and invites to speak on 1,500+ person stages like at WeddingMBA.
- ATTRACT swoon-worthy clients who feel like besties before we even jump on a call, because they get me and like what they see.
- MOVE from the country (hello, wildlife) to the city (hello, wild people).
- SHAVE part of my head and dare to go platinum blond, because heavy metals are always in.
So I ask you: What opportunities are you missing because you haven’t worked on your brand as a freelance copywriter?
Meet the gang of characters that hang out in my head, closet and business…
I NEVER KNEW the power of B-R-A-N-D-I-N-G
UNTIL I invited it home for tea, cookies and a much-needed conversation.
Naturally, my most skeptical inner character (let’s call her K-Dawg The Critic) warned me in an obnoxious know-it-all tone that…
“Branding won’t make a difference in a copywriter’s business. Words rule and everything else is for fools.”
“Branding is a waste of your hard-earned money—money you may never EVER get back.”
“Branding is only for self-obsessed entrepreneurs who love photoshoots, selfie sticks, and spending time on something as frivolous as marshmallow fluff.”
(K-Dawg can be a li’l harsh, right?)
So maybe your inner critic is wondering…
“Isn’t branding JUST A LOGO paired with a COLOR PALETTE and maybe even a handful of INSPIRATIONAL PHRASES like ‘be bold,’ ‘embrace your quirky’ and ‘go glam’?”
If only it were THAT simple—we’d all be branding gurus featured on behind-the-scenes Netflix documentaries and making a gajillion dollars.
But branding is NOT that simple.
Very few of us are legit branding “experts.”
And for the record…
I am NOT a branding “expert” (nor do I pretend to be). I am a copywriter.
So my musings are purely a reflection of my own experience, intertwined with sage advice from my own Brand Strategist and Creative Director, Sarah Ancalmo (you’ll meet her in a minute) and the good, bad and noteworthy brands I’ve seen emerge (and plateau) online.
Your brand isn’t a hidden treasure chest, buried deep within the sea.
Your brand already exists.
It’s leaving, breathing, expanding daily.
And its luminescence surrounds you like the sea fireflies found in the shallows in Okayama, Japan. Yeah, just like that.
Blue diamonds in constant motion.
Imagine your brand is a creature in the wild.
Stop trying to tame it, cage it, or kill it by defining it in a few sentences or key phrases.
Instead you could observe, question, curate, shape, and maybe even invite it to play Cards Against Humanity until the two of you become besties and totally inseparable.
And once you “get it” and feel a subconscious connection to your brand, you’ll never have to wonder…
- Who am I? And how am I showing up online and offline?
- What parts of myself should I share / not share? What’s too much or not enough?
- How do I turn my personality, beliefs, methodologies, quirks, and experiences into a one-of-a-kind brand?
You’ll never have to wonder—because you’ll just know.
And you’ll finally own your weird.
How much is too much?
Maybe you’ve struggled to…
- Find the fine line between professionalism and personality.
- Discover the right balance of being 100% you without scaring people off.
- Stop hiding behind your words and finally show up online and offline.
You can brand your business and your body (why not throw a tat in, too?) starting now.
But first, let’s start with the branding basics…
>> Download this free guide to learn how to take steps (baby-size, kid-size or adult-size) to stand out online and offline. <<
So, what the hell is branding?
Real branding doesn’t need to be described, because you can touch it, feel it, and connect with it in an emotive way…
But for all of you who dig definitions, I asked one of my favorite branding consultants (and one of the most creative people I know), Sarah Ancalmo, for help.
Sarah’s worked with everything from high-end luxury brands like Esteé Lauder and Mercedes Benz to NASCAR and Taco Bell (…raises hand— although I’d personally consider myself more “Saved by the Bell than “Taco Bell”).
The coolest part? Sarah’s worked with celebrities like Madonna + Jimmy Fallon, along with mid-tier fashion and lifestyle brands, small business owners, and entrepreneurs.
So you can see why I asked Sarah to interpret this nebulous thing we call anding-bray (← Pig Latin).
Side note: Interjecting Pig Latin into my writing (as often as possible) is part of my quote-unquote playful personal brand.
Anyway, here’s what Sarah had to say…
“I like to think of branding as a process vs. a thing…”
“It’s the process of determining what exactly it is about you, your business, and the value you provide that makes you MEMORABLE and INFLUENTIAL to your audience and potential customers…
It uncovers WHY your people should buy from you instead of your competitors.
And when you exclusively exist online, branding is critical to the growth of your business…
Because not only is that the ONLY way that potential customers will find you—but it’s also the only way that you can really stand out from all those others out there that do-that-same-thing-you-do.
So it’s not just critical to the success of your business—it’s also critical to your wallet.”
-Sarah Ancalmo, Founder & Brand Strategist/ Creative Director, Public Persona
If branding isn’t just about the logo,
what does it look & sound like?
Your brand will manifest itself in an infinite number of ways.
It could be the way you…
- Curate your social feeds (what do you dare to share and rush to hush on Instagram?)
- Style your “look” for a client meeting, conference or speaking gig.
- Speak to a client, new friend, old friend or even your mama on the phone.
- Design your onboarding emails and experience for your new clients.
- Swagger onto a stage and deliver a 45-minute keynote.
For me, my brand is a multidimensional window into who I am as a copywriter, business owner and human being.
- It’s the best of me.
- It’s the weird inside me.
- It’s my purpose, my manifesto, my resume.
- It’s what I strive to be—especially on days when I feel lost.
- And while, yes, it’s a big chunk of me …
IT’S NOT ALL OF ME.
Because your brand can never be ALL of you.
You are a complex professional … and person.
You’ve got unsolved mysteries, a dark side (…THAT’s what makes you interesting IMHO), and a collection of contradictions within you…
Contradictions that even the most insightful psychologist couldn’t possibly uncoil.
And that’s okay. It’s more than okay, actually.
Because you don’t need to reveal every single vulnerability, sob story, and weakness with the world.
Actually, please don’t.
A lil’ vulnerability = we likey.
A lot = no thanks.
The darkness before the brand
It took poppin’ out two babies (not at the same time), leaving my favorite city, moving to the wrong town (whoops), leaving a job and starting a new business – combined with mild postpartum depression – to ask a few BIG questions:
- Who do I want to be as a writer?
- Who do I want to be as a businesswoman?
- Who do I want to be as a wife, mother, friend?
- What do I stand for, care about, believe in?
- What makes me ME?
You may not need to birth a child (or two), deal with an identity crisis, or fall into a depressive state in order to start your branding process.
You may simply dig branding, grasp the economic upside, and see the ROI and brilliance behind it all.
Good on you, smarty pants.
Regardless of your motive, if you aren’t afraid to…
- examine yourself under a microscope,
- ask uncomfortable questions,
- practice the ancient art of patience (and play)
- and search relentlessly for answers,
you’ll find what you’re looking for (and so much more).
Reminder: Download my free guide to learn how to take steps (baby-size, kid-size or adult-size) to stand out online and offline.
Why the teddy bear & crew of colorful characters?
So how did I end up with multiple personalities on my website (kirahug.com)?
While yes, I probably have 100+ characters within me (we’re multifaceted, remember?)…
I intentionally selected the characters that show up most often in my copywriting work to rise to the surface. And be seen.
Go ahead and say hello! to a few of them…
My inner ambitious executive focuses on the numbers, strategy, and scaling my business. If I let her take over by accident, she can push too hard and take all the fun and energy out of my business.
My inner eccentric creative experiments in the kitchen with words, research, design, and UX. She’s doesn’t like to follow any recipe and prefers to go with her gut. This can result in incredible meals or in disastrous dinners.
My inner contrarian hates being told what to do and refuses to follow rules. Luckily, my punk skips town on the regular and gives me a chance to people-please. But when this character is back in town and feisty as hell, she’s full of surprises and teenage angst. You never know what will happen next.
My inner teddy is warm, loving and charismatic. She makes people feel terrific after a conversation. She dishes out hugs, high fives & hell yeahs! often. AND she provides excellent customer service. I need this bear’s warm and fuzzy vibes, especially on days when I want to punch people in the face.
THE MAD HATTER:
My inner mad hatter juggles the various hats I need to rock in order to keep the virtual “lights” on. Believe me, there are hats I would rather not touch. But I need all of the hats and my mad hatter skillz to ensure project deliverables and deadlines never slip.
What about you?
What characters show up when you’re…
… interacting with clients?
… hanging out with your BFFs?
… alone and untethered for a day?
… sitting around the dinner table with your family?
… under pressure a la David Bowie um ba ba be?
… excited about an idea?
Start collecting your characters.
Write them down in your journal and note…
- Which characters surface the most often?
- Which characters do you want to chill with on a Saturday night?
- Which characters do you want to drink with at the club?
- Which characters are integral to your success?
- Which characters drive you mad?
Asking yourself these questions will help you sort through your own closet of characters so you can zero in on the personalities you may want to embrace in your brand.
‘The Character Effect’
Even though I only launched my new brand a few months ago, I’ve already felt the impact of the work in my wallet and in my gut.
At times, I’ve questioned it.
I’ve even asked myself, “Was this opportunity a direct result of my new brand OR would it have presented itself regardless?”
In some cases, I’ll never know for sure.
In other cases, I know clients and creative collaborators are only reaching out to me, because they felt a connection to me through my brand.
I know, because they’ve told me.
And sure, like I said earlier, my new brand has given me the boost and confidence I needed to raise my rates over and over again and finally stop charging X amount just because everyone else is doing it.
But I’ve also felt ‘The Character Effect’ in other ways…
- One prospective client asked me on our first call, “Are you as awesome as you appear on your website?” ← The answer: sometimes.
- In the last 2 months, I’ve landed 5 speaking invites to run online and offline workshops (for tech education companies like Femgineer.com), present on panels (like on Unbounce’s #CROday), present on the big stage at 3,500+ person events (like at WeddingMBA in Vegas), and more.
- I feel 100% confident sending potential clients, colleagues, and new friends to my website. 99% of the time they are impressed and eager to engage. So I don’t have to sell myself as often as in the past.
- People take me seriously—even though my brand is the exact opposite. Isn’t it ironic?
- I no longer attract those pesky “price shoppers” who like to collect quotes from dozens upon dozens of copywriters before committing to one person.
- I do attract clients who only want to work with me—even though we’ve never even chatted. Again, the brand sold them before I even had to open my mouth.
I am not my brand.
At the end of the day, I am not my brand.
I don’t typically walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood with a bear costume, balloons, and confetti trailing behind.
But on odd days, my brand (and the balloons) can help save me from myself.
I use the brand guidelines my brand strategist and Creative Director, Sarah (remember her?), and I crafted together to prevent me from straying too far off brand.
Because there are days when…
- I want to wear the same gnarly sweater and ripped jeans for 5 days in a row, because dressing up takes too much time and energy.
- I want to hide under my blankets and get lost in never-ending episodes of Harry Potter, because being a business owner (and Life) is freakin’ hard.
- I want to sit my kids in front of their favorite dinosaur movie, because mama is on a deadline, stressed, and not feeling like her playful self.
But when I embrace my brand (and put in a li’l effort)…
- I swap the gramma sweater for a dress and lipstick worthy of my inner-fashionista.
- I feel energized by my goals and vision and I show up to do the work instead of hiding under my duvet cover.
- I introduce my kids to my favorite imaginative games from my childhood instead of being a lame-o workaholic mama.
So not only can you benefit financially from building your brand, but you can also LIVE A RICHER, MORE SELF-AWARE, AND CONNECTED LIFE.
And remember, our brands evolve as we evolve.
We ARE in fact just like the glow-in-the-dark sea fireflies, in constant motion.
While brand guidelines and pinterest boards are powerful, don’t constrain yourself to any one thing.
Allow your brand to expand as you expand, just like Madonna.
Strike a pose. This is your show.
Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta copywriter.
Say hey hey to three copywriters who have successfully branded their businesses and experienced the impact firsthand…
Meet Lacy Boggs.
After Lacy branded in 2015 (in collaboration with Sarah)…
- Lacy’s gross profit for 2015 nearly doubled what she earned in 2014.
- Lacy’s email list grew 192% in 2015 after nearly stagnating in 2014.
- Lacy’s traffic jumped more than 1500% (yup) overnight. (That was the bump from the launch. It didn’t stay there, but it did stay much higher.)
- Lacy’s average traffic per day jumped 50% over 2014.
And for less numbers-oriented wins, Lacy also signed up 3 new VIP ghostblogging clients and 4 new clients for her subcontractors.
Oh yeah—Lacy also went from selling dozens to hundreds of spots in her courses. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Meet Lianna Patch,
Founder of Punchline Conversion Copywriting
Actually, you’re not meeting Lianna Patch. You met her the other day, when she published this amazing piece on niching for freelance copywriters right here on Copy Hackers.
As you know, Lianna’s found her niche: she writes funny shit. And that’s, naturally, a huge part of her brand now. In fact, she even gives out little rubber chickens with every business card she hands out.
And when she did sketchnotes for ConversionXL Live last spring, she branded each one with the rubber chicken before sharing it out. So when her sketchnotes got shared on the ConversionXL blog, her brand was clearly associated with each:
How’s that for branding? Put in terms of benefits: how’s that for a lasting impression?
Here’s an example of the feedback Lianna receives regularly from new fans and community members…
Not a bad position to be in, right? Who doesn’t wanna hear “you’re fun to read”?
Lianna also reports an uptick in the number of clients who approach her looking for personality-driven work, like scripts for animated videos and funky, friendly home page copy.
Meet Hillary Weiss,
Copywriter and Ghostwriter at HillaryWeiss.com
Hillary’s brand (in her words):
“TOTALLY transformed my business, yo. Utterly and completely.”
Here are a few highlights:
- Hillary had just switched to almost exclusively retainer-style contracts— and was booked up by relaunch—but the rebrand brought a surge of new prospects into her inbox that continues to this day.
- Hillary was able to crawl out of the niche she’d found herself stuck in and branch out into a range of different industries, from agencies to tech startups.
- Hillary’s been able to hit 5-figures per month with relative consistency.
- Hillary’s been approached by different publications to write for them (which, in turn, has gotten her featured on Business Insider, The New York Observer, The Next Web, and more).
- Hillary’s also now a teacher for 2 of her clients, and will be doing hot seat Q&A’s once a month.
- All around it just helped Hillary feel more confident writing, directing people to her site, and more. SUCH a worthy investment that’s paid for itself 10fold.
Hillary’s website also now (finally) feels, sounds, and looks like her.
What does Hillary value most?
“I enjoy the fact there’s no disconnect between the style of my site and who I really, honestly am. That way everyone knows what to expect when they’re approaching me – and can self-select out of they’re not jivin’ with what I’m about!”
When in doubt, beta test your brand…
After dipping my toe in the copywriting pond 3 years ago, I quickly realized that…
1) I like this,
2) I’m good at this and
3) I need a website, pronto.
At the time, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, who I was serving, or what I wanted out of my business…
And I couldn’t afford to work with a pro branding expert like Sarah.
Side note: If you CAN afford the investment—which could be anywhere between $2K to $10K—you’ll benefit from building a clear & creative business and brand strategy upfront…
…so you aren’t left wandering in the dark, all alone, for years upon years asking the stars above, Who am I?
If you can’t invest in your brand (yet), you can always beta test it to discover what works, what doesn’t work, and what you build upon.
I’ve always loved playing dress up
So naturally, I pulled together a pirate costume I had on hand from my wedding in 2011 (yes, our wedding guests dressed up in pirate gear on our wedding day—shiver me timbers!).
My partner, Ezra, snapped a handful of playful pirate images in our wooded backyard. And voila! I had my website imagery and was one step closer to building my own quirky brand.
The pirate attracted my type of people to my world and repelled others. It was the catalyst that allowed me to think about my brand in a new way.
Even though the pirate is now retired, living a luxurious life on a ship on the Indian Sea, the pirate gave me my start.
What brand can you beta test on a budget in your business? A trifecta of branding tips for the (reluctant) copywriter
If you’re hiding behind your work (and your words) and feel invisible at times, it’s time to own your weird.
And I’m telling you from personal experience, you’ll feel free as a birdy for the first time in years.
So maybe you’re wondering, “How (the hell) do I stand out as a copywriter when ‘The Market’ resembles a Walmart on Black Friday?”
Download our gratis guide to learn how to take steps (baby-size, kid-size or adult-size) to stand out online and offline.
And because I love costumes, characters and play, I’m curious: which characters live within your business, home and head?
Credits: Direction + Styling – Sarah Ancalmo | Photography – Monica True