Julie Harris launched her company, Julie Harris Design (now Whiskey & Red) a little less than a year ago. Yet, she was able to help a lot of small business owners and secure her spot as an influential branding blogger. Could it be her conversational, yet comprehensive writing style and sweet personality? Or could it be due to the fact that in an attempt to help as many people as possible, she spills out all of her secrets on her blog?
Whatever it is, Julie found entrepreneurial success by carefully crafting her own brand first. Learn more about what it takes to be a solopreneur and why defining personal brand is the first, crucial step to achieving your career goals.
Self-employment was something that I never really thought about until I did it. I was always a huge team player. I worked in the food and beverage industry for years; I worked in hospitality for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed working in a team environment.
My boyfriend at the time (now husband) is in the Army; and when he got stationed in Hawaii, I decided to transfer there as well. After moving, I decided I wasn’t making enough money, and I wasn’t happy anymore. I wasn’t spending the kind of time I wanted to spend with him, I wasn’t able to enjoy holidays, and pursuing my own creative endeavors.
I had a degree and all this experience, and I started thinking how I could utilize all these. I was looking for jobs and I didn’t find anything that fit the bill. So I started to brainstorm what my skillsets are and what I can do.
I knew that for myself I wanted to be able to invest the time and energy into a career long-term; I knew I wanted to work virtually, so that I was able to work anywhere in world. With a husband being in the service, you move a lot and it’s hard to build a business, when you’re uprooting yourself every few years. So I wanted to be able to pursue a career on my own – and one that I could do anywhere in the world and that allowed me the creative freedom to travel, and live my life and spend time with my family in the ways I wasn’t able to before. So, taking a step aside and looking at my skillsets, that’s how I’ve pulled together Julie Harris Design.
Was it a scary decision to make? Did you have a fear of failure? How did you overcome doubt?
Totally! I still have those fears from time to time, but I think that’s completely reasonable. When you’re fearful, you really care. I feel like that fear almost fueled me a little, and it gave me that kick in the butt that I needed to just jump or change my mind.
I am a big planner, I like to have all my decks in a row before I do anything. And handling that kind of transition, of course, is huge and you want to have everything in line, but to a certain point, it’s almost impossible. You don’t really know how things are going to go until you just start. People say that all the time and, of course, it’s easier said than done, but literally the best thing you can do for yourself is just get started.
I gave myself financial and emotional deadlines and communicated it with my husband. Being able to communicate with your family where you are at the moment, and making sure that they’re on board, will give you the confidence to make that decision.
I think that the greatest investment was knowing that I’m going to give myself a set deadline of time in order to get started. That time is going to be unpaid, so I had to save in order to be able to compensate for that and give myself the time to devote solely to the business and move forward. I gave myself 3 years; but if in 3 years it just wasn’t working, and this wasn’t happening, that’s okay.
But also know that if you fail that’s ok. You might not like it. I know people who hate self-employment, who thought it sounded so fun until they did it,and then they realized they do better in a team environment. But you won’t know that until you try.
You’ve just launched Julie Harris Design in the beginning of 2015. What kind of results have you seen so far? How many success stories do you have?
Oh my goodness, I’d like to say that all of them are success stories. It’s been amazing. It’s been, by far, one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. It’s been the best decision I’ve made financially, personally, professionally. The connections I’ve been able to make with people all over the world, I have clients everywhere. I have the constant creative flexibility to pursue different channels, whether it’d be branding, design, brand development, web design.
I get to work with people from all levels of entrepreneurship, so not only am I getting to learn and experience working with multiple levels, and getting to then reflect on that in my own business, but to see my clients get to that place of clarity is by far the most rewarding process.
My income is successful; my relationships are amazing; my marriage is fantastic. I think that making this decision only enhanced my life. There are stressful points, but the good always outweighs the bad. You live your brand when you do this: you wake up thinking business, you go to bed thinking business, you even dream about business. It kind of gets overwhelming, but when you do what you love and you absolutely love what you’re doing, it doesn’t always feel like work. It is that much easier to continuously push yourself to be successful.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be online business professional? How do online businesses differ from offline ones in their day-to-day operations and larger missions? Are they that much different?
I say no. As a small business owner, there’s absolutely nothing small about it. You are in complete control of every single piece of your business, so whether you’re doing business online or offline, your brand has to be set and consistent. Every decision we make counts.
For business being offline or online, the only difference to me is you have to work that much harder online to personally engage your clients, to personally seek them out and go beyond. Being online, it’s really easy to like a photo or two, or send a thank you email or an auto responder series – all of those things can be incredibly helpful in expediting the time in your day – but also you need to make sure to schedule an actual one-on-one time with clients, one-on-one time in your social groups, actively pursuing the relationship building.
There is a certain level of disconnect online that you don’t have when you’re in a brick-and-mortar business. So you have to combat that through just making extra steps; and it doesn’t have to be online: you can send letters or thank you cards, Starbucks gift cards. There are all kinds of things you can do to send little gifts, to find ways to delight your audience in a way that shocks or surprises them in a good way – something they might not be anticipating because you’re an online business.
You said you want to redefine what it means to be an online business professional. How are you going to take on the task?
One entrepreneur at a time. To redefine what it means to be an online business professional is to combat that disconnect that I was just talking about.
My degree is in Theater with an emphasis in Entertainment Business; and in theater it’s all about storytelling, and communication, and reading your audience, and setting the stage.
When it comes to doing business online, focusing not on the numbers, the statistics, the pageviews, all of the technical side that comes into running your business, but the personal experience – from the way you talk, the way you dress, the way you socialize, all of the different pieces that factor into your brand – to me, is creating an experience around making business with you. That is what I’m striving to help people with – to really curate and craft a really unique, personal, invested, engaged experience online.
What role do you think branding is playing in today’s business world? How important is defining personal brand to the success of a business?
Branding is the success. I know it’s my business, so I can jump in and say that, but it is really really important. Branding is not only your visuals; it’s not just the way something looks or feels, but how it works. There is a really cool quote by Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
For me, when I say Julie Harris Design, design is the unification of function and form, so thoughts and ideas put into action, and both a visual and textual base. For branding, it’s not just your logo, your color palettes and textures, it’s the structure of your words, and it’s the way in which you’re communicating on various levels. And communication is only successful if it’s received in the way it was meant to be received.
So you can be brilliant artist, teacher and what not, but if your information is not being received properly, then it’s almost a waste. Branding helps clarify and provide confidence, structure and a direction to how you’re communicating – whether it’s in visuals, text, video, emails, whatever the form of content is – so I think it’s very important.
Talk to me about the process of defining personal branding and the importance of it. Why does everyone need to create and be aware of their own brand as a business professional and as a person?
Personal branding is defining who you are and what you stand for. In business, when you try to stand for everything, you essentially stand for nothing.
Online, as I said before, it’s important to combat that sense of distrust, combat that disconnect. Personal branding is articulating all of the best qualities that make up you and what makes you unique: who you are, who you work with, what you provide that’s unique to you and you alone, and why that is important. And not just important to you, but important to your audience. Really factor in all of that to define your personal brand. Then it comes to consistently articulating these things in your content. Consistency breeds trust; and trust is everything in business, especially online.
Quality branding relies on consistency. And consistency is something a lot of companies of all sizes struggle with. Do you have any tips on how to stay consistent in branding?
My advice in that regard is don’t feel like you have to be everywhere at once; master the steps as they go. Rushing through it will cause you to make rash decisions versus really focused decisions, and that can oftentimes reflect in on unauthentic brand. Oftentimes, I tell people that there are trends that look good, but don’t throw something together just because it’s fun, but it doesn’t have any of that backbone, any of the stuff we talked about earlier (the mission, the vision, the values).
Defining what you’re standing for really makes all the difference. Knowing who you’re talking to will help you set some guidepost. Put together a brand style guide; and not just a visual guide but a brand style guide, one that articulates your core values, has a list of quotes, has your “about” content, your bios, your target audience profiles all written out. Being able to reflect on that as you’re creating visual content will help you have that stability as a solopreneur, as somebody working alone and building this on your own.
Give us a few first steps everyone can take on their own to develop and define their brand. Personal or business, where would they start in this process?
First thing I tell people when I’m working with clients on brand development is to define the life you want to live. Figure out who you want to be “when you grow up,” what kind of lifestyle you want to live, and then create your brand, your business to compliment that.
When you own your business, it has to be functional in your life. It has to be able to support your lifestyle choices. If you want to run your own business, but have all the time in the world to travel, you will have to work while travelling, so keep that in mind. Look at your history, your strengths and different milestones that got you to where you are today.
Second step is defining who you are, who you want to work with, what you want to do. Why is it important? This is sort of defining your brand vision: the goal of what you’re trying to put out there, your mission and how you’re going to do that. Even if you dare not sure what you want to do yet, knowing what your promise is to your audience – whether it will be to educate, to entertain, to empower, to engage, to elevate – would be your brand’s values. Every time you create something, make sure it reflects on those to build the consistency.
Then, define your target audience. The moment I was able to define who it was I was speaking to, my tone got so much more specific, my voice got stronger, and my branding got clearer. By being so specific and knowing who your ideal client – somebody who would be able to make the most out of the goods or services you provide – that one individual that you curate would have some sort of generic quality that others will then be able to identify with and that’s how you pull in your audience.
Once you have your audience defined, your values defined, and your life goals and how it relates your professional and personal life, your building blocks are set. And from there, you jump into the visuals; you find the color palette, the textures, the tones that cohesively tie it all together and create a really strong authentic brand that doesn’t just look, but feels and acts like you.
Give us some DIY tools to try our hand at branding. How people can start in creating their own branding and make it look professional?
I have a whole Resources page about it for people to just DIY themselves. Pinterest is the go-to. Also on Pinterest, I always have my clients create a secret board, where I ask them to pull images, fonts, patterns but also posts, content, quotes, just things that authentically reflect something about themselves and just curate a whole board of pins. Then, once you have 40 or 50, go through them and you’ll start to see a pattern in them. Get rid of the ones that don’t seem to really fit in; and all of a sudden, you’ll have this guiding inspiration boards of resources to help you combat those steps on your own.
Also, join Facebook groups; there are tons of brilliant entrepreneurial communities. Oftentimes, you’d feel less alone being a part of a community of other women, professionals, entrepreneurs, designers, creatives that are all working toward the same goals. You have somebody you can turn to, people who have been there before and remember what that was like, and are willing to help you out. The next thing you know, you’ll have that much more experience and support, that when somebody else comes in who’s at the place where you were, you’ll be able to help them. It is just constant cycle of support and confidence.
Do you have any more tips and thoughts you’d like to share?
One thing that people worry about is they feel that they have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t think that’s always necessary. Sometimes, you might find something in your own field that might be lacking, yet it might be an everyday thing.
Twitter chats are great example; they are by no means anything new, but in an industry that is not quite catered to on Twitter, it may be not the traditional place to reach out to your audience, yet a great resource to take advantage of. Instagram – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and come up with the world’s most creative filter. Sometimes just being authentically you is something people will identify with.
Don’t be afraid to make workbook just because everybody else is making a workbook. Workbooks are useful, period. How is your workbook going to be different because of what you bring to the table? Don’t be afraid to do something if you think it has value just because other people have done it before.
Visit Julie’s blog to learn more about personal branding and how you can employ her in-depth tactics in your own business.