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You guys, the blog post is coming from inside The Voice Bureau. Let’s talk insider stuff.

Photo of young woman tilting her head back to the sky, eyes closed. Photo by Minoru Nitta, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.As the end of the year draws closer, here are some things you can do to recenter your brand. Did you like what happened with and through your brand this year? Are you aware of what ‘hit’ and what clicked or does the past year feel like a blur?

Are you ready to know?

If so, here’s some simple end of the year recentering for your brand.

1) Chances are, your brand got social this year. How did it go? Do you know which were your most successful social media posts on each platform, in terms of reach (how many people saw it) and engagement (how many people Liked, Hearted, clicked, repinned, retweeted, etc.). Once you know, you can be more conscious about creating social updates your Right People will love.

I’m by no means an analytics junkie, but I periodically go in and peek at analytics for each social media platform I use for business (Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest), so I can get a feel for what my followers are liking and responding to most. I just use each platform’s native analytics, so I’m not able to see results for more than 30 days or 3 months at a time, depending on what the platform tracks. (If you use an app that allows you to analyze a greater time span, feel free to share it in the comments.)

2) Do you know your top buyers, customers, or clients, in terms of the project that went the best, or repeat business, or both? Understanding who buys from you and why they buy is an incredible gift of clarity for you.

If you don’t already know, ask this person (or business) how they found you and what tipped them over the edge to hire you or buy from you. If this isn’t possible, or if it is but you want to take it a bit further, write down three things about this buyer/client/customer that you truly appreciated in working with them. Sharpen your own saw around your Right People profiling and your brand will click even more next year with the people who get you.

3) What FELT right this year? And why? Sometimes you don’t know the ROI of a certain technique or tactic but you just know it worked. Or you can sense it leading your brand in the right direction — you know it’s caught fire before anyone else can see the smoke. Or it woke something up inside you so deep and so real that you know it’s taking you somewhere important. Pay attention to that magic. It’s real and it showed up this year for a reason.

4) What DIDN’T feel right this year? And why? Did a certain project go completely awry? Did a client relationship fail to click the way you’d hoped? Did you launch something that never felt quite finished, and then it never earned its way in your suite of offerings? Did you implement a promising new idea that never panned out?

For each thing on your list, see if you can write your way into why it didn’t quite work. You don’t need to know for sure, you don’t need data to know, you don’t even need to interview Right People about their perceptions (unless you want to). Sometimes a hunch is enough. You’re creating your brand, after all, and if you’re not all in after a good college try, then something may need to be tweaked (or cut altogether).

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

What worked for your brand this year? Why did it work, in your view? We’d love to share in your end-of-the-year reflections.

 

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I have a dear friend who recently learned she & her family will have to pull up stakes, leave their house forever, & find a new place to live.

Their living situation is quite unique and so are the terms under which they’ve been privileged to live in the house. I won’t go into those. The important part of this story is that my friend is a capital ‘h’ Homemaker. I know no one more gifted than she at turning a house of any kind into pretty much the most imaginative, orderly, delightful, joyful, interesting, warm, and welcoming home you’ve ever visited. And you feel this way even as a guest. The feeling she creates is palpable, energetic, and yet relaxing. I’m sad that I won’t get to be a guest under her roof one more time before they have to move. But I have amazing memories of spending time with her there. I’ll never forget the way it felt to be there, the way it smelled, the way it looked while it was hers.

But I know that wherever my friend and her family land, she’s going to make the new place into the Best Place Ever. Different from the first place, but amazing in its own right. She has everything she needs to do just that. It all comes from within her, as the best stuff always does.

Branding is like that, too. The best stuff comes from within. It’s the stuff that’s inherent, that comes naturally, that makes us look like magic. Our Right People are drawn to the innate qualities with which we can’t help but present and connect, when we’re taking a strong stance in a realm we’re defining for ourselves.

To me, branding is so much more than choosing a color palette, curating a font family, & selecting a tagline.

BRANDING IS CREATING A WORLD.

Here’s what branding-as-creating-a-world feels like to me, as a brand voice specialist and content creation expert:

I love the imaginative work of feeling for the essential energies of what’s trying to come through in a written piece, in a visual mock-up (I draw these by hand, badly, in a spiral-bound college-ruled notebook, turning the paper to landscape and ignoring the lines), in the positioning of a product.

I loll around in the backstream, the undercurrent, of the thing that’s coming to be, and I see if I can feel the different nuances of it flow through my fingers, one at at time.

I dig the deep intuitively-driven process of sensing into the next forward lunge (or the 45-degree pivot or the hairpin turn) a brand needs to make to get closer to the next desired result.

I feel into the future of the brands I work with, and I articulate what that future looks like, or could like.

People change and so do our businesses. I myself am on my third or maybe third-and-a-half iteration of my work in the world, that is, the creative work that gets me paid. (It’s important to note that I also am pursuing a relationship with creativity that is NOT imminently for pay and I hope you are, too. If this feels like a convo you need to have, go here for more.)

Changing your business is a bit like moving houses. You were all situated, and suddenly, here you are pole-vaulting off the head of a thumbtack into a part of the map you never thought you’d visit. You’re straddling new coordinates and hoping your leg muscles and core can keep you balanced. You’re using the same ingredients but combining them in new bowls with strange new utensils and spices you’ve never tasted before.

How will things turn out? Will others like what you’re creating?

Never fear. Your innate, inherent brand energy is a through-thread that connects these new and ever-changing pursuits of yours.

You can leave the house of your business ten times in a decade but you always keep returning to creating a world.

And the worlds you create have one thing in common that is completely inextricable from them: the essence of you.

This is why I’m so drawn to American writer Ann Patchett’s quote about creating a universe. [See post image above.] While Patchett’s addressing her modality of writing fiction, I take this quote for myself into the realm of branding.

In designing and developing a brand and all its components, we create an order for the universe: that universe. In writing and sharing beautiful content that connects with our Right People’s needs, desires, and interests (and, of course, ours), we set that universe in motion.

I have left the house of my business many times through the years — mentally, emotionally, evne physically to an extent. I’m a person, just like you. I flag, I falter, I flail. Sometimes I have even wanted to say, eff it.

But I keep coming back.

What brings me back is creating a world. (It just so happens that this is my business’s value proposition, too: Make a world of your brand. Start with your voice.)

Make of your brand a world that other people can participate in if they wish to.

Looking for support with this? Check out THE VOICERY, our new, deep, personalized service combining brand voice with content strategy. I’ve co-created and co-deliver this alongside Katie Mehas, Doyenne of Operations at The Voice Bureau and content creation extraordinaire.

This is why I’m so drawn to Anthropologie, to anything Sarah Selecky teaches, to the dark and velvety worlds of Sarah Waters’ books, to my high school friend Tom’s debut novel, to the podcast Working, to Tatine Candles, and to certain dark and stormy Netflix series (like The Killing) — because they create a world and invite me in to it.

It’s why I love to read short stories and novels because every time I want to, I can just turn the page and step into another fully-feathered world. There something’s irrefutably magic about connecting with another perspective, seeing the world through other people’s eyes, hearing dialogue and dialect we may never hear in our day to day life yet somehow we feel like we’ve heard it one million times underneath your skin. Because it’s authentic and innate to those characters in that milieu. Just as your brand voice is authentic and innate to you.

Imagine what YOUR brand can be to your Right People. Are you creating a universe and setting it in motion?

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

Talk about the world you’re creating through your brand. Describe it for us and tell us how you’re setting it in motion through content.

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I truly love creating and teaching courses for small and solo business owners.

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by Starman SeriesIt’s the part of my work that makes me feel most alive, most useful, most genuine, and most brilliant.

If you feel the same way about teaching, or suspect you might, then this post is for you. And if you’re a solo or small business owner who is thinking of creating courses for your Right People, you’ll probably find value in this post, too.

In June 2014, I launched The E-Letter Atelier, what would become my most successful online course to date. And not the most successful in terms of numbers of participants enrolled; that encouraging statistic goes to INFJ Business, which is currently between enrollment sessions. I’m talking successful in terms of teaching for mastery (on the student side), percentage of participants remaining active in the Facebook community and following through until the end of the course materials, and in showing up as an enriching, supportive presence all the way through the course. This course blew all of expectations out of the water for the above points, and made me feel even more excited about future courses I’ll create and teach.

Because so many business owners in my circle of clients and peers are teaching courses themselves (or planning to do so in the future), I’ve decided to share a list of things I learned from my most successful course to date.

Here’s what I learned this time around:

1. Set an intention for how many students you wish to enroll, and then settle that whatever number shows up is the perfect number. When I created The E-Letter Atelier, I had the intention to enroll between 10 and 100 people. I know that range sounds insane. I didn’t know what to expect — my previous course had enrolled close to 50 people and the course before that, over 100. Because I have a high Input strength and a capacity for supporting a large number of people both quickly and deeply, I knew that I had the “bandwidth” to support any number of people between 10 and 100, given that only a percentage of students who enroll (A) show up to participate, (B) stick around as “regulars” in the community after Week 2, (3) survive the drop-off point around Week 4, and (4) maintain enthusiasm and engagement until the very end. I figured if 20 percent of a class of 100 met all 4 criteria, I’d only be deeply supporting up to 20 students in this launch, and that is doable (for me).

In the end, I enrolled 24 participants for the first live cohort of The E-Letter Atelier, which turned out to be the ideal number, especially when a much higher than average number of them participated all the way through. Which leads me to point number two . . .

2. Presence begets presence. Even though I have a high Intimacy Voice Value, I prefer one-to-many teaching formats rather than 1-to-1. I’m gonna say it — I love lecture and direct teaching. Love. It. I’d like to edit the unwritten assumption that says the best teaching happens through co-creation and collaboration. While there is a HUGE place in the spectrum of teaching and learning for collaboration, co-creation, and a workshop-style approach, what about all of us Verbal-Linguistic and Intrapersonal (self-study-oriented) learners? While I certainly build visual and community (Interpersonal) elements into all of my e-courses, I know my Right People, and like me, they tend to love learning from audio and written materials. So my courses tend to be audio based with written transcripts, reflection questions, visual supplements (charts, tables, pinboards), and a private Facebook group.

But for the first live cohort of The E-Letter Atelier, I included four Studio Hours a week, when I was live in our Facebook group supporting participants’ journey with the material: responding to questions, providing clarification, offering real world examples, and having great conversation! We even developed our own inside jokes and moved our conversations to Google Hangouts a couple times for an even more up close and personal connection.

So what I learned here is that even though my favorite way to teach is 1-to-many, that personal connection is a huge asset to learners.

3. Eschew “holistic” for smaller slices that go deeper. The methodically creative business owners who make up my clientele adore anything described as ‘holistic’ — as do I. ‘Holistic’ feels respectful, regardful, and high concept. But in action, ‘holistic’ is really hard to teach well. ‘Holistic’ is clunkier on the learners’ end. ‘Holistic’ can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and a false sense of understanding that can be potentially injurious to an enthusiastic learner’s business.

Instead, focus on a tiny segment of the whole thing you’d love to someday teach. For instance, if you’re a life coach, instead of a course on revitalizing your life after 40 (which, by the way, is REALLY SO YOUNG!), what about a course on Recreating Friendships After 40. It’s one particular issue within a huge suite of issues your Right People may be facing, and it can be taken on in the relatively short duration of an online course.

In past courses (none I’m currently offering through The Voice Bureau), I’ve gone to the very, very edges of my scope of practice, always tempted to push just a little further to give people what I saw they really needed (and wanted, and were asking for). But the fact is, more scope usually results in shallower learning and a reduced bandwidth for integrating new ideas. Not what I’m ever going for.

So for The E-Letter Atelier, I stayed rooted in my sweet spot, focusing on understanding one’s Right People, owning and honing your business’s brand voice, and developing content to meet your Right People’s needs and serve your business as the same time. In the context of just the business’s e-newsletter, we could go really deep without overwhelming ourselves with scope — both me as the teacher and the Atelier cohort as learners.

4. Repackage and relaunch immediately. For the past year, I’ve been steadily building out offerings around The Voice Bureau‘s core methodology, alongside serving clients with web copy and content. As I’ve pushed to launch course after course (pushed because I love doing it), it’s been hard for me, with past courses, to pause and go back to a just-finished offer to retool and redesign as necessary. (Hence, why INFJ Business has lingered in the ‘between enrollment’ season for yea, these several months.) You know how it is: you get wrapped up in the newness factor and fail to revisit the very good places you’ve recently been. But with The E-Letter Atelier, I wanted to get it right back on the market. I knew that going in, so instead of treating the first live cohort like an experiment-to-be-retooled, I created as if were timeless — no dates or other time references, and polished intro/outro music with every audio class.

And voilà! It’s already back on the market as a self-paced study, with new enrollees joining in every week.

5. Create a dedicated piece of content to use as a “lead gen*” and share it widely. Although this marketing technique is widely taught and done, it was the first time I’d ever done it. I segmented part of the course’s bonus content — The Oeuvre of The E-Letter e-book, featuring Q&As with 13 successful online biz owners — and set it up with its own separate opt-in. People who opt-in to receive this complimentary e-book are also subscribed to my Insider Stuff e-letter. And they get an autoresponder of emails (still in creation at the time of this post) to support their thinking about their own e-letter, with occasional reminders that The E-Letter Atelier exists, should they ever find themselves in a season to want some focused support.

*Lead gen is short for ‘lead generator.’ That’s marketing speak for a piece of content, or a technique, that nurtures The Right People’s interest in your offer until they are ready to buy, or until they opt out, whichever comes first. :)

Lately I’ve been working on the next Voice Bureau course, to be launched by the end of this week and to begin by the end of the month. If you are going to sell an e-course or any other type of online service-based offer anytime soon, you’ll want to pay particular attention to what’s coming next.

In the comments, I’d love to know:

What’s YOUR best tip for creating a successful e-course? I’d love to know what you’ve learned from firsthand experience.

(Image Credit.)

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