A Better Way to Discover Your Niche and Creative Expertise

For the longest time, I HATED the word "expertise."

I hated every time I saw it pop up in my feed or in emails. I hated constantly being told that it was something I needed to share if I wanted to get clients or "make it" in business.

All it did was remind me that I had no freakin' clue what the heck my "expertise" even was. All I could think was, "Me? An expert in something? Ha. No way, dude. That ain't me."

And yet the emails and blog posts continued to fly in.

They said how I needed to choose a niche and develop a marketing strategy focused on demonstrating my knowledge in that specific niche in order to provide value.

I needed to bring in traffic, offer killer lead magnets to grow my email list, and then continue to share + promote my expertise to that email list so I could convince people I knew my stuff and was worth hiring.

All good things, sure. No arguments that those things work. On the surface, it all makes sense, right?

But that's exactly my problem with it.

I don't work well with surface-level. 

I crave a deeper, personal connection and getting to the heart of things. Going beyond the numbers, conversions, and analytics. Digging into real, raw stories and putting more of our full selves into our work.

'Cause I don't know about you, but if I'm going to work one-on-one with someone, I want to feel like I know them. Like, really know them. As a person, and not just an expert in something.

And that's something that goes beyond just sharing your knowledge on a subject.

 
 

Lately I've been having some really deep conversations with talented creatives who feel like they don't have anything they can call themselves an expert in.

  • They have no idea what they should focus on.
  • They doubt whether or not they know enough yet.
  • They wonder if they are (or ever will be) good enough.
  • They're scared they'll be called a fraud or not be taken seriously.
  • They're overwhelmed by all the content out there that's constantly pushing for them to choose a laser-specific niche and show their expertise in said niche.

What I've noticed from these conversations and my own experiences, though, is that these struggles often come from one thing in particular: 

The fear of making the wrong choice.

  • We're scared of choosing the wrong niche and being stuck in something we don't really enjoy.
  • We're scared of choosing an audience that turns out to not be a good fit for us.
  • We're scared to choose what we want to be known as an expert in, only to have someone more experienced come along and rip us a new one for even daring to try.
  • But that's all under the impression that these are things we have to actually choose in the first place.

BUT that's all under the impression that these are things we have to actually choose in the first place... what if there was another way?

 
 

Let's get this out of the way right now.

There's not going to be a moment when you suddenly become an expert in something. There's no level you need to reach or achievement you need to accomplish before you earn "expert" status.

So let's take a step back from the idea that the term "expertise" is something to be afraid of or something that we're not good enough for.

Sharing what you know - your expertise - isn't conceited. It doesn't mean you're claiming to have all the answers or that you have everything figured out.
 

Sharing your expertise simply means you're sharing what you've learned along your creative journey so far.


It's sharing what you've learned through...

Your work.
Your experiences.
Your thoughts.
Your conversations.
Your opinions.
Your process.
Your inspirations.

Everything works together to paint a full picture of who you are and what you do while organically attracting the people who you can help most.

This small mindset shift has completely flipped my opinion of the word "expertise."

It's no longer this looming choice hovering over my shoulder, always prodding me whenever I go write or design or do any other type of creative work. Rather, it's something that comes OUT of my work.

 
 

ACTION STEPS FOR YOU

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What would it look like if you reframed sharing your expertise into sharing who you are yourself and let your expertise naturally show through in the process?
     
  • What would it look like if you took a more experimental approach and let a niche organically develop over time rather than trying to make a rigid choice right out of the gate that can seem so final (even if you know deep down it doesn't have to be permanent).
     
  • What would it look like if you shared more of who YOU are in your creative work?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this. How are you discovering your creative expertise?  Let's continue the conversation in the comment section! 


This post was originally part of the Weekly Adventure Letters I send to Creative Adventurers who are bravely creating and building expressive, meaningful brands. Sign up below to join the community and get letters like this sent straight to your inbox.

Are You Brave Enough to Create? (Spoiler Alert: You are)

No joke, I've tried starting this letter probably close to a dozen times already.

Trying to find the perfect place to start. The perfect wording. The perfect way to come back from my blogging break.

But the problem with perfection? All it does is breed procrastination.

  • "I should wait until have some epic free gift ready to send."
  • "I need to set up a new content strategy first. Gotta wait until that's ready."
  • "There's no way I can concentrate on my writing with all these distractions. I'll wait until I'm somewhere else."

Waiting.... Always waiting... Waiting for what?

I'll get back to that in a minute.

First I want to talk about a book I finally got my hands on and have been constantly devouring like a madwoman ever since, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Man oh man, I'm LOVING this book so far, I could go on for hours about it.

Today, though, I want to focus on one line in particular:

"Creativity is a path for the brave."


This really got me thinking...

Whenever fear hits me most is when I'm creating.

Writing, lettering, designing, painting, even coloring in coloring books? Doesn't matter. All of it sends a giant swarm of butterflies churning away in my stomach whenever I go to get started.

I used to only practice my hand-lettering on loose paper because I was so afraid of "ruining" my sketchbook if everything wasn't absolutely perfect.

Same with writing notebooks. Raise your hand with me if you have a huge collection of pretty journals that haven't been touched yet (let's change that today, yeah?).

And actually putting creative work out there? I always have exactly a gazillion and one second-thoughts running through my head like a rabbit on steroids whenever I'm about to press "share" or "publish" or "send". Just like I'm about to do with this letter.

*cue nervous sweating*

Something I've noticed, though, is no matter what, there's this urge to create and share inside me that's ALWAYS there, begging to be let out.

I'll procrastinate. I'll try to ignore it. I'll make excuses.

But all of us know the unmistakeable pull that's leading us onto these different creative paths. At some point, you have to face it head on, fear and all.

Like Elizabeth also said, this isn't a path for the fearless. Creativity is a path for the BRAVE. It means doing things even with the fear. Especially with the fear.


"And you have treasures hidden within you - extraordinary treasures - and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small." 
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

When it comes down to it, perfection and procrastination are just fancy names for fear.

They're fear in disguise, trying to convince you that you can't do it yet. You need more research, more practice, more time. You're not ready.

Whether we like it or not, fear is aaaaaalways gonna be around. We're all dealing with it in some way or another on the daily.

But it doesn't have to end there.

I KNOW there's something creative you're feeling pulled to do or start.

What immediately popped into your head after reading that? 'Cause I promise you, there's a reason why it's the first thing you thought of.

Answer that pull. Explore. Experiment. See where it takes you.

I know you're scared. And I get it, I'm scared too. Literally all the time.

But what's going to set you apart - what's going to really make a difference in your brand and your creative journey - is gently telling that fear, "I hear you... But it's okay. Let's go for this anyway."

Keep being brave.


This post was originally part of the Weekly Adventure Letters I send to Creative Adventurers who are bravely creating and building expressive, meaningful brands. Sign up below to join the community and get letters like this sent straight to your inbox.

Redefining What it Means to Create Epic Content for Your Brand

This wasn't the post I intended to write. 

But it's the one I needed to.

This has been on my mind for weeks now, and I'll be honest here, it's something I've greatly struggled with. 

Remember the final showdown in Deathly Hallows between Harry and Voldemort (umm who could forget? ;) Yeah, it's like that in my head - an ultimate battle between what's on my mind and what I feel pressured to do.

I started out writing a post that was so detailed. So carefully outlined. So in-depth. All complete with an opt-in filled with worksheets and other downloads as the cherry on top. 

You're supposed to do that sort of thing on your blog, aren't you? 

  • You're "supposed" to tack a shiny opt-in onto all your posts to grow that list. 
  • You're "supposed" to have big, beefy posts stuffed with tons of images. Examples. Data. Charts. Graphs. Infographics. Click-to-tweets. Stats. Links. ALL THE THINGS.

What I originally wrote was what anyone would call the start of a strong post. And talk about a killer lead magnet, this thing was gonna be a freakin' beast. Go big or go home, yeah?

On the surface, everything was great...  

... So why was there this inner battle going on inside me the entire time I was writing it?

We're constantly told to "create epic content." 

For a while, I thought that meant doing exactly what I set out to do with my original post for today: A detailed guide stuffed to the brim with every tip and piece of advice I could cram in on how to do xyz. 

It's what people were expecting, wasn't it? Anything less wouldn't be good enough. It wouldn't be big enough. It wouldn't be "epic" enough.

For so long, I felt guilty if I didn't have a huge, in-depth guide whenever it came time for me to post. I thought anything else wouldn't measure up to what people expected of me. I thought it was the only way I could provide real value. 

This way of thinking translated into things like,

"It's been 2 weeks since I last posted?? Well, now I gotta make sure this thing's even MORE in-depth to make up for that!" 

It quickly became overwhelming to the point of me dreading to write any posts, period.

They had become this giant, formidable monster that I was desperate to avoid... which then led to even more guilt since consequently, I wasn't putting anything new out (besides my letters to the Creative Adventurers gang).

Because if I wasn't creating epic content, then how dare I post anything at all?

But lately, I've realized something:

I don't want to create "epic" content.

  • I want to create content that grows and fuels a community. Content that sparks thoughtful conversations and builds meaningful relationships. 
     
  • I want to share stories. To go deeper than the surface-level and dig into what lies underneath.
     
  • I want to get more raw. More vulnerable. More messy. 
     
  • I want to break through the information overload and help you actually take action. Not add to the overwhelm.
     
  • I want to encourage you to explore your brand. Encourage you to make your own discoveries and create your own path.

THAT'S what truly epic content is to me. 

That's what actually matters. That's what fires me up and what I feel driven to share. Anything else is beside the point.

Now does this mean I'm never going to write another guide or how-to post? No, not at all. BUT when I do, it'll be because it was the best way to share what I had to say. NOT because it was something I pressured myself into doing because I thought I had no other choice.

Action Steps for You:

It's so easy to get totally overwhelmed by all the things you're told that you're "supposed to do." 

"You gotta do this, you gotta do that. If you're not doing THIS, then you're just crazy!"

Take a pause and listen to what your gut is telling you instead. 

Is there something that doesn't feel right? Take time to explore why that is. What's not matching up? What's not working here? Did something once fit, but you've since outgrown it or want to move on?

Ask yourself: 

  • What am I pressuring myself to do?
  • What do I feel like I'm actually being pulled/called to do? 
  • What do I want my content to accomplish for my brand and my community? 
  • What's MY version of epic content?

Embrace the experimentation. The exploration. The never-ending discovery.

After all, isn't that what adventure is all about?

I'd love to continue the conversation and hear your thoughts in the comments below. 


So who wrote this, anyway?

painted-summers-headshot.png
Hey there! My name's Allison Barclay, and I'm a brand designer and mentor for adventurous creatives who carve their own path and don't play by the rules.
I'm here to help you get focused, take action, and set your brand ablaze. Click here to learn more!
 
 

The Power of Your Brand Story and How to Blend it into Your Message

There's a story behind everything - every accomplishment you've achieved, every mistake you've made, and every experience you've had.  Every single one of these aspects of your story shapes and defines your brand in some way. 

Without your story, your brand wouldn't exist.

Your brand story is where your brand originates. It's the root that everything grows from and the glue that holds it all together. 

Ask yourself:

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.
— Robert McKee
  • How did I get started? What first caught my interest and made me want to get into this?
  • What actions have I taken to get here?
  • What struggles have I faced and overcome?
  • What have I learned from my past mistakes?
  • What do I wish I would've known before ____?
  • How do all of these things affect my point of view or opinions on things?

Stories are how we connect and relate to others. Through the stories of others, we see our own.

Building Your Brand From the Ground Up

A lot of people want to rush straight into the design stage of creating their brand (I know I sure did when I was first starting out.) It's so tempting to jump into throwing together a full website so you can finally see it in the flesh...er...pixels. 

Let's instead slow down for a moment and take some time to explore the deeper aspects of your brand.

Design is the solution that bridges the gap between your message and your audience. Designing with intention means that there's a deeper purpose behind your visuals. 

And it all starts with your story.

Telling a Good Story

It's easy to look at your journey so far, let your inner critic take over, and convince yourself that you have nothing worthwhile to share. You end up thinking there's no "good story" in you, whatever a "good story" really is.

Let's start with that. What is a good story, anyway?

A good story...

  • Is honest and authentic
  • Has conflict and tension
  • Is vulnerable and open
  • Educates and inspires

I see those all those thoughts whirring around in your head right now.

"Does my story have enough pizzazz? I don't know how to teach! My story's so average, it's not going to inspire anyone. I'm too afraid of opening up. How do I make sure I'm being authentic enough?" 

Relaaaaaaaax. You're overthinking this, I promise.

We're going to break down each of these elements one by one, find out why they're useful, and learn how you can blend them into your brand message:

Honesty + Authenticity

This should go without saying, but your brand story needs to be true. 

If you're reading this, though, then I'm pretty positive you're not the kind of person who would lie about something like this. ;)

But maybe you're still worried about whether or not you're "authentic" enough. That's a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? How do you create a brand that's "authentic?"

1. Allow others to follow along with you on your journey. 

I used to be so paranoid that people would label me as a fraud. That because my website was new, people would think I had no idea what I was talking about. I thought my newness meant I wasn't authentic enough. 

But then I realized that as long as I was sharing my own personal experiences, knowledge, and story, that's all that really mattered.

Share what you know and what you've experienced for yourself so far on  your journey. If you haven't done something before or if you're just starting out, be honest about it. As I said in my last post on the power of consistency, there's NOTHING wrong with being new.

You don't have to have it all figured out, and no one expects you to. 

  • Share what you know and do best.
  • Share the things you don't have to Google beforehand.
  • Share how you got started.
  • Share what inspires you.
  • Share what you're learning and invite your community to learn along with you.

2. Don't let what others are doing alter the direction you want your brand to take.

Every day, we're surrounded by the success of others and how they achieved it. Links are pelted at us on social media. Success stories fill our feeds. We keep hearing about these 5-6 figure launches and all kinds of advice on how to recreate them. There's all this talk on how to best utilize this and that for maximum results. And don't forget the oodles of webinars and workshops going on every week.

Okay, um YIKES!? Talk about information overload.

Now to clarify, I'm in NO way dissing the content and resources that others are working their asses off to provide. What I AM saying is to be careful about what and how much you consume and how you let it affect your brand. 

It's important to realize that their story is different from yours. The methods they've used or choices they've made aren't necessarily the same ones that are best for you and your brand.

Don't feel obligated to attend every workshop, watch every scope, or download every freebie. Trust me, I've made this mistake and wound up completely overwhelmed (and with a hefty downloads folder filled with a bajillion worksheets + ebooks I'll never actually use).

It's easy to get caught up in the hype, only to find out that's actually not the direction you wanted to go

Take every piece advice that comes your way with a grain of salt. And YES, that absolutely includes mine too. 

Always question why things are done a certain way. If it doesn't work for you and your brand, then give yourself permission to let it go and find out what does. Experiment and make discoveries on your own.

Create your own success.

Conflict + Tension

What would a story be without some conflict and tension thrown in there to spice things up? Let's face it, without conflict, stories are bone-dry and B-O-R-I-N-G. 

For a while, I thought my story was about as interesting as a piece of toast.

Except for a few naysayers, my family was very supportive of my ambitions. I worked 2 jobs that I didn't hate. I still lived at home and didn't have many bills to pay so I could save up. I've never been to college a day in my life, so I had plenty of time to work on the things I really want to pursue.

But struggles come in all shapes and forms. 

Because even though I had wild ambitions, my own fear held me back from pursuing them.

  • I let myself become stuck in the research phase for years, trying to learn everything I possibly could until I was "ready"  instead of actually getting started. *procrastination ensues*
     
  • I wasn't passionate about my jobs, but thought they'd be what I'd have to do for the rest of my life because...well, what else would I do? Great reason to get into a career, right? </sarcasm>
     
  • My perfectionism wouldn't allow me to stick with learning new things. If I wasn't good at something right away, I'd give up and think I'd never be any good. Heck, I even hated the idea of writing in a freaking $1 notebook because I thought I'd "ruin it" if the words I wrote weren't oozing precious gold.
     
  • I had no confidence in myself. Despite the support and encouragement I received, my own voice in my head kept telling me I couldn't do this and that I didn't have what it takes. That my work sucked and wasn't worth anything. And I believed it.
     
  • The thought of putting myself and my work out there made me wanna run for the hills screaming/flailing like a madwoman. 5 months ago, me + Twitter = $@%#&! NAW.

We've all struggled in some way, shape, or form to get to where we are. I'm sure there are plenty of things you're tackling right now too. 

Our struggles are what make us human. 

Vulnerability + Openness

1. Embrace your brand story and put it out there.

I LOVE this quote from Part 2 of Jen's Guide to Attracting (+ Booking) Dream Clients:

“Don’t be afraid to breathe your story into your brand, to take it with you along the way in this journey and to trust in the power it has to shape, define, and give weight to your work.”
— Jen Carrington

People want to work with someone who "gets" them. Someone who understands what they're going through or where they've been.

  • Show your work and process.
  • Show your personality and quirks.
  • Share your thoughts and opinions.
  • Share your struggles and experiences.

Step out from behind the curtain and show them that you're someone they can trust.

2. Accept that you can't please everyone, but be open to feedback.

I found this video by Marie Forleo a while ago, and it was a huge breath of fresh air. Since I was starting a design business that could potentially open me up to a lot of criticism, I thought that meant I somehow needed to develop a thicker skin.

But in the video, Marie says, "Your sensitivity is a gift," and "...it's not necessarily about toughening up, it's about smartening up."

Your story isn't going to connect with everyone. Not everyone is going to relate or even like what you share or create, and that's 100% okay. Criticism doesn't define who you are. It's only someone's opinion. 

Consider the source of where the criticism is coming from and their point of view. Is this a learning opportunity for you and a way for you to grow and improve? If not, they're obviously not who you should be spending your time on. Focus your energy on those who resonate with your story and what you create. Those are YOUR people.

Educate + Inspire

1. Use your story to help others understand your brand.

Branding is about showing what you/your business/your blog is all about. Your brand isn't what you say it is, it's what others perceive it to be. It's up to you to make sure your brand is painting a clear picture for your audience and communicating the right message.

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
— Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Why does your brand exist in the first place? What's the purpose behind it? Your story answers these questions. Let it show through the copy + photos on your About page, sales pages, newsletters, blog posts, social media updates, and everything else you can think of.

2. Share what you've learned from past struggles and mistakes.

Sharing your struggles in a way that educates and gives hope and encouragement to your community is what will make you stand out.

Ask yourself:

  • How did you get over (or how are you dealing with) your struggles?
  • What held you back from doing so?
  • What actions or decisions would have made a difference?
  • What do you wish you would've known or had back then?
  • What lessons did you walk away with that you can now pass on to your community?
  • What's obvious or easy for you that might not be for your clients, customers, or readers?

Not only will answering these questions help your readers and clients, but it'll also demonstrate your knowledge and experience.

When you start viewing mistakes as lessons to share instead of failures to hide, you take your brand to entirely new levels.