Investing in yourself to build a personal brand

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Historically, “You gotta spend money to make money,” is the kind of advice you’d give someone in business who really needs to hire more people, buy more inventory, or pay more than they want for a website. But we’re now living in a time of creative entrepreneurship filled with people like me who are providing services rather than physical products, and who can, for the most part, handle their own marketing and website work. So how do you know what to spend money on… to make money?

Recently, I’ve begun to regard this poignant maxim from a totally different perspective.

I’ve learned that as a solo creative entrepreneur, the most important thing you can spend money on for your business is social events and professional development opportunities. Notice I didn’t use the word “networking.” It’s because I don’t believe in giving normal things fancy names. So how do I get new clients and become better at what I do if I don’t “network”? Well, I do, technically “network” (yes, I just threw up in my mouth a little) but it’s by doing things I care about and learning from people I respect.

I’m heavily involved in the Knoxville arts community. Not only am I a maker myself, but I also have huge respect for and interest in fine art and craft and the people who dedicate their lives to bring an imagined vision to reality. So it makes sense that I attend gallery openings, art museum events, and maker-related events and meet-ups. And, naturally, because I’m showing up to things I care about where other people who care about them are, I’m meeting people and we’re sharing about our lives.

I’m not buying tickets to networking events. I’m buying tickets to events that are filled with people and support the organizations I care about. I’m supporting my community directly while spending time with new people who I learn something about and who learn about me. Inevitably, somebody (and often multiple people) ask, “What do you do?” And the more people who know who you are and what your’e doing, the more likely you’ll be connected with meaningful clients and opportunities.

I’m spending money to make money. I’m marketing myself. I’m networking. Ick. But it doesn’t feel ick because it’s authentic.

A specific and recent example of spending money to make money was investing in photography services to accurately represent my professional/creative self to the world. Cuz, honestly, no matter how good your selfie stick or phone camera, the results are NEVER going to be objective or professional. I’ve never paid a ton for photography because I’ve always had the luxury of being able to trade services, but, big surprise, I’ve never been satisfied by the result. So, finally, I was like, OK, I’m going to suck it up and pay a bunch of money for an hour of photography because I trust this person’s work and by god if this is what it takes to get good photos of myself, I’ve just got to do it.

And then, prior to showing up to have photos done, I started spending time looking around for workshops on topics I happen to be interested in. I found one at Echoview Fiber Mill on visual storytelling taught by, surprise, Nicole McConville — the photographer I would be meeting with in just a few weeks for photos. So I bought a ticket.

And guess what? I learned a TON about visual storytelling (a skill that helps me speak intelligently with my clients) but also about giving good presentations. I give talks all the time on various marketing subjects, but I’ve never seen a present that made me think — wow, I can use this for my talks. And more than that, I learned a LOT about her process. And by the end of her presentation I had decided, I have to extend my session with her. Gulp. More money, Gulp.

But, y’all, I’m worth it. And so are you. If you’re like me, you ARE your brand and representing yourself creatively and professionally is key to building your business.

So I spent some money and even though I won’t see a return on that immediately, my toolbox has expanded exponentially and I feel fully equipped to go out in the world with myself and my services.

No longer do I have to feel trepidatious when an organization I’m giving a talk at asks for a headshot. No longer do I have to use a LinkedIn headshot that looks just a little… lazy. No longer do I have to give presentations based on what I think people what I enjoy. I now know what’s effective for me and can create engaging presentations accordingly.

I asked Nicole what she thought about spending money to make money, in this particular kind of way (as in, investing in creative services like photography or marketing or graphic design), and here’s what she had to say:

“Today’s business landscape is greatly informed by our ability to connect with our ideal clients and community. Investing in quality branding, marketing, and photography—often your first point of introduction—is a bold and impactful way of standing out from the crowd while starting the foundation for a lasting conversation. It takes courage and determination to step into the spotlight of who you are. Who do you want people to see and how do you want them to feel when they meet you and your business? What story do you want to tell? When we stretch ourselves toward a mindset of worth, others take notice.”

“Today’s business landscape is greatly informed by our ability to connect with our ideal clients and community. Investing in quality branding, marketing, and photography—often your first point of introduction—is a bold and impactful way of standing out from the crowd while starting the foundation for a lasting conversation. It takes courage and determination to step into the spotlight of who you are. Who do you want people to see and how do you want them to feel when they meet you and your business? What story do you want to tell? When we stretch ourselves toward a mindset of worth, others take notice.”

And the best part is, you get to support the kind of people and organizations you actually respect and want to work with. Which means you’re likely going to spend far less time than others doing work with people and organizations you don’t respect and aren’t interested in.

So pony up. Spend some money. Even if you have to use a credit card. So you can put your best, most creative foot forward, into the world you want to do business in.