Episode #45 and Show Notes:
Rachel is a personal brand strategist on a mission to help entrepreneurs who are the face of their business build a kickass personal brand that tells their story and says everything about them in a glance.
The 8th Level Podcast is about being self-employed, entrepreneurship, and managing our online business. It’s also about connecting to our souls, having the right mindset, and self-care. My name is Lourdes, and I am the host of this show. Thank you for listening to this episode today!
Rachel is a personal brand strategist on a mission to help entrepreneurs who are the face of their business build a kick-ass personal brand that tells their story, and says everything about them in a glance. Her previous work as a creative freelancer includes designing logos, writing copy, building websites, and constructing brand experiences for service-based business ranging from tech and finance to beauty and holistic health. Today, she helps her clients build a brand that connects with their audience through brand messaging, brand visuals, brand strategy, and smart application. Outside of her work, Rachel loves making digital art, spending time in nature, and making mischief with her cat.
Lourdes: Rachel, thank you so much for joining me on my podcast today! How are ya?
Rachel: I’m doing amazing! I’m so excited for this conversation, thank you for having me here today!
Lourdes: Sure, sure! So you’re a branding specialist. And, why did you become a branding specialist, is that how you started your business?
Rachel: I would like to say that finding branding was a happy accident for me. I actually started out as a graphic designer. And all I knew growing up was that I wanted to create things for people for a living. And the reason why I even got into my business was because I wasn’t happy at my full-time job. I was doing graphic design at a marketing company, and the way that I was doing my work, it wasn’t fulfilling for me. And I wanted to explore working together with different types of people on different projects. And so, the start of my business actually was focused on just graphic designing. And I was just trying everything, you never know what will light you up until you try it, and so I did a lot of different types of projects with different people. And I stumbled upon branding as a happy mistake, because someone asked for it, and I said hey yeah, I would love to try working together with you on this.
Let’s make this an adventure and we’ll build it together. And so, we did! And I ended up falling in love with it. And in the beginning it was just visual branding, cause of course my area of speciality is in branding, I focus naturally on the visuals. But over time that evolved as I discovered that branding is actually much more than just what you see on the surface. Branding is just an expression of an identity. And as we know with identity, even as people, we are complicated. We are like onions, there’s so many layers deep.
And over time across the course of my journey, I discovered that the further down we dig and the more layers we peel back, the more we’re actually able to construct a brand that is dynamic, almost like humanizing a business. Where it’s not just surface level stuff, it’s not just oh it looks pretty, it’s about creating connections. And that’s a roundabout way of answering your question, but I found branding in the course of me exploring and trying to figure out what I really love doing. And I still love it to this day!
Lourdes: Okay, so you worked for digital marketing, and then somebody came to you for branding. I know you just explained what branding is, but it sounds really complicated. Is it?
Rachel: It’s a big picture and little picture thing, at the same time. One thing that I like to use to explain branding – And because I’m a visual person, I’ll sort of help you visualize what a brand is. A brand is sort of like a Lego castle; it’s one big unit, and you see it and you know exactly what it is, but it’s made up of many little blocks that stack on top of each other. And in order to get the big picture, you need every single one of those blocks in exactly the position that they’re in. And they need to connect with each other in order for you to have the full picture and to have it stand. And that’s basically what a brand is. A brand is just an expression of an identity. And as we know with human beings, identity is a very complex subject.
Because it’s not always positive, there’s good sides of us, and there’s sides of us that we might not be very happy with. But in order for us to stitch a cohesive picture together, we need to have all of these pieces working together as one cohesive unit and going in the same direction. And the same applies to business! I focus more on personal branding, but the principle is the same when we talk about business too. It’s just about humanizing it, and imagining if your company was a person, what would they be like, and how do they interact with your audience? And when you say it like that, it simplifies it so much more. That’s basically what branding is.
Lourdes: Okay, so with branding and the person that came to you that asked you for branding for the very first time, what challenges did you have?
Rachel: Well the first thing was, even within myself, I had a lot of impostor syndrome. And I remember being super upfront even with that client and telling them “This is the first time I am creating a professional logo for somebody’s business –”
Lourdes: Oh, good! You were very transparent then, right? Good!
Rachel: And I then showed them my portfolio, and we decided to go ahead with working together, because they were in the startup phase too and they totally understood. And they said, “Hey well, let’s try something new together, and we’re willing to work with you because we think you’re a cool person, we’ve seen other samples of your work, and we think you’re gonna do a really good job.
So, as long as we’re open with communication and we understand each other throughout this whole process, no doubt we’re gonna come out with something that we are both extremely happy with.” And the biggest roadblock initially was just the feeling of inadequacy that came up within myself. And of course, we will feel like that when we try anything new for the first time. And I’m so thankful that I didn’t let that stop me, because imagine what would have happened if I just stayed in my little corner and did the same kinds of projects over and over again, I never would’ve found branding!
Lourdes: So, who is your ideal client that you work with with branding?
Rachel: That’s a great question, and the way I’m gonna answer you might not be the typical answer that a lot of business owners give by spitting out like a specific demographic or type of person. I like to think of the people that I work with, first and foremost, they are the front face of their business. Oftentimes, they’re on a mission on this planet, they’re trying to get their message out there in some way. But they represent everything that they do, and when people look at their business, they see them. They are the highlight of their customer’s experience.
So that’s sort of the big bucket that I like to use to describe the people that I work with. But on a really nitty-gritty level, the people that really light me up are the people who are intrinsically super passionate and excited about what they do. They’re easily excitable, they’re super inspired, they’re kind of like ping pong balls. When I say something, they’re like “Oh my god that’s so cool!” and then we bounce off of each other. They’re not afraid to get their hands messy, and they’re not afraid to just be themselves.
And it’s interesting, because there are some people who come to me who say “Hey Rachel, I would really like to build a brand, but I absolutely don’t wanna talk about myself.” And it puts me in a hard position, because you are your brand. That is everything that your brand is. And I can’t construct something that looks good on the outside and have you missing from that picture. And so I love working together with people who just get that. They’re like, “Yeah I’m willing to put myself out there and be seen. All of the wonderful lovely messy parts, every bit of it, I am excited and I am ready to do that. And I’m excited to discover how to do that even better than I’m already doing it.”
And so, I love working with people who have a specific kind of attitude, and it’s less about what industry you’re in, how far along in your journey you’re at. It really depends on how well we vibe together. And when I tell a lot of my business counterparts about it, they’re like “That’s not a target audience.” I’m like, well, that’s how I determine who I get along with the most, and how well we’re going to be working together. So, I hope that answers your question. It’s a little mishy-mashy, but that’s the kind of people I love working together with.
Lourdes: So basically, you can help anybody that has an open mind to share their personal feelings or personal beliefs or whatever it is that they are able to tell you. But those that didn’t want to tell you, like for example you mentioned that somebody didn’t want to tell you about their personal life. Do you help every client, or do you turn away any clients that don’t want to do that?
Rachel: Yeah, there are some people where I do have to have that conversation and say with them, I can’t do the work that you want me to do together with you unless we’re willing to have those conversations. Because that is what a brand is. A brand is an identity, and if we are not willing to talk about your identity, if we’re not willing to get up close and personal with those things, I’m sorry, I can’t help you build a brand, because you don’t have one. You might as well go hire a designer. They can make you look pretty on the outside. And if that’s what you’re looking for, yeah, I might not be the right person for you. But if you want to construct something that is dynamic, that people can actually connect with and that incites a sense of loyalty from the people around you, yeah. Then let’s have a conversation.
But I have unfortunately, had conversations where I’ve told people that we might not be ready to work together yet. And I never say no indefinitely, I just say not now, later. Maybe when you get to a place where, for example, even with their business. Some people come to me for branding help, and they haven’t gotten to a place in their business where it’s firmly set in stone. I know a business will always be evolving, but they don’t have a set offer. They’re still figuring out their audience. Like, the business is still in wet putty stage, and I can’t really help you with your branding at that stage, because what if you change your business idea? Then everything we’ve constructed for your brand, that goes out the window and we have to start over again.
And so, I have had to tell people even in those stages, hey I would love to work together with you, but now is not the right time. What would be better is if you spend some time really refining the idea of what you have for a business. Make sure it works. Run the equation a few times and make sure that you know who you’re serving and how you’re serving them. And once we have that set in stone, yeah, totally! Let’s work on your branding, let’s get it constructed. But, a lot of times I do find myself in the position where I tell people not now, later. My door is always open, but sometimes depending on where they’re at in their journey, we just might not be the right fit.
Lourdes: Okay so, what I’m hearing you say is you’re working with people that have a set business already, right? And not really in the startup stages of their business. So, let’s say somebody came up to you and they are already a set business, but then they came to you for branding. Right? Cause they already have a set business, but now they’re branding. What do you do with that?
Rachel: Yeah, that’s a great question. Oftentimes, whenever people have their business, and even in the startup phases, a lot of people they do have a rough branding setup. It’s kinda like having an elementary school wardrobe. It’s bits and pieces of maybe hand-me-downs from your cousin, something that your mom bought you, and it got you by. Like you’re clothed and people see you and it’s totally decent.
But when you get to a certain stage, let’s say you’re moving up to high school, and suddenly it actually matters what you’re wearing, that’s sort of the stage that I like to equate it. When businesses, they’ve done the first few years, they’ve tested their offer, they know who they’re working with, and they’re getting ready to turn it up and go to the next level, and they want to clean up their branding setup. That’s usually the point at which I love meeting people, because now their identity’s actually set. They know who they are, and they know what their personality is, they know what they’re aiming for, and they know what they’re putting out into the world.
And a lot of the conversations I get to have with people at that point is about re-branding, where we get to talk about what they have right now, and we get to talk about where they see themselves going. And we’ll talk about that gap, and we’ll talk about what do you feel is missing in your messaging. Is there something that’s not connecting with your audience? And then we fill in the gaps with that. Or maybe if you’re visual, let’s talk about are the colors that you have right now working for you? Or maybe it doesn’t fit anymore, because as your business grows and evolves, there are some things that you’ll outgrow because you’ll evolve and change and end up offering something that maybe you didn’t offer in your first year of business.
And so, a lot of what I like to do is I like to say that I help people figure out their brand wardrobe. And when we get to the re-branding stage, it’s almost like re-styling and making sure that what you have is a cohesive setup so that when people look at you, they know exactly what you’re about because everything that you have communicates that one thing.
Lourdes: So when they’re doing this, I’m assuming that the client already has checked out their analytics, how much traffic and all that stuff. When they re-brand with you, do you do that stuff with them? Do you check the analytics, how they compare the traffic and visitors and engagement with their website and social media? How do you know if it’s working with the new re-branding, or is that just the client doing that?
Rachel: That is definitely more on the client end, to basically watch and see what is or isn’t working. I usually help with a lot of the setup phase, and when it comes to the analytics, I know that numbers are definitely super important, and a lot of the work that I do involves helping people humanize their business. And oftentimes, that means helping people refine their relationship with their audience. And sometimes, that doesn’t always come in the form of, per se, numbers that you can see based on the number of engagements on your social media.
It might actually be more like how many conversations are you in right now, what are the questions that people have, are you connecting better with people in your messages, or maybe are more people reaching out to you asking for the right things. So I deal more with the human side of it. Oftentimes, when we get to that stage where we have everything set up and they want to long-term see how everything is going, I often recommend that they work together with someone who is dedicated and specialized in looking at the numbers, and then making sure that everything is in line with what their goals are for their business. And I would basically be on the side, and if there are some things that they want to make some adjustments with, then my support is available almost as a follow-up service, if that makes sense.
Lourdes: Okay, so you mentioned humanizing. How do you humanize things? Is it through copy writing, is it something that you do with copy writing, or something like that with copy?
Rachel: It does involve a bit of copy writing. I like to say that – I’ll backtrack a little and explain. When we communicate, we often forget that it’s less about what you say and more about how you say it. And communication oftentimes is very non-verbal. It’s not just the words you type in your message, it’s how often do you reply, how do you send it, do you have emojis, what’s the tone, what’s the context, and there’s so many different layers to it. And that’s just writing! That’s minus even how people use their voice, or they use their sound in their branding, or how you use visuals to communicate those things. And all of these things add up to humanizing a brand.
So it is like a multi-layered process, because I do work with these bits and pieces of things that are more tangible. So yeah, we do figure out exactly what words do you use on your website for example. What’s your tagline, what’s your slogan. But we also talk about how do you actually talk to people? What do you say in DMs, how do you say it, how often do you say it, and what’s the tone, and what’s the relationship that you’re trying to aim for? That’s basically the core of what branding is, it’s about helping you construct an identity so that your audience knows exactly who they’re relating to. And as we know with people, it’s not just the way that we look.
It’s the way that we talk, it’s the way that we act, it’s the way that we walk into a room and show up. And it’s all of those things, and I basically touch upon all of those different elements. But in an online setting, so oftentimes that comes out in copy writing, in visuals, or with interactive elements such as social media or on their website.
Lourdes: So reading on your website, I’m reading about you, I saw that you mentioned that people were trying to put you in a box and label you. What type of label or boxes were you being categorized in when you were going through all that stuff?
Rachel: It’s funny you ask, because I actually just released a podcast episode on the topic of titles and labels, and how those are two very very different things. Because, labels are things that people place on you without your permission, and titles are something that you call yourself. And as we know, those are two totally separate things. What becomes dangerous is when somebody puts something on you and you internalize that and you start saying those things to yourself. That’s where it becomes dangerous, right? And so, some of the labels that people have placed on me – And when I say “placed on me,” it’s not just through name-calling like what you see kids do on the playground, it was more about the way that they treated me or the assumptions that they made based on how they perceived me.
So for example, I have a Chinese background, I’m Asian, and I am Chinese, and I am Canadian. And one of the labels that people placed on me, even as a kid growing up, people made a lot of assumptions, for example, that my English wasn’t very good. Funny enough, it’s actually the opposite. I was born here in Canada, English is my first language, and I suck at Chinese. My relatives laugh at me about it all the time. But it’s because I grew up here, so I am disconnected from my Chinese heritage and my Chinese background. But these are indirect labels that people have placed on me. And I thought, for example when I was in elementary school, when I moved to a new school and my teachers, they made one look at me and they made the assumption that my English was horrible.
So they removed me from the normal English class, and they put me into a special – I think they call it ESL, which is English Second Language, it’s basically a sort of program that teaches kids basic English skills. Basically kids who need some extra support with English cause it’s not their first language. And they made that assumption about me and they put me into ESL class when in reality, I was in grade 3 at that time, and I was already reading books like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. You can imagine how good my English was, I was actually much better than a lot of the counterparts that I had in my class! But because the teacher looked at me and made an assumption, it was extremely confusing for me as a kid.
Because I know where my skill set was at, I know who I was, but it seemed like people who looked at me from the outside, they made an assumption and they ended up treating me in a way that didn’t really align with my understanding of what my identity was. So that’s one of the boxes that people had put me in. And of course, it’s better nowadays. I’m also out of school and have been for quite some time, but that’s just one example of a label that people have placed on me in the past.
Lourdes: Yeah, there are ignorant people that just stereotype everybody because of their ignorance. So, my next question. Moving on, what do you think about people who use only Facebook or social media as their online presence and not have a website?
Rachel: I feel like this is a really hot debate in the world of business, because there actually is no right answer. It depends on who you’re trying to talk to. And I like to think of social media as a very interactive way to talk to your audience. And as we know, each platform is immensely different, different kinds of people hang out on there, and depending on who you’re trying to talk to and where your audience is hanging out, I would definitely say pick and choose the platforms that make the most sense for you. You don’t have to be everywhere, as long as the places that you’re in is consistent. I actually encourage people, especially in the earlier stages of their business as they’re refining this identity that they have, as they’re figuring out exactly who they’re speaking to, I actually encourage people to just start off with social media. Please don’t start setting up a website until you actually know what you have to say.
Because a website is just like a billboard, and a billboard is useless unless the message on it is clear. It actually has to make sense, and a lot of people they jump straight into building a website way too quickly, and they actually end up making a bigger mess than they should be because they’re miscommunicating. And it’s better to have everything refined and clear at least on your social media platforms, where you have the flexibility to change it. Like, you can change your bio and description every 5 minutes if you wanted to. It’s easy, it’s flexible, and it’s interactive. And when you’re in the testing stage with your business, go do that. Do all of your testing and refining on social media, and once you have everything clear and set in stone, yeah, then migrate it into a website.
But definitely hold off on setting up a website if you’re still in that testing phase. I’ve seen way too many people who have made the investment and ended up wasting a lot of time and energy and money creating a site with a lack of clarity, and then needing to scrap that and start over again when they realized with their business that they were doing something that ended up being completely different.
Lourdes: How do prospects find you, and how do you build trust with them?
Rachel: That’s a good question. I do hang out online a lot, and it’s funny because branding is all about building trust, and I feel like in the world of business, trust building has become very skewed, because we forget that we’re dealing with people. And we often forget that sometimes just talking to people and making friends and building authentic and genuine connects is where the trust is being built.
And a lot of where I find my prospects and my clients, they are actually friends first. I just met them online, in a networking event, at a business support group, and in all of these random places on the internet. And we made a connection, and we just started chatting, and we started talking about where we’re at with our business. We talk about how we could be supporting each other. And at some point down the road, and as we build that trust and rapport, and understand hey we’re just fellow humans who are trying to do something awesome on this planet, how can we be supporting each other?
Eventually at some point, the conversation does get to that point where they say “Hey Rachel. I know that branding is your superpower. I know that you’re really good at this, and I actually need help in this department. Is there a way that you can support me?” And then I’m like, heck yeah! Let’s do it, let’s have a chat and see what we can be making together. And boom, that’s how clients are made. And it starts off with just genuine authentic connections, and leading all these conversations without an agenda.
I feel like that is the most important thing, because you would not believe the amount of people that I have met online who think that they’re building trust with their prospects when all they’re doing is reaching out, making connections, saying hi, and then pitching them, without even asking who are you, what do you need, how can I support you, what are you like? And that stuff honestly makes me vomit, that’s part of the reason why I don’t hang out that much on LinkedIn, because there’s a lot of that energy there, when I’m actually here to make lifelong friends. Because I know if somebody likes me and they trust me, they’re gonna become my client at some point down the road. There is no rush. And when people lead with scarcity, that pushes prospective clients away. And a lot of people don’t realize even when they’re leading with that kind of energy, and it’s kind of sad.
Lourdes: Very sad. I get pitched a lot on LinkedIn of all things, it’s terrible. It’s like just because you connected with them the next thing is “Hey I wanna show you this, I’ve got this offer.”
Rachel: Yeah. I’ve gotten to that point where I’m very upfront. Sometimes I’m just like, if you connected with me just to pitch me, I would highly suggest that we do not continue this conversation, because I’m not interested. I am like, I am a human being, if you’re gonna talk to me like I’m not, good luck with prospecting. No wonder you are talking to people like this, because I can smell your desperation on the other side of the computer screen. A lot of these people are honestly bots too, they’re not even there.
They just use these automated services. There’s a lot of sketchy stuff online, and I see like what I do with branding is my personal vendetta against all of that crap. I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear here, so I’ll just say crap, because it is crap. And people deserve to be treated better, and when you treat people better, they’ll actually wanna work with you. It’s reverse psychology, but it works.
Lourdes: So Rachel, what do you like to do when you’re not working with clients? How do you de-stress?
Rachel: That is a great question. Outside of all of the screen time that I spend with my business, I love spending time out in nature. And I live in Vancouver, Canada, so I’m right by the water,I have trees all around me. So whenever I do have a chance to get away from my work, I love going out in nature. I love going out on walks. Hiking is one of my very favorite pass times. And so whenever people see me in my Stories, they’re like Rachel is either in front of the computer or somewhere in the trees. So that’s the huge thing I like to do. I also love making art. I feel like the art kid in me never really died, I just redirected a lot of my creative energy into my business.
But I do a lot of digital art on my iPad. And I feel like I need to do it more the traditional way on paper too, I just seriously need to get away from my screens. And I love hanging out with my cat. My cat is my fur baby, and she keeps me on my toes all the time, so I play with my cat quite a bit outside of all my screen time.
Lourdes: Nice. I’ve never been to Vancouver, but I’ve seen pictures, I have cousins that live there, it just looks so beautiful there in Vancouver. So, we’re almost at the end, what are you working on right now?
Rachel: Right now, I am actually working on a very exciting free training, and this is one of the first times I’m ever doing it for my business, and this is the part where it’s exciting, because I’m actually taking one of the biggest things that people need help with, which is finding their secret sauce. It’s like, every person’s brand, everyone’s got that magic pixie dust, and I’m creating a free training which is dedicated to helping people discover exactly what that secret sauce is, and giving people some ideas on how they can be applying it.
So that’s in development right now, I won’t give away too much, but that’s the gist of it, and it is specifically targeted to help people who are just at that early stage, and they’ve been copying other people’s marketing, not quite getting the results that they’re looking for, and it feels like they’re taking forever to build trust, and actually get a yes out of their dream clients. And so, these are the people that I’m creating this training for. And oftentimes, these are people who aren’t quite ready yet to invest in the full branding setup. And I’ve had it in my heart where I really wanna help these people, and so I’m super excited about this free training, and the moment that it’s up I will absolutely blast it all over the internet, and I’ll pass the link over to you too so that you can share it with your audience once this is all set up.
Lourdes: Do you know when about that’s gonna be ready?
Rachel: Ideally, sometime in the next month or so. One thing that people can do is to subscribe to my newsletter so that they’ll be the first to know the moment that it’s out, because everyone who subscribes to my newsletter gets first dibs on all of these things before I make it public. And so, I can make sure that you have a link to that so that for anyone who’s interested, that they can subscribe so that they’ll be the first to know before I give public access to this for everyone else.
Lourdes: And where do people find you?
Rachel: I almost wanted to say “Everywhere on the internet!” The best place to find me, I spend most of my time on Instagram. I am a creative at heart, I’m a sucker for visuals, and that’s where I spend most of my time. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Facebook, on LinkedIn, Twitter and TikTok a little less, but I am on there. And my handle is the same across all of these, it’s @racheltylee And that’s my handle across all of these platforms, so if you type that in you should find me easily.
Lourdes: Perfect, thank you for that. And so, before I let you go, I ask everyone a funny or weird question, so here we go.
Rachel: I’m ready.
Lourdes: If you were an inanimate object, what would you be, and why?
Rachel: Inanimate, that means not a living thing, right?
Lourdes: That’s correct.
Rachel: That is a really good question. I would love to say I would love to be a reading lamp. And I have a thing for lights because I feel like there’s something really amazing about the fact that when a light is on, it allows people to see, and it reveals so much. And I would love to just be a reading lamp and hang out with people when they’re reading books. There’s a part of me deep inside, I am a huge bookworm, like growing up I wanted to become a librarian, and so part of me just wants to hang out with people when they’re in that space of reading. Because books to me are like portals to different worlds, there’s so much knowledge in there. And so, I would love to just hang out with people in that moment where they’re just absorbing and just immersing themselves in something different, I think that would be so cool.
Lourdes: That’s a fantastic answer, wow!
Rachel: Thank you, that was a great question!
Lourdes: But this was so fun, I’ve learned so much more about you, I love your reading lamp answer, and yeah. And I would love to get the link to share with the audience. And your website, is it the same thing?
Rachel: Yes, it is. I’ll make sure you have the links to that so you can have it in the show note description.
Lourdes: Perfect. Well, thank you so much for being a guest today, I really enjoyed our time together!
Rachel: Yes, likewise! Thank you for asking these amazing questions!
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