In this episode I’m joined by Helen Tremethick – a brand voice strategist & business coach who helps entrepreneurs find the courage, confidence, and clarity they need to grow and scale their businesses.
Formerly the CEO of The Communications Distillery, Helen has recently rebranded under her own name. Since 2011, she has worked with hundreds of business owners to clarify their messaging, copy, business models, and transform their self-confidence while doing so. If you’re looking for the skills you need to show up and speak up in your business, Helen’s the solution for you. Helen lives in an old farmhouse in the middle of the Ontario countryside, which means if you ever hop on a coaching call with her, you might hear roosters. I’m intrigued.
TL;DR For those who want to connect with Helen, you can find her here:
Freebie! Get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what 31 successful entrepreneurs did to grow their businesses while becoming more authentic and brazen: Love and Badassery
Disclaimer: The following transcript has been auto-generated and then edited by me and while the general flow of the conversation is there, it’s most certainly not 100% accurate. Also: I had to do this recording outside off my usual office hours, which means that there was both a dog, a cat and a teenager in the house with me as I recorded this – and I know for a fact that you’re going to hear a least one of them at least once during the duration off this episode. So apologies for that, I hope it doesn’t distract too much from your listening experience today, Anyways, on to the episode!
P: Welcome, Helen. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
H: Thanks Petchy, I’m glad to be here.
P: Yeah, so I haven’t really known you, or even known of you for very long at all. But you were a guest on one of my favorite podcasts to listen to (which, for anyone who’s interested is Erica Tebbens’ podcast Sell it, sister) and you were on there, talking about showing up as your unique self. My regular listeners will know this is something I go on and on and on about when I talk about branding. And so naturally I was like, “I need to connect with this person!” So I did. And here you are!
H: Here I am. Honestly, that’s one of my favorite topics as well, showing up as your most bold, audacious that as self and how that is really good for business. You know, I’m really just loving how my online business network is growing on expanding on now, starting to overlap in more and more parts.
P: I’m just so happy that you’re here today to talk about brand voice strategy. Just before we really get stuck into the juicy parts. What’s in it for today’s listeners? What will they be able to take away from this episode?
H: I think we’re gonna have a really great chat today, Petchy, and I think that this is going to be really nicely informal and a really great conversation you can draw some good teachings from. I think that there’s going to be something in here for anybody who’s interested in how to lean into their own voice, how to get clear on what that looks like for their business, why that’s important and why it will help their right clients find them.
P: And you know… another thing that I keep going on about when I talk about branding: how it’s not all about the visuals, but it’s also how you need to have an underlying strategy for all of the parts of your brand so that they can really like work together. And so I really love that we’re going to talk about the brand voice strategy today.
H: Me, too. I often talk to people about what I call the golden trifecta of a website, and of course, this extends out to your social and anywhere you’re showing up with your business, but my playground tends to be in websites, so I often refer to websites. The disclaimer is; whenever I’m talking about websites, I’m also talking about the rest of your business, but I often refer to something that I call the golden trifecta of a good website and that is that it looks really good. It has to look good. We’re visual creatures. We love pretty things, but it also has to work. Well, you need those links to work. You need your your content strategy to make sense. You need your users to know where to go and for them to be able to get there. But it also needs to read well. Your people, when they land on your site, need to feel seen and heard and understood. They need to know, like and trust you, and they need to know how to take those next steps. Once you’ve got that golden trifecta, the looks, that it works, that it reads, then that’s when you get into this really captivating space. So yes, visual, it’s super super important. But there are these other aspects to your website, and also the rest of your business, that really support those visuals. Because if all you have is pretty pictures and a really good looking brand, you’re not going to get very far if you don’t have those other elements.
P: Yeah, you can have really pretty visuals, but if it’s not aligned with the rest of your stuff; your message, the content that you put out there… It feels disconnected. People are not gonna trust you because they’re not going to know who you are. They’re gonna think “What’s the deal here?” so you’re gonna confuse them?
H: That’s exactly right. And so we often talk about coming back to your values and what your your brand values are often as entrepreneurs are brand values air pretty aligned with our personal values. So when we can get clear on those, then it makes it easier for us to write and really clear, consistent ways. And we don’t get muddled or confused about what happens next because we just come back to who we are and what we want to say, why this work is important. And that’s what really creates that alignment. When people are landing on your stuff, they’re saying, “Yes, I I understand this person, and I feel like they’re the solution for me”, and they kind of get you. They get the person behind the brand.
P: Exactly. I find that that a lot of the clients that I work with who are usually (well, a lot of them are anyway) entrepreneurs or small business owners… They are sometimes scared to put too much of themselves into their business and their brand because, well… I’ve experienced this myself and you might have to and our listeners probably have… But all throughout my career, I’ve been told that ah, you need to behave in a certain way or you need to not say certain words or you need to come across as professional (whatever that means!) and so it’s no wonder that people are a little bit apprehensive to start injecting too much of them.
H: This is really, really common. And if anybody is listening right now, who’s feeling that kind of apprehension? That hesitation about showing up more so in their brand – know that you are not alone. I have these conversations all the time with people and it makes sense. We are trained throughout our lives to toe the line. The system works because we toe the line. And so I’m not gonna devolve into, like, an anti capitalist rant (although I could!) but the system is designed for us to stay in line, and so we’re expected to do so. So what happens when we go out on our own and we’re forging our own path and we’re trying to show up in what’s ultimately quite a noisy marketplace, is that we still have this toe the line training, and that results in our hesitation around not knowing how much to share and how much to keep back. So I would say right off the top that there is a line between sharing who you are and sharing vulnerable hot mess. You don’t want your dirty laundry out there. Unless, of course, you’re Glennon Doyle, and then that’s your brand. There are people who have made very successful businesses out of airing their hot mess in the world, but chances are if you’re listening to this podcast, that’s not you, and it’s not me either. So the question is really how much are you going to share and that is all about knowing who your ideal client is, who your ideal audience member is, and by asking yourself if you would share it with them. Then you can see that line becomes much clearer. You can see it better. Um, do I want this amazing client to know all about this stuff – or is it all just dirty laundry to that client? And if it is, then you don’t share it. So bringing it back to your brand values and bringing it back to who is reading this – that will help you. That will help you gauge exactly how much to share. This is uncomfortable work. It’s introspective work. But getting there is all about building out clarity and confidence and consistency, really leaning into our imperfections as business owners. And so once we can start practicing those things, then the words start coming easier. The words are the results of the deeper work
P: Yeah, like you said, it is hard work. It is intense even for people like you and me who do this kind of work with our clients – but when we have to turn the tables, do this work for ourselves… Well, I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for myself. And I know that I find it really, really tough to dive into those values and to really lay the foundations of what my brand is going to be. And so I can totally identify with the people I work with when they struggle to really nail those values and that foundation.
H: I think we all suffer from a bit of cobbler shoes syndrome where you know, the cobbler has holes in their shoes, and I have found just as, like, a little tip or trick for my that’s worked for me. When I’m sharing something that I think is really funny or strange, that tends to land really, really well with my audience so noticing, notice it the stuff that you’re sending out there, what’s getting those responses from your people from your right people? Not just, you know, you, your mom or your best friend from high school who are following you on Instagram. But your right people. What is landing really well? And what were those feelings that you are feeling when you wrote that? So this is all building into your brand strategy. It’s not as cerebral as we think it is. Of course, there are some cerebral aspects to it, but a lot of it really comes from that deeper place. I know that if I’m writing something and I end up laughing out loud, I’m going to get a bunch of responses to that newsletter, or I’m gonna have people respond to me and say, I really liked this piece on your website. So I know that a factor in what feels good for my brand is that I feel this feeling and then my audience feels it too. So noticing where where it’s gone well and then trying to repeat that as well, diving into those feelings.
P: I can recognize a lot of what you’re saying in my own feelings of my own work with my branding. Oftentimes I find that the post that I haven’t over analyzed, you know, the content that I put out there that really just comes from the heart, they are the ones that do well.
H: Absolutely. Because they’re real and people can feel that. People can feel it. I mean, we’re relatively new to communicating over the internet. In the grand scheme of how long we’ve been communicating with each other, the internet is still a brand new baby. But we are learning what feels genuine and what feels less genuine. I think that’s part of the rationale behind the bro marketing backlash that’s been happening recently is that we have been feeling that is disingenuous, that it doesn’t come from a place where we can feel connected to it. And so therefore, the more that we can feel connected to what we’re putting out there, the more we’re connecting with the right people, and that’s really key. And I’ll talk about self qualification in a second. But the more our right people will connect with it, too. It comes from a person to a person, up into space, into the ether, down into somebody else’s computer, to another person. And that is something to keep in mind: that this is a conversation between one person and another.
P: What I like is that for every person I see who is breaking the mold, you know… the bro marketing mold, and coming out on showing up as them and being genuine and really caring out about people… and bringing that into their online connections as well as their real life connections. (I mean online is real life these days, anyways, I find!) But for every person who dares to take that step and be themselves, we are making a difference. We’re changing the online business sphere, and that feels powerful.
H: It is powerful because those of us who are daring to break those rules are breaking the system and being role models for what’s possible. And that’s not easy. This work is not easy, but it’s important because what we want is to create a more ethical marketing system, and we want to show people that they could do that, too. I’m going to show that there is the possibility that is outside of the templates and the rules that don’t feel good, that there’s something that does feel good, and this is where self qualification comes in. When I keep saying your right people, what I’m talking about are the people who say yes, the people who refer you to their friends, the people who pay you your rates without asking for discounts. The people who say “yes okay”, when you’ve upped your rates. These right people are the people that you want, and you also want the wrong people to hit the back button – you want the wrong people to say, “Actually, this is not my person”, because then you’re not wasting anybody’s time. The faster that those not right people can say “Oh, hell, no. This person is not for me. I’m out of here!” the better because you haven’t wasted your time. They haven’t wasted their time and they can go and find somebody who is right for them. And you can both go on your merry ways so that you can invest your time with the people who are good for you and good for your business.
P: Yeah, what I’ve found in my own business (I keep going back and referring to my own brand, and that’s because I just want people to have something that’s relatable coming from the people who are going to teach them about this!) is that for a very long time I was more general in my communication because of all the reasons that we’ve spoken about… you know, the conditioning that we’ve been so used to from a very young age. I used to get all sorts of clients knocking on my door on. I used to be so scared of turning any of them away because, you know, what would people say if you start turning away business, how they’re going to react? You know, that’s going to feel a bit counterintuitive. And what I found is that the more me I dared to be the fewer of those enquiries I got.
H: Exactly that. Yes.
P: So that would mean that the people who I wasn’t gonna click with anyway, they just didn’t contact me. And so I didn’t have to make that choice to say I’m sorry. I don’t think we’re a good fit because they were able to make that decision for themselves.
H: Exactly. Absolutely. And there were two really key things I think you said there as well: What would people say? What would people say if? I think we’re very quick to hold on to that. I’m speaking personally that “what would people say” feels like it’s got a lot of weight, and the more that we can notice when we’re feeling “what would people say”… pull back from that and move into “what do I feel I need to say about this?” the better it is for our brand and our business. The less we’re pulled into what we’re “supposed to do”, the more we’re leaning in to what works for us and what works for our business. The other aspect of what you said there was about turning people away. Sometimes you need to take the gig. Sometimes it’s a shit project. It’s a shit client. It’s shit pay, but you gotta keep the roof over your head and groceries on on your table, and that is a reality of running your own business. Sometimes you have to take the gig, and I want to acknowledge that out loud so that we can recognize that sometimes you make decisions for your future self that aren’t necessarily comfortable right now – and that not everybody has the privilege to be able to say no to the gigs that aren’t right. Sometimes it takes years to be able to walk away from something that feels like a red flag, and sometimes you never do. So I just wanted to say it’s a real privilege to be able to do so.
P: I mean, I’m not completely at the stage in my business where I can always say no to projects unless they fit my perfect project dream unicorn criteria. It’s just the way life is. But the fewer of the projects you don’t like that you actually have to take on the better. You’re gonna do you gonna do better work as well, which is again going to get that snowball rolling.
H: Totally. That’s exactly it! And like you said, the more that you can lean into who you are, the better your brand voice strategy. And by better I mean more genuine. And the word authentic has been so washed out. But I am talking about authenticity.
P: I just want to take that word back.
H: I know. I want to take it back like, I mean authentic by the definition. Look it up. It’s on Google. Uh, the more authentic that you could make your brand, the more you you could make your brand, like you said, the fewer nos you’re going to have to say, the fewer nos you’re going to get, and the better it’s going to be for your business in the long run, and we’re all in it for the for the long run, right? At least we hope so until we decide that we’re going to do something else. And when we do, it will be our decision. We’re going to sell our businesses for a gazillion dollars and…
P: I can’t wait for that day. I can’t see that happening any time soon, but you know, a girl can dream, right?
H: Yeah, indeed! And you know, and this is where branding with strategy comes into play: that, uh, that you’re closer to the gazillion dollars. This isn’t a quotable, but you’re closer to the gazillion dollars when you can lean into who you are. And so by that gazillion dollars I mean that you’re closer to your right fit clients. You’re closer to consistent marketing. You’re closer to feeling less confused about what you’re going to write next. You’re closer to knowing how to answer the questions that come up in the day to day. You’re closer to knowing whether it’s a good service to put out to your people or not. You’re closer to knowing whether this is a good business model for you. All of that comes back to knowing who you are, what your values are and how you want to show up in the world.
P: Yeah, I wanna quickly just ask, because I know that we have both spoken now about values and how important they are for a brand. And so when you start to develop your brand voice strategy, obviously values are going to be part of it. But where do you actually, you know, start? As in something, something actionable, something tangible, like, What’s the starting point? What would you say to someone who hasn’t really given this much thought before?
H: That’s a really great question, because these can feel like really lofty ideas, but what it comes down to… I would recommend that people do a free writing session where they sit down, set the timer for five minutes and write “What do I believe in?” And then let those words come out. And if you feel stuck, look at the last word you wrote and say “What do I mean by that?” and then keep on writing. So free writing is a really great way to get past the “shoulds and I’m not sures” in our brains and get into our feeling self, our body self. And what’s amazing is that exercises like this can really draw up some really great ideas and also some really good copy for your website. So I would say start off with a little writing session: “What do I believe in?” and then pull from there.
P: I think the beauty about the free writing is you don’t actually have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to?
H: Yeah, this is a not published thing. This is really for you. You don’t have to share it with your dog even, like this is just for you. That is a lot less scary than starting to write a caption or a piece of content that you know is going to hit someone out there.
H: What is the headline for my homepage? Write it. Now there’s none of that pressure. So doing that free writing can really bring energy back into back into your copy, because then you have the choice. You can say, Oh, hey, that was really good. I’m gonna pull that out or this is a really interesting idea. I want to build it out to see what’s there because it might be the basis of my methodology. It might be a blog post it might be the new way that I’m building out my business model. So I was saying earlier that the results are words. But all of this stuff is really quite introspective. And when we can get some clarity and some understanding around what we believe in, we can support that with evidence. We’ve seen big multinational brands who say “we believe in community”, but really they’re actually just hoarding money. They’re dragons sitting on piles of gold, and they’re not feeding it back into the communities. And if they do, they’re doing it for a tax write off. So believing in the community is a bullshit value. So when it comes to ourselves, we need to have proof. We need to approve that this is a value of ours. You can see that it is because you believe in community to give 10% of your proceeds back, or you have purposefully created space in your schedule for volunteering in your community. Or there’s all sorts of ways that that the value of community could show up in your business. And once you can see those examples, then you know it’s true. You know it’s true to you. And that’s something that you can lean into as a pillar and as a guiding principle for your brand. And then you can use that to make content production a lot easier. You can see “Where else does this show up in my business? Does it show up in my methodology? Does it show up in the things that I’m saying to my clients every single time?” Notice those things, and then you can bring that into your brand voice strategy. You could bring that into your content strategy. You could bring it into your marketing strategy.
P: I love how it all comes back to strategy.
H: It does. It does, you know, we use the words strategy and it. Like I said earlier, it’s very cerebral. It’s very “This is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m going to do next. I’m going to write it down. It’s going to be in a spreadsheet” etcetera. But oftentimes the the step that comes before that strategy is really emotive. It comes from inside, and when we can get clear on what feels like a right fit for us, then then we can start building that out into what that looks like in action steps and the way you’ve taken that and turned it more into something to do with feelings rather than like strategy.
P: Strategy is a big, scary word that… I mean… I’ve seen people’s eyes literally glaze over the minute I mention strategy. They’re like “Oh, no…” But when you actually look at what the basis of a strategy could be. Then it becomes less scary, less intimidating. And it’s like something that you can actually do, which is a huge reason why I’m running this podcast in the first place. I want to demystify brand strategy and business strategy. And I want to show people that you don’t have to be this slick, slightly cocky dude in a suit to do strategy work.
H: Absolutely. And in fact, you don’t have to be anybody but you in order to do strategy work. I know what you mean about this eyes glazing over. So what we need to bring it back to is you. Your business your way. What is working for you? What feels good for you? What feels good for your clients? What are the possibilities that you create for your clients? Get really into that that emotive space. And then from there, you can figure out what are the bigger goals? What are the smaller action steps that I can take in order to progress on all of that really good stuff?
P: I think the key here is the smaller action steps.
H: Yeah. Yeah. I often ask my clients what do you want to feel? And what can you do today to get you closer to that feeling? Yeah. And also we’ve spoken about not caring so much about what would other people say. Go back into yourself and think, “What do I want, what’s right for me?” and then use that as your guiding star. Because then, once you’ve found that clarity in yourself, then you’re not experiencing comparisonitis as much as you were before. You are connecting with your right people, they are telling their people, and you’re creating consistent content all the time, whether this is on your your website or whether this is on your social platforms or whether this is in your newsletter…, that that consistency is what builds a brand and that consistency is what is going to make people trust you because they will see you and they will hear you showing up as you repeatedly, and they will start to trust that you’re always going to show up as you, you’re genuine and you’re real.
P: And I think there’s been a little bit of a change in recent years. Like what is a brand and I think now more than ever, consumers are starting to have this expectation. They want a connection with a brand rather than just a commodity. A brand is so much more. It’s about belonging. It’s about feeling like “These are my people. Yes, I want to support these people’s cause. I want to buy these people’s products. I agree with their whole sort of business ethos. So these are my people.” And when you can tap into that, I think that’s when you can really start to build a brand that can really make a difference. When I say really make a difference, I don’t mean like we’re gonna create world peace or, you know, anything drastic like that. But if every smaller business out there starts to show up as themselves, imagine what a collective difference we could make.
H: Absolutely, we can. We can talk about that on so many different levels that if we’re showing up more as ourselves, our businesses are more successful, we’re making more revenue. Then we’re making better decisions with the money that we have. We’re being generous with that, and so that trickles out to our local community, our family community and also the larger global community. So we’re making better decisions because we’re in less of a feast/famine cycle. We’re in less of a scarcity place and that comes back to making a bit more money. You’re doing that because you’re being consistent with your branding.
P: Oh, there’s so much gold in this conversation, I’m going to have to listen back to it myself afterwards.
H: I love it.
P: I also love how how you’ve got your triangle, the trifecta that you were talking about and the three different parts of that. It is the like a recipe that people could easily follow?
H: I think it really comes down to not overvaluing any single one. I think people often think “Oh, I need a new website” and they immediately go to a palette, new brand photos, fonts, etcetera and we put a lot of effort into that and that is super super valuable. Absolutely. Our design is really valuable or visuals are really valuable. And it’s not just that. So I think that the recipe… If there’s anything, don’t forget an ingredient. Yes. You want your visuals. And so put the effort into that. Get a good photographer, get some really great shots. Even in Covid times there are some amazing photographers who are doing photo shoots through Zoom so you can update your brand photos in a really safe way. Um, but don’t forget that once people land on your site and they go, wow, great brand photos you want to convince them to stay there and then to take the next step. So the recipe is more in “Don’t forget the ingredient that what your website is going to do for you.”
P: This has been such a great conversation! Before we round off I wanted to ask you if you’ve got one actionable tip that you can share with the listeners today – and by that I mean, just something that they can easily start to implement without too much faff.
H: Yeah, I would say free write. Allow yourself to free write. Allow yourself to express who you are. Give yourself permission to. Anyway, you don’t have to publish it, but explore what’s there. What would you say if you had all the space, all the freedom, all the permission… lean into what makes you feel. So if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel bad, if it makes you feel angry, lean into that because there’s information there. And so really, allow yourself to go through that process of looking at what’s underneath and see what you come up with. I would also say that if you can: write a manifesto for your business, because manifesto can (and we didn’t touch on that very much at all in this episode, but I’m happy to answer questions from anybody) really draw up good energy and motivation for your brand that you can rely on as a talisman or a touchstone.
P: So a lot of the listeners are probably now thinking, Where can I connect with this amazing person and learn more about this? Where can they find you? Where is the best place to connect with you online?
H: Well, the best place for you to connect with me online is on Instagram, so I am @helentremethick on Instagram. My website is helentremethick.com and if you want to join my Facebook group, it’s called Love and Badassery, which is the root of a whole lot of things.
P: Brilliant. Love and badassery, I love that name. By the way, you’ve also got a bit of a freebie or a project going on there where people can actually get the scoop on what really life entrepreneurs are doing in terms of what we’ve just been speaking about today?
H: Absolutely! Earlier in 2020 I ran a community project. I had 31 amazing people share their behind the scenes story of how they grew their businesses while becoming more authentic to who they are, while becoming more of themselves, really leaning into themselves – just like we’ve talked about throughout this whole conversation. So I have 31 people in the community project. It went so well that I decided that all this really great information needs to be available all the time, so you can find that at loveandbadassery.com, and it’s free for the taking. There’s 31 incredible stories there that will help you feel aligned, motivated, inspired and really ready to dive into your own business.
P: I can totally vouch for that being a really good resource. I’ve had a little sneak listen to some of them, and I haven’t had a chance to listen through all of them yet. But I’m definitely going to do that. Some really awesome people there on so inspirational. Thank you so much for being here today.
H: Thank you for having me!
I hope you all enjoyed that conversation with Helen as much as I did! Until next time.
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