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How to run your business like a magazine

In the spirit of our new course, Run Your Business Like a Magazine, I thought I’d lay out 10 observations on how great magazines (paper and digital) get it right, & how you can apply these insights to your own business brand.

How to run your business brand like a magazine — a primer:

  1. Be bold. Notice the trends (or patterns or fresh insights) coming down the pipeline in your industry. Precipitate them. Name them. Show them off. Leverage them. Invite your Right People to try them in the context of what your business does.
  2. Realize that you can’t do it all alone. You may need (you will need, if you scale your business past teeny-tiny) to hire an assistant, a VA, staff, subcontractors, or an intern or two. This is good. This is growth. This is collaboration.
  3. Be true to your vision but make room for other people’s gifts and strengths. In truth, The Voice Bureau probably still wouldn’t be operating today were it not for Katie Mehas. I’m not saying this as mere flattery. Katie came into the business in 2012 and since then, has been like the master.
  4. Get a plan for success. Work the plan. If the plan doesn’t work, get a new plan. Planful endeavors are successful endeavors. Don’t be afraid to reinvent, but do it incrementally.
  5. Get a signature Thing. Be known for something. Be an original. In our business, it’s our Voice Values paradigm for branding.
  6. Know what makes you different. Get clear on what sets you apart from others in your industry and niche. There’s a reason your Right People select your ‘issue’ from the ‘newsstand’ [sorry, couldn’t resist].
  7. Know your reader. Magazines are a great example of a Right Person-focused business. They have to be, because every issue, and every page of every issue, matters. Home in on what piques your Right Person’s interest, and beyond that, understand why it does.
  8. Be about something. Meaning: have a keen focus. You can be a lifestyle magazine or a special interest magazine, but either way, own your subject matter, your take, your strong stance, your point of view. No matter which path you choose — generalist with a POV or specialist — own it.
  9. Have fun. Every magazine has its own sense of zeal, of play, of wonderment, of fascination, of obsession. Whether you’re reading KinfolkScience Magazine, or Elle Decor, you probably read it because their take on their topic lights YOU up in some way. They couldn’t do that to you without their being lit up first.
  10. Embrace your preferred medium while being mindful of multimedia. As major magazines learned in the mid-aughts, when the world changes, you have to change with it. With the ubiquity of social media, no brand can afford to be missing from the online conversation. Find a reason to be there and get on it.

Today’s brands exist on the web through content, and content is the currency of any magazine — paper or digital.

In our new 4-week course, newly minted Creative Director Katie Mehas (yeah, we’re going to announce that officially very soon!) is leading participants through the ins and outs of creating a compelling content strategy that’s both intuitive AND planful. Learn to meld your personal interests and passions in the context of what you do with the needs and curiosities of your Right People. Make a plan, work your plan, and love it, too.


In the comments, we’d love to hear:

What’s your favorite of these lessons from the world of magazines? 


How to describe your brand's desired vibe

When I listen to a client’s brand, even before we’ve put words on the page for it or before there’s a website I can look at, I’m listening for two things: voice and vibe.

Though similar in nature and certainly intertwined, they’re not exactly the same things.

I describe vibe as the energy of the abstract qualities that come through a brand in its suite of signals. Vibe shows up in the design choices: color, typography, graphic style, layout. Vibe comes through the content. Vibe is felt in a business’s relationship with its customers, its readers, its supporters.

But describing your own brand’s vibe, or desired vibe, can be slippery. If you have an existing brand, there might be a gap between what the vibe you want and the vibe you’ve got.

You might have told a designer, “I want edgy, feminine, bohemian, and sacred,” and you might have gotten something else back — something that looked to you like ‘trendy, girly, and witchy.’ A different vibe. You might have sent a designer a pinboard full of colors, textures, and images, but what you got back wasn’t the composition you had in your mind’s eye. Therefore, the vibe was off.

Here are 3 exercises you can do to describe your existing brand’s vibe, or to describe your desired brand vibe if you’re in line for a redesign:

1. Focus on Colors. Where do the colors you love come from, in nature, history, design, art, or fashion? Are they linked to an era, like these Art Nouveau-era colors, or this Midcentury Modern palette? Are they inspired by fashion? Maybe built around a hex code resembling Chanel’s cult-classic nail polish Vamp? Did you derive your colors from a photo you took at a favorite spot outdoors, like, say, Washington State’s Cape Flattery? And what do your color choices SAY about what matters to you and your brand?

2. Filter Your Copy. Reread the most important pages of your site. Read your home page, about page, and service/sales page. Read them sentence by sentence and keep a pad of paper next to you as you read. As you read, write down the ONE most important word in each sentence — according to YOU. When you’re done, review your (long) list. Look for patterns in the words. Are there themes and motifs emerging? Are you noticing something about your brand or business you’ve never seen before in quite the same way?

3. Find Your Right People. Think of your 5 favorite clients so far. Write their names down. For each client, think of 5 words to describe them and write those down. Look for patterns in your list of 25. Any recurring words? Synonyms (different words that mean the same thing)? Really interesting juxtapositions that give your brand texture?

It’s a quick trip from vibe to themes and from themes to content. There’s a bit of a hop, skip, and a jump in there, but we know how to get you from Point A to Point B. Inside our new online course, Run Your Business Like a Magazine, we’ll unpack the magic of getting from vibe to voice on the page — in the form of a content strategy you can be proud of that meets your Right Person’s needs and inspires you to keep creating and publishing.

All the details on Run Your Business Like a Magazine are right here.


In the comments, we’d love to hear you:

Describe your own brand’s vibe, or desired vibe. We’d love to hear the words you’d choose, especially if you’ve done one or more of the exercises described here!


photo of a fern sitting on a worn wooden table in front of a blue armchair

What do you do for content when absolutely nothing seems worth writing about?

First of all, know that I have been there many times.

I’m guessing you have, too. It’s as common a problem for writers as any other problem. You might call it writer’s block or ambivalence or perfectionism or resistance.

No matter how you see fit to label it, the problem is getting words on the page. And believing they will matter.

You know that in a business brand that markets itself online, content is essential. Essentially, it’s the lifeblood of operations. Without meaningful content going out on a consistent basis (and I don’t just mean blogging — e-newsletters, podcasts, videos, images and graphics, and social media updates all count as content), a brand’s ability to connect withers and wanes.

When writing fresh, new, meaningful content feels impossible

There are times when you don’t feel inspired, tuned in, or capable of writing content that matters to your Right Person. This is so normal. Life isn’t an endless pipeline of inventive energy. It’s just not always there, or palpable.

But you’ve got a business to run and a brand to build, and if you want to keep going, you have to keep showing up.

For the times you have to push through the sludge to get to the gold (or even just the pyrite, which is still beautiful and worthy), here are 5 suggestions:

  1. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. You are a uniquely designed amalgam of gifts, talents, strengths, obsessions, genius, preoccupations, loves, and predilections. (Dark matter, too, of course. That’s what makes us whole.) All that is in you is there for a reason. Make a list so you can see it in front of you, or if you feel more comfy in the visual realm, make a pinboard. Pick something from that list or that board and tie it in to your business and your Right Person’s journey. Write about that.  If you just can’t see who you are (the star stuff, not the dark matter), ask someone who loves you to remind you.
  2. REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE DOING THIS. This work, this business, this brand. This mission, this vision, this Right Person potential reader. Write down 5 sentences you consider to be TRUE that tell the world why your business exists. Or 5 sentences about why your Right Person needs a business like yours to exist. Let each sentence can be a standalone — a one-liner. When you’re done, pick your favorite and write about that. Unpack it. Unfold it.
  3. START WITH WHAT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. I truly mean what’s right in front of you. Years ago when we were cohorts in a Master’s program, my friend Kelly and I used to take ourselves out to this place called Ray’s, a local diner. Just off the campus of Kent State University, it was a favorite watering hole for students, profs, alumni, and locals. We were both (are both) aspiring fiction writers as well as English teachers-in-training. We’d sit down over plates of grilled cheese and fries with salt and ketchup. We were there to nosh and talk and also to write. Inevitably, one of us would grab the salt shaker and say, “Write about this salt shaker.” And there we’d start. We’d end up somewhere else entirely.
  4. START WITH THE VERY FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER. Go back to the beginning of your business. What’s the very first thing you remember doing/thinking/feeling? Sitting in your accountant’s office as you filled out paperwork to set up your LLC? Doodling ideas in a notebook in a doctor’s waiting room? Announcing to family at Thanksgiving Dinner that you’d be quitting your job and going out on your own? Tie that memory into something that’s meaningful to your Right Person: a need, an interest, a question, a desire. Write about that.
  5. START ON THE DAY THAT IS DIFFERENT. This is how you start a short story, according to my very first creative writing professor. Don’t start way back at the beginning, when the main character was born or married or got her first job, and then work forward into the action. Start on the day that is different. She wakes up and her living room furniture is gone. She wakes up and the sky is orange. She wakes up and wants to leave the country. Something has changed and now nothing can be the same. For every Right Person customer or client, there is a day on which they decide to hire you or make their first purchase through your shopping cart. What is happening for them on that day? What point have they reached? What decision have they made? What have they perceived differently today than they ever have before? Start there and write something for your Right Person about the day that is different (for them).

Sometimes writing for your brand will feel inspired and glow-y, like a gift from the gods, arriving whole and perfect and able to breathe on its own. Other times, writing will feel pedantic or pathetic, dry or hackneyed or even ridiculous.

We hope these suggestions help you to take a second look at your experience and find a new way to talk about it — even when it’s tough.

If you could use some extra inspiration for developing content that’s meaningful to you and your Right People, check out our 4-week course, Run Your Business Like a Magazine.

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

What do you do when absolutely nothing seems worth writing about but you still want to create something for your brand?


Voice Values Guide to Content Creation Inspiration

If you’re growing a brand online, you know you need ‘great content’ in order to survive & thrive.

You know that great content is the first type of currency your Right People will receive from you. Great content educates your clients before they ever hire you. Great content inspires, teaches, empathizes, rallies, and even enthralls.

You know you’re supposed to blog, tweet, Facebook, create images for Instagram, and maybe even podcast, Periscope, or YouTube. That can feel like SO MUCH and in fact it is SO MUCH. (And no, you don’t need to do it all and be on all the platforms. But that’s a different post.)

When content creation calls, but you’ve still got a business to run, where do you find the motivation & inspiration to keep creating?

What if I told you there wasn’t just ONE or even TWO common inspirations/motivations to create great content? What if I told you that your inspiration for creating great content inherently goes beyond (a) “because I need to if I want to do business online” and (2) “because I want to connect with more of my Right People?”

Well, I CAN tell you that! Your motivation for creating great content — unique content that’s skillfully created with artistry and confidence, on-brand for you, and highly compelling for your Right People — is intrinsically inspired by who you are and how you already move through the world.

Your inspiration for content writing (& other types of content creation, like visual & audio) is encoded in your Voice Values, which are the drivers of your innate brand voice.

Discover Your Voice Values is our proprietary brand voice self-assessment. Always free, always insightful.

Haven’t taken it yet? 48 questions, about 10 minutes of your time, and you’ll self-score your way to clarity on what’s naturally powerful about the way you tweet, Facebook, write blog posts, and email your list.

You’ll also learn a bit about why certain people are drawn to you and what you should watch out for as you grow your brand.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.

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difference between brand voice and personal voiceYou don’t want there to be a difference between your brand voice & your personal voice, but there is.

The idea of a difference feels artificial, inauthentic, and potentially dangerous. What if the voice of my brand FEELS different to my Right Person than my own voice does, & when they work with me or meet me in person, they feel the disconnect?

But there is a difference — albeit sometimes a subtle one — between brand voice & personal voice, & the difference exists for a reason.

Here at The Voice Bureau, we believe passionately in the separation of brand voice and personal voice. We find it empowering — and we teach our clients and customers how to embrace and appreciate the difference.

The differences that matter to you, as a brand creator or business owner are:

  • shaping & editing vs. ‘off the cuff’ & unfiltered
  • personable vs. personal
  • Right Person focus vs. self-reflective or self-reflexive focus

Let’s go through these one by one so you can explore the difference.

Shaping & Editing vs. ‘Off the Cuff’ & Unfiltered

At their best, brand voices are always shaped and edited. An ‘off the cuff,’ unfiltered brand voice isn’t very effective or trustworthy. Whereas a personal voice, writing on a personal blog, can be ‘off the cuff’ and unfiltered, and still be readable and enjoyable to others.

You are not your brand. Not even if you’re a solo business owner. Not even if your Right People say they hire you for YOU.

Why? Because YOU’RE a person, whereas your brand is a construct of personality plus (value) proposition plus awareness of your potential buyer. No matter how much of your personality you allow into your business brand, there’s still a distinction — a necessary, human, life-affirming one. (To distinguish between your self and your brand is to affirm that you are more than, and separate from, what you create.)

Your brand voice is an expression of your brand. Your brand voice might incorporate your own particular personality, and it may feel personal, but it still belongs to your brand. If your brand went away, so would its brand voice. (This is why it’s possible to tweak and evolve the voice of your brand in order to aim at new goals, to up the interest of a particular segment of your market, and to position yourself differently as you move your brand into a new phase.)

Personable vs. Personal

A brand voice can aim to be personable in how it moves online, whereas a personal voice can afford to be, well, personal. Your personal voice is the voice you might use in your personal blog (not your business blog), your emails, your non-business Facebook posts, your love letters, your diary.

A business brand that leans on the personal as part of its currency and energy opens itself up to great risk.

What happens when life happens, as it inevitably will? If the brand creator becomes temporarily jaded, gets hurt by a collaborator, feels betrayed by a subcontractor, goes through a divorce, has postpartum depression, feels weary at life or marketing, is disappointed at a failed launch? You can’t put your brand voice on Prozac. As a business owner/leader/CEO/brand manager, it’s your job to protect your business and brand from the vagaries of the market, and once in a while, from yourself!

Personable, in the context of marketing a brand, means to show up as approachable. Making your brand voice personable means to give it a point of view, a distinct perspective, a style that is recognizable, relatable, and human

I didn’t come up with the ‘personable vs. personal’ distinction. I heard someone talking about it in a podcast interview a few years ago. The person (I wish I could remember who!) gave the example of taking her kids out for ice cream. A personal Instagram post might show her two daughters crowded on her to her lap, everyone angling their tongue at the top scoop of a huge cone. A personable Instagram post (one she might use on her business IG account) might show a downward shot into the colorful ice cream barrels. It’s still real life, it’s just not personal to the business owner only. It becomes personal to any IG follower who loves ice cream, loves color, loves their memories of going to the ice cream shop as a kid and standing on tippy-toe to look down through the protective window into the frosty, chock-full barrels of cold, creamy goodness.

Your personal voice is personal. Your brand voice is personable.

Right Person Focus vs. Self-Reflective or Self-Reflexive Focus

Your brand voice is shaped at least 50% (and sometimes up to 100%) to speak to the Right Person reader, client, or customer in a way that would extraordinarily appeal to them. Your brand voice MUST resonate or else it’s a flop.

Want some input on how to shape your brand voice to appeal to your Right People? Sign up below to Discover Your Voice Values. We’ll send you a rich, 48-question self-assessment that’ll get right down to business — and to brand voice — in about 10 minutes.

Enter your best email address below and click Go to get started.

Your personal voice is yours. It’s self-reflective (meaning, focusing on yourself and your own experience) or self-reflexive (meaning, focusing on your own creation of self). You can develop and shape your personal voice however you want, or let it be raw and untouched and first draft-only as long as you’d like, in whatever realms you’d like. In your personal voice, you can write for you and what pleases you, without worrying about the demands of the market and the preferences of your Right People.

The differences between your brand voice & your personal voice are significant & meaningful.

They’re there for a reason and the reason is to support the thriving of your business. While at first we might start a business for personal reasons — to make money doing something we love, to fulfill a personal dream — we quickly realize that in order to thrive, we have to consider our Right People every bit as much (actually, more) than we consider ourselves.

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

Do you notice a distinction between your brand voice and your personal voice? What have you made of that? What do you make of it after reading this post?

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