I’ve had a chance to catch up with Ashley Beaudin. Besides being one of the sweetest, most responsive people on the interwebs, she helps women on a mission create movements alongside their businesses, so that they can grow their community, visibility and impact.
She also created a movement, called The Imperfect Boss and its equivalent hashtag on Instagram, which grows every single day. I had to find out how she did it and share with you.
Lesya: How did you get started in online businesses? What brought you to this industry?
Ashley: Well, I’ve always been super into online community building, and started my first online community in 2011. It was also the first time I ran a social media campaign. I was hooked from the beginning, really loved the energy of bringing women together online. I’ve run a few different communities since then, but that’s really how I got my foot in the door. How I really was able to jump into a full-time business was I started copywriting. That was my first business online where I was starting to make money that could pay my bills. It gave me the momentum I needed to start doing the stuff that I really love.
Lesya: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in this space.
Ashley: I am a movement maker for women, helping them create movements for their brands. As I mentioned, I also run the Imperfect Boss. Imperfect Boss was a movement I that I started almost a year ago because I wanted to share the real side of what it takes to run your own business and be your own boss. I had been noticing, especially on Instagram, there was this picture was getting painted of what it was like to run your own business that wasn’t anything like my real life. That’s how it started, that I wanted to really empower women to share confessions about being an imperfect boss. Running a successful business doesn’t require your perfection, it requires your willingness to try, and to get out there and do the thing.
Lesya: Okay. In your opinion, what was the picture, and how was it wrong? How was it giving the wrong ideas to people about entrepreneurship?
Ashley: The picture that I kept seeing painted was people were always really successful, and their desks looked so pretty … (Laughs) … They were making lots of money, and were friends with all the coolest people. Whereas there are elements of all of those things to all of us in our business journeys, but there’s also some real elements of, you launch something and you don’t make any sales, or failure, or dealing with different fears of self-doubts.
Basically, things not going the way that maybe you planned for them to go, or going that you were kind of expecting or hoping them to go. All that stuff, that isn’t necessarily perfect or flawless, is actually really necessary to your business. That was the difference in pictures that I saw.
Lesya: You turned multiple messages into movements. Share with us your secrets of how you do that.
Ashley: I think anyone can start a movement for their brand, and I think you should, because it can really help you grow in a really meaningful way, and pretty quickly. If you’re wanting to start a movement for you brand, you need to be super clear on your message. A movement won’t work if you don’t have a message, because the whole idea of a message is that you’re mobilizing people around your message, you’re giving people an experience of your message.
If you don’t know what your message is, it can be really hard to build a movement that actually can go somewhere. That’s what I really like to do with people first; really digging into your message, digging into what’s the deeper message at hand. Deeper than, “I want to help people make …” Even I want help people make money, or I want to do this thing because I love it. What’s the deeper message at hand. What would you want out that would impact them? We pick into that first, then once you have your message, then how can we take your message and create an opportunity for someone to experience it?
For example, with the Imperfect Boss, it’s about this whole message of, “You don’t have to be perfect to run a thriving business.” Then, I decided I’m going to create this opportunity, so I created this three-day campaign where people get the experience of what it feels like to embrace their imperfections and to share them with their audience. In that experience, they’re impacting a change, and then that’s how the movement begins. If you’re thinking, “I want to start a movement,” first figure out what your message is, then figure out how you can design an opportunity for people to experience that message. Those are the two most important steps in creating a movement.
Lesya: First of all, it’s pretty hard to find your unique voice in general, but then also to really, truly make sure that it shines through. Especially online, you kind of get personal, but definitely not to the point of face-to-face. How do you find that unique voice, and how do you make sure that people get your message, and get for who you are?
Ashley: Well, I think part of it just comes with a lot of practice. I think you really need to know who you are for yourself, and be comfortable just being yourself. I think the more you can do that, the more you can accept yourself, know yourself, and be comfortable being yourself, the easier it’ll become to find that unique voice. I remember when I first started out a long time ago, blogging online, I would blog, and it’s like I thought that I needed to sound this certain way. Then, it was so exhausting, because it would take so much effort.
Then I had this aha moment, where I was like, “I can just write from my heart. I can just write like I talk.” That just felt like the pressure’s off. It’s not as draining. I’m just being me, so I think that really helped me in starting to get used to the idea of just being myself. Sometimes, it takes a lot of practice. I think it’s actually really hard sometimes to be yourself. You’ve just got to practice.
Lesya: Tell us what it’s like to work with you. What’s your process, where do you get started, and what can people expect from working with you?
Ashley: Basically, all my packages are working with me one-on-one online, and I set them up so that I have three different tiers of packages. One is one session, one is one month, one is three months. It depends on how intensive you want to get and how much support you want, but all of them, like I mentioned before, start by talking about your message. Some people come in and they’re super clear. They’re like, “I know what my message is.” Some people aren’t as sure, so we spend more time digging into that. Then, depending on the package, if it’s just one session, then we’ll briefly talk about some of the staff and we can talk about your message, and talk about how you could turn that into a movement.
The one month and the three months I will work with you to actually create the movement-making plan. I’ll walk away from our chats, and write you a plan for how you can turn your message into a movement, how you can launch that movement, and how can you design that in a way that works for your message and your audience, and then give you support as you implement that. I’m super collaborative about it, so it’s not like you tell me your things and then I’m telling “you do this, you do this, you do this.” (Laughs)
Lesya: “I’ll tell you what to do” type of deal.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m not your boss. I’ll just bring ideas and I work back and forth with my clients to make sure that it really feels good to them. I would never want someone to do things that don’t feel good to them in their business. That’s super important to me. Then support them through the process of launching that movement. In the third package, with the three months, once you’ve launched their movement, I help to create a plan for how to actually believe that movement and sustain that momentum that you get from the start.
Lesya: Cool. Speak to the importance of building communities and why would anyone build a community about something they are passionate about.
Ashley: I think, ultimately, if you want to take your business to the next level, to build a community around your brand, it just makes it so much easier to grow your business. To get clients, to sell your products, to really get advocates for your brand that you don’t have to pay for. (Laughs)
It really also gives an experience to your brand where you get to cultivate a community culture that you want. You get to set out what’s really important to this community and meld this culture that people get to experience, and they get to feel connected to you and to your work, and then also start to connect to other people. Even if I think about some of the online communities I’ve been part of, whether they’re free or paid, is that the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones that I felt connected to the person leading, but also connected to the other people in the community.
It just causes you to really stand out among your audience, and in general, I think, it makes it easier to sell. It’s a lot easier to sell to a community or a movement of people than if you had a random list. I think there’s definitely a difference. There’s a difference between an audience, a community, and a movement. To me, they are just getting more and more intensive. An audience would be people that are generally interested in what you do, a community is people that are invested in what you do, and a movement are people that are a part of what you’re doing.
Lesya: How do you get an audience to become a movement and have a really strong base of band advocates?
Ashley: I think that you could even take it step by step. First, audience to community, then community to movement, which is easier than going from audience to movement. If you want to go from audience to community, think about what are ways that you can cultivate more community in your brand. You could do things like challenges, or Twitter Chats, or a Facebook Group. Think about different ways that you can cultivate more community and get people connected to you and to one another.
Then, if you want to take a community to a movement, I would revisit some of the topics about how can we turn the message of your community into an opportunity that people can be a part of. If you wanted to do, let’s just say for example, you were a health coach and you had a thriving community, but you wanted people to become invested in what you were doing, you could create a 21-day adventure where they add different healthy components to their life, and then in the span of those 21 days, become transformed by that.
Now, it’s not like, “Oh, they like you and they love what you do,” but it’s like, “This person’s totally changed my life and I want other people to be a part of it.” Those are the ways I would approach it.
Lesya: Awesome. You’ve built a lot of communities, and you’ve built a lot of movements, and your hashtag on Instagram, #theImperfectBoss, is pretty popular. What’s the secret sauce, and what’s the necessary things for any movement or idea to catch on is general public?
Ashley: I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is that they try to do it too fast. When people email me, and they’ll be like, “I want to start a movement from this thing, and I’m going to do this in two weeks.” (Laughs) I’m like, “No.” I don’t think that’s going to work because, especially when you first launch the movement, you want to put a lot of work in it before you even announce it. That’s what I did with the Imperfect Boss, and you do not necessarily take a year or something, but I took two months to really make sure that I already had people involved. I had people involved that I had built relationships with, and I had also pitched cold pitches to people that I didn’t know yet, but I thought maybe could put their voice behind it.
Influencers, to be honest, is probably one of the biggest points of why the Imperfect Boss has been so successful, especially from the very beginning, was because I was really focused on getting influencers on board, and the magic of that is obviously that they already have a lot of followers. Then, if you get a lot of influencers involved, people start seeing it everywhere because they already follow a lot of those people.
Ultimately, I think that the pillars to any movement are the message, designing an opportunity for someone to experience your message, the rallying – so getting influencers involved, or getting your existing community involved – and then obviously executing it; and then leadership, figuring out where you’re going to take it from there. At the same time, too, you could have a great campaign, but then if you don’t do anything to continue to spread more momentum, then it’s not a movement. It was just a moment. Those would be the pillars I see.
Lesya: It seems, especially right now, with the whole entrepreneur culture and also just internet in general, like a lot of things are going viral overnight for no apparent reason whatsoever. I think people get caught on the idea that if it’s not viral overnight, then it’s not successful, or maybe if you don’t get that overnight thing, then it doesn’t work, so you need to start with a new thing.
Then, like you said, once you go viral, a lot of movements and ideas just get lost pretty quickly. They have that moment and then it left, so how do you combat that? How do you make sure that after you had your big moment, you keep riding that wave as long as possible, and maybe create another viral moment for yourself in the future?
Ashley: Well, it’s interesting, because I’ve talked to some people who have really had things go viral, like articles, or photo shoots, or whatever. They don’t get a lot out of it. They don’t really make money off of it, but it’s a lot of attention and exposure. I think, probably one of the most important pieces is to always have some way that you’re capturing leads in whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s a campaign or it’s a blog post, to have an opt-in form so that you can capture the leads that you get from a viral moment. Then, you can start to build relationships from that viral moment to sustain something larger that can go longer term.
Lesya: Let’s talk a little bit about the Imperfect Boss. You’ve kind of touched on the point about how everything is perfection in this super-staged internet world, so tell us a little more on the different meaning. What does it mean to be the Imperfect Boss and how and why should people embrace that imperfection in their business?
Ashley: It’s really about embracing everything, embracing the entirety of the journey, embracing the entirety of yourself. The beautiful parts and the flawed parts of both yourself and of the journey in being an entrepreneur, and really coming at it from this wholehearted place, or of this holistic place of building a business, not perfectly or flawlessly, but out of the overflow of your heart.
Also, having the permission to have fun with it, and really doing the things that lift you up, and be willing to risk and to fail, because you’ve got the vision and the heart of what you want to do in the world, and you’re willing to look foolish and imperfect, and to make those things happen. It’s a lot about heart, and play, and being brave. I feel like when we live out of those three things, that there is a fulfillment that you get that you could never, ever get if you were just trying to look really good.
Lesya: I want to focus a little bit on Instagram. Like I said, your hashtag is pretty popular, but Instagram is different from a lot of other networks in that it’s pretty closed off. It’s not super easy to build a community there, like with Facebook Groups or Twitter Chats. How do you do it, why would you do it, why would you want to do it on Instagram?
Ashley: To be honest, I really struggled at first on Instagram, so I totally understand. I was like, “I don’t understand how people get followers on here.” Before Instagram, Twitter was my thing. I love Twitter. I found it much easier to build a following on Twitter than on Instagram. For the longest time, I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this on Instagram.” At the same time, I was noticing at that point, and probably a lot of other people feel this way, Instagram seemed to be one of the most popular social media platforms, especially for creative entrepreneurs. So, I was like, “I got to figure this out.”
Honestly, it was through starting the Imperfect Boss that my career really grew. Before I started the Imperfect Boss, I only had 1,000 followers, and now I think I have over 9,000. I think part of that was because when I got people to sign for the campaigns, I said, “You have to tag me.” (Laughs) I got a lot of engagement because of that.
I know there’s lots of other ways to create followings and engagement on Instagram, but the way that I’m taking is to start an Instagram campaign. Like I said before, that was just about putting in a lot of the work beforehand, before I launched the campaign, and then making it easier for people to be redirected and rerouted back to me.
Lesya: I see. Why Instagram?
Ashley: I find lately, people don’t really hang out on Twitter like they do now on Instagram. That’s part of the reason, but the other part is that you can really give someone an experience of who you are, because it’s not just words but it’s also visual. You can start to really build a visual brand. One thing that I talk a lot about in my business, is about really creating these little things that you get known for that might not even seem super related to your topic or to the work that you do, but that give people a sense of connection with who you are.
For example, some people always post about doughnuts, or art, or inspirational quotes. Something like that that really gives people a sense of your personality and the little things that are a part of your brand. For example, I have posted a lot about doughnuts because I really do love them. If someone is on Instagram and they’re like, “I love doughnuts, too,” then they instantly feel connected to me. They’re like, “Oh. That’s me, too.” Through Instagram you can really do that, because of how you can be both visually strong and strong in copy.
Lesya: Because Instagram is so visual, I think that’s the first thing that we see before we get to caption is image. How important do you think it is to have that consistent branding and how do you build that visual identity so people instantly know, “Oh, this is the post from so-and-so.”?
Ashley: I think it’s super important, like you said. People will notice a picture before they start reading the caption. If you can get their attention in the picture, then they’ll probably read the caption… I create most of my consistency through really sticking to my brand colors. I’ve seen other people only do things in black and white, or they use the same filter on everything.
It’s easier for me, especially because my brand is super bright colors, to just stick to those colors. I stick to aqua, purple, and pink. Now, another big thing that I came in to with Instagram, too, was that I am not an actual photographer. (Laughs) I struggle to find pictures. I’m like, “How do people find pictures every day that look so good?” I’ve gone other ways to come up with content. At the beginning, I was reposting content, but then I stopped doing that because I want to become known for my stuff.
Then, I would hire photographers to take pictures of me, and I would buy stock photography. I will never use free stock photos because a lot of times a lot of people will use them.
Lesya: It’s all over the place, yeah.
Ashley: I’ll buy some, mostly from Stocksy.com. Those are pretty expensive, but I think they have the best photos. CreativeMarket.com has some good ones. I’ll do that to really up the visuals. There are ways to get around it. I got around it. (Laughs)
Lesya: Great. That’s a lot of work, and I hope anyone finds it useful, and gets to work right now. If you could leave our audience with one thought after watching this, what would it be?
Ashley: I would say that you should definitely create a movement for your brand, and it won’t happen overnight, but if you put in the heart and the work, it is absolutely 100% worth it.