It was January of 2014, and, as I stared at my computer for what felt like the 2,000th time that week, I started to panic.
Just four months earlier, I had the distinct pleasure of being (lovingly) laid off by my boss-who-was-also-my-boyfriend. (Yes, you read that correctly). For two years prior, I had been running operations for his marketing startup, and I had fallen in love with the flexibility, control, and creative freedom that came with operating outside the lines of the corporate world. Hellbent on staying out of that world at all costs, when I found myself suddenly without a job, I made the decision to dive into the deep end of entrepreneurship as a freelance designer.
Those first few months were honestly all about just surviving. I was still deeply unsure of how I was going to turn my self-taught design skills, limited business experience, and (very) limited client roster into a thriving company that could support me.
Thankfully, though, even in those early months, I carried with me one absolute certainty: Whether I failed or succeeded, I wanted my business to represent ME.
At that time, all the successful design businesses and blogs I looked up to had a similar aesthetic -- white, airy, and minimal. They shared logo concepts on their blogs, and gorgeous editorial mood boards. I remember thinking to myself, “Their work feels so... refined.”
And yet, here I was, the opposite of refined. I was just a scrappy, design-addicted girl who couldn’t fathom not being my own boss. I liked imperfect textures and wildly bright colors, and beyond that, I wanted to talk about more than just my love of design. I wanted to talk about big things like identity and purpose and fear. I wanted a space to share the feelings that come along with creativity and with constantly trying to evolve as a person and a professional. I wanted to be honest about the struggles I was encountering as I fought to make a living doing what I love.
Which brings me back to that January day and the source of my panic.
Despite wanting all of those things I just mentioned, as I prepared to launch my first branded website, Made Vibrant, -- up until that point I had just been freelancing under my name -- I couldn’t ignore the palpable fear that was bubbling up in every fiber of my being.
As I scanned my website one last time before sending out the link to the world, I seriously considered completely redesigning the entire thing from scratch. “Is it too much?” I asked myself. “Too loud? Too touchy-feely? Too... everything?”
It felt like I was on my way to a fabulous party, but suddenly I was becoming deeply insecure about whether I was under- or over-dressed.
This new brand was the opposite of everything I was seeing around me. A vibrant, hand-drawn banner spanned the entire header of my site. Bold, black typography stood confidently front and center, not a wisp of watercolor or gold foil button in sight. And then, of course, there was the website copy, which spoke of things like “living your brightest life” and “expressing your core self.”
Would anyone get what I was trying to do? I wasn’t sure.
Bu that’s when I thought about my promise to myself: “Whether I failed or succeeded, I wanted my business to represent ME.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but that commitment to radical authenticity has been the single most important factor in the success of my business.
Despite my fear about being different -- about looking like I was doing this whole online business thing “wrong” -- I was actually able to develop a unique voice, one that stood out from the pack of other design blogs. In those early days, the number one compliment I received from new people finding my site was the vibrant design and deep, thoughtful content (the very two things I was most self-conscious about!)
About three weeks into launching the site, armed with a bit more confidence about the vision I had, I started a weekly email newsletter as a way to share the emotional journey I was experiencing as a new business owner with anyone who would listen.
It started small (just four subscribers, two of which don’t count because it was my boyfriend, Jason, and my own email address testing the submit form!), but I promised myself that every week I would show up as honestly as I could to write about whatever challenges I was facing and whatever insights I was gaining. I would be my color-loving, long-paragraph-writing, deep-topic-exploring self, and I would ignore whatever doubts I had about whether that fit the mold of the industry or not.
I’m now convinced that it was this powerful combination of authenticity and consistency that formed the rock-solid foundation of my brand.
My list was a slow build at first (just friends and friends of friends), but as I kept writing week after week without fail, strangers started subscribing. And, what was even more surprising, those strangers started emailing in, thanking me for sharing my stories. Some of them even started inquiring about hiring me for my design services (hallelujah for finally getting some clients!)
That slow build turned into a rapid build, and now, over 91 weekly newsletters later, those two subscribers have turned into thousands. That fledgling design business that I was unsure of has evolved into a thriving community of soulful creative entrepreneurs who are passionate about building businesses and living lives that allow them to be the best, brightest versions of themselves.
And that’s what I want for every single one of you reading this now. I want success for you, whatever that might look like. Whether your goal is to have a remote business that supports you financially so you can be home with your kids, or whether it’s being able to make money with your creative gifts so you can wake up every morning excited about what you do.
I believe wholeheartedly that it’s the combination of these two powerful tools -- authenticity and consistency -- that allows a young business to break through the clutter and actually build an audience.
I call these things “tools” because we seem to be pre-occupied with the things out there that might give our business that edge. The program that will make us more productive. The app that will help us manage our presence on social media. The website platform that will provide the best experience. That stuff is great and they all have their place in improving the way we do business, but we forget that the most important tools we have at our disposal are the fundamentals -- the foundational elements that everything else rests on. That’s how I want you to think about authenticity and consistency.
Because when you stand up for something, you end up standing out.
We all assume that by following the well-worn paths of successful businesses that come before us, we can figure out a shortcut to our dreams. We’re concerned with doing things the “right” way, the effective way, the proven way.
The irony in this, however, is that by following the rules, we only end up blending in. To make a dent in the sea of businesses out there, you have to embrace what makes you different and show up with that uniqueness in a valuable way over and over again.
Starting a profitable business is no easy feat, but it all comes down to baking your true self into your brand and being consistent enough to allow the right people to find you.
If you are finding yourself at the beginning of your business journey OR if you feel like you’re still struggling to get your vision off the ground, consider putting your focus into these two single action items:
- Peel back the layers to pull out the most unique, most authentic parts of yourself and pour those things into your business. Don’t be afraid to go a different route than what you see around you in your niche; that could be the very thing you need to stand out from the crowd.
- Once you feel you have your own voice, choose one single way to deliver consistent, valuable content to an audience of people (no matter how small that audience may seem right now.) Commit right this very moment to making this your one non-negotiable -- the one thing every day or week or month that you make sure you deliver on.
And then, quite simply, press on. The world is a big place and I firmly believe there is an audience for everything and everyone -- you just need the truth and commitment that will attract them.
I’m so incredibly glad that I didn’t listen to my panic on that day in January 2014 because if I had, I wouldn't have a thriving business with a community that truly inspires me and makes me feel understood.
Remember, you have something unique to offer the world. Figure out what it is, share it courageously and consistently, and people will pay attention.
About the Author
Caroline is the artist, designer and writer behind online creative hub, Made Vibrant. She writes a weekly newsletter for her email community of soulful creatives, Self-Made Society, and is passionate about creating relatable learning resources at the intersection of art, business and personal growth. Her latest course, Your First E-Course, takes you behind the scenes of her step-by-step process for creating fun and profitable online courses, all for just $20.