A few years ago, one of my marketing consultants urged me to begin blogging to “develop my personal brand” and to “be seen as a thought leader” in the entrepreneur/human capital/workforce development/save the world space. And so I did what any sane or normal person would do; I threw a series of tantrums. Of course I wanted to be heard and listened to, but the concept of a personal brand as a platform for thought leadership to me just sounded obnoxious and buzz-wordy. Not to mention, overwhelming. So after struggling along for half of 2012, I decided to re-launch my blog this year, with the help of Nicolette Berte’. Nikki personally shepherded me through the journey of creating a blog that was meaningful and relevant to me, and hopefully the people who read it. These are the steps we took together.
- Identify your audience: When I first started my blog, my mind and pen raced with all the things that interested me and all the things I had to say. I was excited to have a platform and wanted to preserve for myself the freedom to write about whatever I wanted. This was the first reason that identifying an audience was challenging, but good writing should meet the needs and interests of its readers. Without an audience in mind, I had no idea what those needs and interests were. Identifying my audience actually made the writing process easier and was, surprisingly, liberating. The other reason identifying my audience was so challenging was—well, just look at the first line of this post. Entrepreneur/human capital/workforce development/save the world space? Is there anyone in that space? Is it even a space? If it was, I had to intentionally think about how to occupy it and speak to the others in it. If it wasn’t I had to think about how I would create it. After some careful thought and reflection, I realized I knew to whom I was writing, I just hadn’t ever said it out loud: values driven entrepreneurs. Identifying the group didn’t mean I was writing solely to them, but it was a starting point for building a community of like-minded leaders.
- Find your authentic voice: One of the first things Nikki said after reading my initial posts was “I don’t really hear you in here.” When I first started blogging I spoke about it as though it was my intro to philosophy homework from freshman year of college. I didn’t really feel like doing it, but someone told me it was good for me and I believed them. That didn’t mean I had to like it, I just had to get it done. I soon realized that I was approaching my blog all wrong. In my head I was tallying the number of STEM articles I had read that I felt I needed to comment on, the latest in government news that I hadn’t written about but felt I should. It was relevant, but it wasn’t what I wanted to be writing about. I felt disconnected from my blog, which translated into the writing and the end result was not relaying my authentic voice. The first step to finding my voice was finding for WHAT I wanted to use it. Then came the HOW. Style-wise, I swung from between textbook-like formality and a caricature of my already animated self. Once I got the pendulum under control, I was able to find that sweet spot that works for me. Obviously, everyone’s sweet spot is different, but if it doesn’t come from an authentic place, readers will never feel it. In short, be interesting; be real; be yourself.
- “Write epic shit:” We came across this idea in Corbett Barr’s article of the same name, but it really resonates with me. The idea is simple: If you create exceptional content that is truly useful to people, people will read it. One of the challenges with my initial approach to the blog is that it felt so focused on extracting value from the audience that it felt slimy somehow. I’m not saying that I’m not intentionally leveraging the blog to share my voice and thoughts, but the difference now is that I’m sharing things about which I am truly passionate. My goal every two weeks is to write from where I am and to feel, when that post goes up, that I’ve written something of which I can be really proud. That was difficult at first, and I found myself focusing on how many people were reading and how many new followers I had gained. Now some of my greatest moments are like that catchy song, “I don’t care! I love it!”
- Make meaningful connections: Everyone says that the key to building an audience is basically a quid pro quo- you find someone with an audience, shout them out, and then expect it in return. There’s something about that approach that feels very high- school-popularity-contest that just wasn’t working for me. Over time, I discovered that, instead, I needed to find people whose work I am truly passionate about, regardless of their followership and then share it with others. I do this naturally in person, but when I initially did it online, I couldn’t help but feel a little stalkery. But over time, I realized that it’s like having a team of researchers who have information about topics that I care about. There have been several times where I was struggling about some idea, and in the midst of following folks, found an answer that made me feel much better. Now that deserves a shout out!
While I will admit that my blog is still a work in progress, I’m grateful that I’ve started building content of which I’m proud and now have a creative process that I actually enjoy. My blog has also served as an outlet for thoughts and ideas and has connected me to a larger community. I am appreciative of the readers who have shared their comments and thoughts with me along the way, as this makes our community and the dialogue richer. I wish you the best in this holiday season, and I hope to see you again in my next blog post on January 16, 2014!