Behind every successful brand is a certain confidence that is the result of having a deep understanding of who they are as a person and what their business is all about, what they stand for, what they are passionate about, what they believe in. You absolutely cannot create a successful and authentic brand if you are trying to emulate those around you or portray what you think others want to see from you. As a business owner you are in a constant state of decision-making whether you have realized it or not — how do I market myself, where do I market myself, do I take this client, do I pursue that opportunity, do I put that image on my website, what should I blog about, what should I say on Facebook today, do I instagram that, tweet that, what kind of paper should my business cards be printed on, should I create a marketing mailer, should I go to that tradeshow, conference, workshop, should I hire a designer (emphatically YES! :)), should I rent an office or stay in my home, do I buy this printer or that printer or outsource all printing…… you get the idea.

You will face these type of questions indefinitely. There will always be new clients and new opportunities and new questions that beg answers. The trick to running a successful business and building a strong authentic brand is having that deeper understanding of who you are, what you stand for, what you are passionate about, what you believe in. You will be able to make decisions almost effortlessly because you now have a filter, a basis, for answering those questions. You almost need to think of your business as this box with very strict boundaries – boundaries that you create and of course have the freedom to move if you choose but boundaries nonetheless. Nothing gets in your box unless it fits your criteria. Shay Cochrane said it very well in her most recent “Why Business Fail…” blog post, “For every business and branding decision you make, take the time to ask ‘Why am I doing this? Does it communicate who I really am?’ I would add “Does this new idea/opportunity represent my brand, my beliefs, my passions, my gifts & abilities? Am I passionate about this? Does this excite me?’ Your business and branding should fit and be comfy and perfectly you; making all those questions super easy to answer.

Example.

Business Owner: You are a high-end, luxurious wedding photographer characterized by very beautiful, classic, timeless images (we will talk more about defining your target market and ideal client in the coming weeks). Your brand is built off of you and your luxurious taste and love for the finer things in life.  Your brides choose you to capture their wedding because they know that they will receive the finest of treatments.

Question: What kind of paper do I print my business cards on?

Easy.

You think of your authentic brand, how it is built on luxury and a beautiful classic style. You make the decision to have your cards letterpressed on the thickest, most luxurious cotton paper with your signature favorite color painted on the edges. (A beautiful example!)

If you have no filter through which to examine the daily running questions then you will be in a constant state of confusion. There will be no forward motion, no growth, and no success. You will find yourself taking clients who are not a great fit and pursuing opportunities that may pay well but you are less than passionate about thus leaving you drained and discouraged. You will have business cards or a website or a blog that says nothing about who you are and will just blend into the mess that is the currently over-saturated market. You will have mediocre work as you are in a constant state of trying to figure out what your clients or buyers want versus being true to the artist you were created to be.

Homework.

1. Make a little branding board that compiles your most favorite images from you pinterest adventure last week. Print it off.
2. Grab a notebook, your favorite pen, and a cup of coffee.
3. Take some thoughtful, quiet time to work through the questions below.
• 10 words that describe you
• What would your best friend say are your best qualities?
• What makes you smile?
• What are you most passionate about?
• What are your biggest strengths?
• What are your biggest weaknesses?
• What are you afraid of? (in regards to your business)
• What motivates you?
• Why do you do what you do?
• How do you unwind at the end of a long day?
• What is your favorite leisure activity?
• If money were no object what would you spend the rest of your life doing?
• What is your favorite thing to do on a day off / the weekend?
• What is your favorite part of any day?

My hope is that you were just re-introduced to yourself, maybe for the first time in awhile. You can now tangibly see what might give that perfect fit (i.e. going after those things that you are most passionate about and come the most natural to you.) My hope is also that through this exercise you will be reminded that you are a unique person created with strong passions, gifts and abilities. My hope is that you will begin to see that you have the ability to build a truly authentic brand based completely on your authentic self; to make decisions and move your business into a place that is thriving, no longer having to look at what others are doing around you. Through completing this exercise you can begin to create a framework and filter that will help point you and your business in the direction you always wanted to be going in.

This post was specifically written for photographers but it can be applied to all creatives. Read it for additional wisdom on ‘Why Businesses Fail…’

And don’t forget, you can get all this information and so much more at the Business & Branding Essentials Workshop for Photographers (March 2 in Tampa FL)! Check out the website for all the important details.