“… a platform is only as good as its foundation. And when you build a foundation for your platform that is solely on the craft—meaning it’s only about design or it’s only about photography or it’s only about the product you create—… and nothing else, then the minute that shifts or changes the audience doesn’t have ties or connections to anything else.”
– Natalie Franke Hayes on growing her platform through life transitions.
Today’s guest is Natalie Franke Hayes of the Rising Tide Society. This is an exciting episode because it brings me back to the very first podcast I was ever a part of, The Coffee Commute, which I actually started with Natalie. Natalie is an entrepreneur, mobilization marketer, community builder, neuroscience nerd, and of course, she’s one of the co-founders of the Rising Tide Society, alongside myself, Krista and her husband Huey. She’s also the head of community at HoneyBook.
Natalie and I chat about growing a platform, which is something she has successfully done across so many life transitions. We talk about how she’s been able to do this so effectively and advice she has for others also trying to grow a platform.
More about Natalie:
Natalie Franke Hayes is an entrepreneur, mobilization marketer, community builder, and neuroscience nerd. As one of the Founders of the Rising Tide Society and the Head of Community at HoneyBook, she leads tens of thousands of creatives and small business owners while fostering a spirit of community over competition around the world.
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[0:00:29.6] DJ: Welcome to the Brands That Book Show where we help creative service-based businesses build their brands and find more clients. I’m your host, Davey Jones.
Today’s guest is Natalie Franke Hayes of the Rising Tide Society. This is an exciting episode because it brings me back to the very first podcast I was ever a part of, The Coffee Commute, which I actually started with Natalie. Natalie is an entrepreneur, mobilization marketer, community builder, neuroscience nerd, and of course, she’s one of the co-founders of the Rising Tide Society, alongside myself, Krista and her husband Huey. She’s also the head of community at HoneyBook.
Today, Natalie and I chat about growing a platform, which is something she has successful done across so many life transitions. We talk about how she’s been able to do this so effectively and advice she has for others also trying to grow a platform. Before we get to the episode, if you’re revisiting your website this season, we have stuff for you to check out. We are hosting a website giveaway that you can enter until the end of the month. You can find the details on our site at giveaway.daveyandkrista.com.
Be sure to check out the show notes at daveyandkrista.com for the resources we’ve mentioned during the episode, and I like to hear from you about what kind of content you’d like to see on the Brands that Book Podcast as we move forward. I’d also like to know what episodes you’ve enjoyed most so far and why. To leave your feedback, head on over to the Davey and Krista Facebook page and send us a message.
Now, on to the episode.
[0:02:04.1] DJ: Welcome Natalie to the show. I’m really excited about this episode, because as we were just talking about, we’ve done this before. This is like a Coffee Commute reunion episode.
[0:02:15.0] NH: I know. I’m having a little bit of a throwback moment of when we first launched a podcast, I called like the two-week adventure. It was like a two-week podcast. We did it, we did it. Then you have had so much success with this podcast and you’ve just taken Brands That Book to a whole new level. It’s exciting to be on and actually get to see you and connect with you like this, which we’ve done before. It’s really, really crazy.
[0:02:38.4] DJ: Yeah, it was a blast doing The Coffee Commute. I look back at – there are some elements, like poor timing. It was one of those things where we decided to start it and then Krista and I had stepped down from RTS probably a month after we ended up starting it. The other thing that we decided to do, which in hindsight was just a poor decision was we committed to everyday episodes. Do you remember that? What were we thinking?
[0:03:01.3] NH: We go big. We go big, Davey. None of us are underachievers here, so when we set our mind to do it, we were like, every day we’re going to make it happen. That is a learning you have, right? When you launch something, or you start a business, you learn very quickly that the dreams we have and sometimes the ideas we have and the execution are very separate, which is why you and Krista are the perfect pair, because you’re like me and we dream really big. Krista is making sure that things get executed; she’s operation brilliance. We definitely let our dream run a little crazy with the everyday recording of an episode.
[0:03:34.8] DJ: Oh, yeah. For sure. I think in that case, it was Krista just unfortunately being outnumbered. That’s being like, “No. Yeah. We can totally handle doing this every day.” In hindsight – I mean, even doing it once a week is a chore in terms of just a workload that goes into producing the episode.
Anyways, I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. I think I’ve improved since then in terms of just question asking and monitoring a conversation, or pacing a conversation, but we’ll see. We have so much to chat about today. I think primarily, what we’re going to dive into is growing a platform, which is something that you’ve done so successfully over so many different transitions. We’ll get to talk about some of those transitions and I guess that’s a good place to start. You just announced you’re having a baby boy.
[0:04:22.5] NH: We are. We’re joining the boy club here with all of our friends. We’ve had so many boys in the group lately and we’re just so excited. I mean, Huey and I cannot wait.
[0:04:31.6] DJ: I know. I feel statistically, it’s more likely, right? I mean, it’s 50-150 girls to guys, but it seems tons of people having boys. I will say having a boy has been – it’s been so much fun. I mean, I’m sure I would have been thrilled either way, but having a boy has been so much fun. Any names on the table?
[0:04:49.1] NH: Yeah. As you know, Huey is a third.
[0:04:51.4] DJ: Oh, yeah. That’s right. That’s right. We are going to carry that tradition. The real question is what the nickname is going to be. Because here’s the problem, this is the fourth Huey. Huey Van Hayes the fourth, and that sounds – I mean, when I say that I even laugh. I’m like, “That’s a name? That’s someone’s name?” No, it really is. That’s really my child’s future name.
We don’t know what we’re going to call him, because I’ve been dating my husband since we were 15. We’ve been together forever, so he’s always been Huey. I think it might be time for him to grow up into Hugh and – because I can’t call a newborn Hugh. Can you imagine? We’re figuring it out. Either he’ll adopt the newborn will get Huey and my husband will graduate on to the adult name, or we’re going to come up with a totally new nickname based on his personality, we really have no idea. I have only three months left to figure it out, but we’ll get there.
[0:05:42.5] DJ: I will say that the whole nickname stage is fun, just because there’s things that you assume that you’ll call him. Then when he actually – when he actually shows up, like we have all sorts of nicknames for Jack that we just would’ve never – for instance, we have our dog Goose, who we sometimes called the big duck. Then so we call Jack the little duck. I think we always joke around that, that Jack’s going to grow up and he’s going to actually think his name is duck. He’s also going to think a dog is a goose and it’s going to be a really – it’s going to be very confusing time period for him.
It’s been fun. Just all sorts of nicknames that you just – you never dream of and here we are calling them. That’s awesome. In addition to that, you’ve moved back to Annapolis, so you’re back in the area. Ironically, we’ve only seen each other in Richmond. Since you moved back, we’ve only seen each other in Richmond so we have to change that. How is that transition going? I saw that the other morning, you shared on these stories that you were shooting, so you’re shooting a lot again? What does this transition look like?
[0:06:41.1] NH: Yes. There are a lot of transitions happening. I will say with the Annapolis transition in general, we are barely settled in. Anyone who’s moved knows how this works, right? You open the necessities. You can drink coffee out of a bowl if you need to, but little things like we don’t have a stove working yet, because there was a gas leak when we got back into our townhouse. A lot of fun things like that have ensued. On a personal level, it’s been chaos.
I mean, I know you all can’t see this video, but as we’re recording I’m in a darkened room with no lights because we don’t have light bulbs yet. I mean, really truthfully. I feel it’s very scary. It’s like a horror film in my room where I am, so it’s just the computer light. Oh, man. Personal level, things are still chaos, but I’m so grateful to be home. If you were to ask Huey like, “Why did you guys move back?” He will be honest and say, “Have you ever looked up the price of child care in San Francisco?”
[0:07:30.7] DJ: The price of anything in San Francisco.
[0:07:33.0] NH: Yeah, don’t even get me started. We’re so grateful to be close to family. Then from a professional level, it’s funny. I do pick up the camera, especially from time to time in SF. Then the minute I get back here, it was like being home again with all my friends. Yes, I’m shooting a little bit. Although still working remotely for HoneyBook and continuing to do what I’ve been doing for the last three years now, which is crazy and loving it. As an introvert, working remotely has its perks. When I get home, “at the end of the day from walking from my office downstairs to the kitchen, I’m not exhausted.”
[0:08:10.3] DJ: One thing that I do want to talk about before we jump into talking about growing a platform here is just RTS in general and community. Back when we started the Rising Tide Society, I don’t think we knew how quickly, right, it was going to blow up. We talked about that a lot after the fact like – and looking back, I think we see it’s easy to see some of the reasons why RTS took off as it did. I feel even in the last three years, what community looks like has changed, right? I think when we first started it, people a lot of solopreneurs and people working from home, people really yearning to get out of the house and meet and collaborate with other people.
There was the rise of online conferences and webinars. I know webinars have been going on and internet trainings have been going on for probably the better part of a decade, that at least in our industry those things were on the rise. In a way, while they connected us and while social media and things like that connect us, at the same time it still isolates us, right? It still doesn’t provide that same in-person experience. I want to know just as you look forward to 2019 and how things are now, what does community look like? Do you still see those same trends playing out in RTS?
[0:09:25.4] NH: It’s interesting. When we started Rising Tide, I think we were seeing this incredible ripping apart of two worlds, right? We were seeing the online world exploding. As a result, we were seeing people yearning for the opposite, yearning for the offline, yearning for the in-person connection. What I’ve actually noticed happening, especially in the last year is that these two worlds are almost starting to fuse together in a really unique way and I’ll explain.
I think online is accessible. It’s something that enables anyone to get connected, anyone to feel they can be a part of something larger, whether it’s Rising Tide, or a movement in their community, or a part of a podcast like this. This is a community in and of itself. There is still this growth and this rapid expansion of the online element.
However, I think the offline and what people are craving from offline is less formal, less traditional networking and more experiential, more relationship-based. We saw that with Rising Tide. We saw the pain points, I should say, especially early on when people would get together. One of the biggest things we still hear from Rising Tide leaders is that they get feedback just on how much people love that it’s not a traditional networking event. No one shows up with business cards. No one is just trying to be transactional in their connections with others. They desperately want real relationships. They want genuine conversations. They want to know that somebody else is struggling just like they are. I think we’re going to continue to see a yearning for that as we become more and more entrenched in the online world.
The two are fusing in the sense that people are becoming more vulnerable online. They’re telling their stories in a different way there’s more color to what’s happening behind what we used to consider, like the curated feeds, right? Those curated feeds are shifting in a way that the content that performs well for a lot of us and for a lot of creatives and different capacities with their own clients is content that clients can connect to. We’ll talk more about that when we talk about platforms.
I think that the two worlds are no longer separate. Rising Tide was a huge part of merging them together and I think other communities have followed suit. I think boutique conferences and Creative Heart is a great example of a basically a movement that was in-person, that now has this massive online community around it as well. You see this fusing I think of the two elements in a way that’s really profound and really supportive of the member.
[0:11:47.9] DJ: Yeah, I think that’s a great observation. Those boutique niche conferences really come to mind and some of the bigger conferences that are out there seem to be on the decline to a certain extent. These old school to a certain extent show up with your business cards, you hit a trade show, those types of conferences seem to have declined over the last couple of years and now you have conferences taking their place, which are in general a little bit more expensive but generally a smaller crowd and as you mentioned, more experiential.
They focus even something like Showit UNITED, I think is a very experience-based conference, even though it’s still probably between 300 and 500 people. I think that’s such an interesting observation and I’m looking forward to 2019 and seeing how some of these things play out, both in RTSN and beyond. One of the things that we even started the conversation off about was all these different transitions that you’ve been going through. I think this is a good segue into talking about growing a platform.
You have gone from wedding photographer extraordinaire, not that you’re not shooting anymore, I think you shot a number of weddings last year as well. You shifted into, or transitioned into Rising Tide Society and more recently after that even taking on a more specific role within HoneyBook. You moved back to Annapolis in the midst of all of that. You’ve gone through – you’re expecting a baby boy, you’ve had a surgery that you talk about a lot. Just so many different transitions, but all along the way you’ve been growing a platform.
It doesn’t feel like anywhere along the way you’ve had to hit the reset button, or in terms of your – in terms of the platform that you’re growing, right? It seems like not that numbers is the only way that one would measure a platform, but it seems you have more followers along the way and it’s not every time you make this transition you have to start a new plan form, or you have a drop-off in people following you. That’s one of the things that I’d love to chat with you about how do you do that? How do you create a platform that’s really – it’s a personal platform, but it evolves with you?
[0:13:53.3] NH: Yeah, absolutely. It is funny. Actually, even in just hearing you talk about all the transitions that I’ve been through in the last couple years to recognize, “Well, I guess that is a lot.” Because when you’re going through it, you’re just going through it. You’re just trying to get through to the next day. Then when you look retrospectively, it’s funny to almost to realize, “Okay, wow. I have survived quite a bit,” especially in the last year and a half.
I think the key here and the thing I’ve learned and I think I knew it from day one is that a platform is only as good as its foundation. When you build a foundation for your platform that is solely on the craft, meaning it’s only about design, or it’s only about photography, or it’s only about the product you create and that’s it; just about the product, nothing else. Then the minute that shifts or changes, the audience doesn’t have any ties or connections to anything else and you do have to hit reset. Truthfully, at that point you would have to hit reset.
However, when you build a platform from a foundation of something greater than itself, whether it’s a mission statement, a why, a purpose, even a person, right? In my case, it’s a little bit of a fusion of a couple things, but when you build it from something greater, something that can withstand shifts and changes and transitions, then people are able to connect to more than just your craft. They’re able to connect maybe who you are, or what your heart is about, what you care about, what you want to see change in the world, or what you want your craft or your abilities to be able to give to others, like that impact, that legacy that you’re building. That type of foundation is something that from a very early stage I really tried to cultivate.
I didn’t just want to talk about wedding photography, but I wanted to share about marry my high school sweetheart and going through the season of building a business after college and not getting the full-time job and taking that big risk. I started to share a little bit of that. Each step along the way when I went from full-time wedding photographer to running Rising Tide with you and Krista and Huey, and then from there taking on a different role and stepping more into tech, every step along the way I’ve just continued to share the story and to share my heart.
Especially in the last year, continued to get more vulnerable. Not to be afraid to share the messy parts and the not so Instagram-worthy moments. That includes going through brain surgery and how afraid I was going into that and truthfully very afraid. After that, how broken I felt and how hard it was for me mentally and physically to put the pieces back together. Then even in the – I have some regrets along the way. I wish I would have shared about our fertility journey a little bit earlier.
I think that I wasn’t quite at a point where my heart was ready to share about it. We have learned – Huey and I and then I would also say just as a business owner, I have learned that the more I’m willing to give, meaning the more I’m willing to reveal, to share, to talk about, whether it’s professionally, like sharing knowledge education, information, or whether it’s personally, but struggles, its hardships, its joys and triumphs too. The more I give, the more my audience actually is able to benefit and therefore, is able to give back. It becomes this ecosystem, this self-sustaining ecosystem.
The long answer to your question I think is how do you go through so many transitions and yet not have to reset your audience? The truth is it’s communicating with your audience from a place of longevity, from a place of truth and honesty about who you are, or what your brand represents, what it wants to do in the world, what it aims to achieve. From there, growing slowly and growing organically. You will have people that will drop off, right? This is natural. I think as you get older, as you change in seasons of life, now that I’m becoming a mom, I’m going to have younger members of my audience that aren’t really going to be as excited about all the pregnancy announcements and all of the baby updates.
I also help a lot of parents that have – are in a different season that are ahead of me even, that now have started reengaging and are more communicative with me and that I’ve able to foster a different relationship. I don’t know if that really answers the question in its entirety, but I think it gets to the heart there of communicating more than just the transactional aspect of what you do, right? Talking about their relationships, talking about the heart, the purpose, the why and then who you are behind it all.
[0:18:18.6] DJ: Yeah, that’s great insight. I think that there’s a lot to unpack there as well. One of the questions that I always have around this subject is deciding what to share. One of the things that you had mentioned is social media, especially I think with the rise of story-type features is becoming a little bit more uncurated to a certain extent, right? On some level, it’s still curated in that you’re not out, you’re not sharing absolutely everything when it comes to your life. I’m wondering, how do you choose what to share versus maybe what to keep private? Even in sharing those hard things, how do you share them in a way that doesn’t make the account just like this Debbie downer, constantly drama, or things that just somebody dealing with their stuff?
[0:19:11.2] NH: Oh, my gosh. I have so much to say on this one. Okay, first let’s actually tackle the last point and then I’ll explain more about how I decided what to share and when to share it. I think sometimes when we hear vulnerability, or we hear someone who’s being “honest with their audience,” we immediately assume it means they’re sharing a struggle, right? We think, okay this has to be a negative thing that they’re either going through or have gone through.
Again, even enlisting some of the different transitions that have gone through, none of them have been easy. I mean, my God. Anyone who’s gone through any transition, or change knows that it’s painful, even the good ones. I’m about to have a baby and it’s going to be the most amazing change in our lives, it’s also going to be the hardest. Welcoming that I think is the first place to start.
When it comes to communicating that, I really believe in communicating struggle from a perspective of courage, or hope, or even victory, because I think it can be easy to fall into this trap of I’m being vulnerable, poor me, poor me, and slide into a victimhood mentality. Huey is the greatest counterpart to me in the entire world, because as someone that does feel a lot of emotion, I can tether either way.
When I was going through my brain surgery, I wanted so badly to be a victim. I wanted it to be poor me. It’s easy to fall into that trap. I’m grateful that my husband, both in person and then when it comes to my mentality which is how I then communicated outward, reminds me that no matter what we face, we have a choice and how we react to it. We can’t control what our struggles are, circumstances are necessarily, but we can control how we move forward and how we react.
I think it comes down to communicating your struggles that you are going through, as well as the exciting things that are vulnerable too, in a way that brings hope and that champions an optimistic perspective, even when it’s hard. Because to me, that’s something that I think my audience really resonates with. If I only shared the struggle and didn’t also share that I saw God’s grace in it, or that it shifted my perspective in a certain way that’s been really profound, or that ultimately it’s shaping me into a better person, or it’s changing something in my life in a positive way, then I also don’t think they would gain the same value out of it, right? It would just be me complaining about what I’m going through.
Quite frankly, we all are struggling. All of us. We don’t need to be reminded that they’re a struggle in the world. I think what we need to be reminded of is that we are resilient and that we are fighters, so it’s all in how its communicated. At least for me, that’s how I’ve tackled it.
[0:21:42.2] DJ: No, I think that’s a trend I see among others as well. We had Caitlyn James on the show earlier this year and, or I guess by the time this episode goes live will be last year we had her on the show. One thing that she said was just along the lines of what you were saying is sharing from a place of redemption. Just as you mentioned, being able to show people that through these struggles, there is God to hope and there’s God’s redemption in that. I think that was so well put. I think what you’re saying was so well put too and something that’s I think just a good reminder.
Because I think when we hear people talk about how we need to be vulnerable on social media, that’s where our mind goes. We need to go out there and we need to – we just need to put our struggles out there, but we don’t share from a perspective of hope, or joy, or strength even.
[0:22:28.3] NH: Yeah. Even in deciding how to share and when to share, that’s a huge key element to the equation too, because I think we hear it. You’re right. Al we hear online is be vulnerable, be open, be authentic. That’s great, but that’s very high-reaching advice. It doesn’t have a lot of practical implications. Whereas, when you take a step back the way that I’ve really decided when and where to share is by thinking of my story in different concentrations. I think of it concentric circles. This is just how I see it in my mind, so if we want to get a little visual for a second.
I think of it like concentric circles, starting from me and then working its way outward, where the people closest to me; my husband, my mom, my sister, my immediate family, they’re in that tightest knit concentric circle. They’re the ones that literally know nearly everything about what I’m going through and what I’m struggling with, how I’m feeling. I think I can take one step outside of that and that might be my really close friends. Then one more circle outside of that. That might be my industry friends, right? Which some of which fall into that very close friend category, some of them I’m still building those relationships with. You just keep working your way outward and outward and outward in those concentric circles until you reach the farthest fringes of the public, right?
I’ve always thought about things from that perspective. I really also like to look at it in how I communicate by starting with the tightest knit circle, understanding that I can be a certain level of vulnerable with them. Then learning through communicating and through telling what I’m going through in my story, what I’m enduring to those more exterior concentric circles. Each time that I tell it, I get better at communicating it in a way that I feel comfortable with to those varying degrees of relationships. That means that there are things obviously I would never post on Instagram that I’m going through. That doesn’t mean that I don’t open up and I don’t share about it with my husband, or my mom.
It also means that I have to define the timing at which it makes sense to share something. Sometimes I do really well at that and sometimes I don’t do really well at that and I’ll give two examples. I think, with sharing about my brain tumor and sharing about my surgery, this is actually a great example. Davey, you and Krista knew for years that this was something I dealt with and we’ve share personal things. Obviously, we’ve been very, very close for a long time with each other that we don’t share online. One of those for me was my surgery.
For years, I was very open about this with one of those concentric circles, but I never felt ready to share it publicly. I think part of it was because I was a full-time wedding photographer. I didn’t need my clients worrying about my brain tumor. That was the last thing I wanted them to be stressing about when they’re stressing about their wedding.
I also recognized that there was a lot of uncertainty around that health diagnosis, but I was handling it. I felt very, very steady in keeping it close, or keeping it tighter to the best, until something shifted. I needed to have that tumor removed. I needed to have surgery. Suddenly, I recognized, “Okay, this is going to mean I have to stop working for two months. This is going to mean a huge shift in how I’m able to communicate with the outside world and what I’m capable of doing. I don’t want to go through this without my audience knowing genuinely what’s happening behind the scenes.”
That diagnosis became something I wanted to share outward and I did. As I mentioned, the opposite of not doing it well was I think the fertility journey. At the same time as we were launching The Coffee Commute, I mean, you and Krista do this, but I was driving up to Shady Grove with Huey here in Maryland and finding out around that time that the fertility doctor wasn’t going to be able to help us conceive until we dealt with the tumor. That was what? Two and a half, three years ago? Maybe two, two and a half. Yeah.
I never felt comfortable sharing that until after my surgery and actually until after we had started injections, crazy enough which wasn’t even the beginning of the journey by any means, right? I look back and I think, “Should I have opened up a little earlier?” I think part of me believes maybe I should have, but another part of me is grateful that I get to give myself grace in each step of when I’m ready, when I’m ready to be vulnerable and be communicative about something.
I think that’s something that anyone listening to this should extend to themselves as well, thinking about who deserves to know and at what time and making sure that you’re just being genuine to you and your story before you’re able to be genuine to your audience.
[0:26:51.7] DJ: I really like the concentric circles illustration. I’m hoping that somewhere, maybe even on your Instagram there’s a doodle of this. Have we doodled the concentric –
[0:26:59.4] NH: I might make one out.
[0:27:00.3] DJ: Yeah, okay.
[0:27:01.1] NH: I will make one for you.
[0:27:02.8] DJ: Let me know, because we will absolutely link to that doodle. I’m expecting that to correspond with the show notes, all right? I really, really like that illustration, because I do think that there are some things, even in terms of timing like you said, that are just best shared with the people who are you’re closest with, who you know love and support you, you know will speak truth into your life.
I think sometimes, especially again listening to that half-truth of being vulnerable online, we just skip to that most – that farthest out concentric circle, right? Where we just go straight to social media and sharing it. What we get back in return is probably at least from some people just not speaking truth into our lives through comments and how they interact with what you’re sharing. I think that was just such a great example too.
Again, I mean, the tumor that’s something that you’ve dealt with for years and really it’s something that didn’t become public until you felt like, “Well, it’s going to be public really regardless of whether I like it or not, because I’m going to have this surgery and I’m going to be basically out for two months.” Again, I think that’s just – I think, all of what you just said there is such great insight into both being honest on social media and inviting people into your life, but at the same time doing it in a way that’s just healthy. I think that’s probably the best way to put it is just healthy, both for you and both for your audience as well, and it also gives you an opportunity to share from that place of redemption. I think, sometimes when you’re going through it and when you’re in the thick of it, it’s just not – it’s just not the time to share.
[0:28:40.1] NH: No, I completely agree. I also think people can get overwhelmed themselves by this pressure to share. I think this is almost becoming – as I mentioned, because I think the offline and online worlds are fusing more and more and we’re trying to bring what we love about in-person community online in every way that we can, again including vulnerability, there becomes this pressure and almost this guilt that if you’re not sharing your deepest darkest secrets to the internet, that somehow you’re not genuine. That is just so frustrating to me, because that is such a lie.
I think there’s a way to be genuine and to tiptoe your way into finding where you’re comfortable at that level of communication. It could be just sharing your own insecurities on a really light level. If you’re launching a big business, maybe sharing about how when you first decided to launch this business, you knew with everything in your heart this was your dream, but you were free that it wouldn’t succeed. That is vulnerable. That’s a vulnerable statement, right? It doesn’t have to be the deepest darkest secret of your life. It could be something like that and then also amidst communicating that, communicating how grateful you are to have such amazing clients that see your vision too, that align with you, that believe in you and that are enabling you to reach goals that you never fathomed you could reach.
That’s a way of sharing, “Hey, here’s a vulnerability. Here’s how I felt when I started.” Then maybe I’m not at a point where I consider it a success yet, right? I’m on the journey there. Being able to take that audience with you and communicate that I think as a way to get over that lie that you have to be baring your soul every single day to the internet. It’s just not true. You can really start simply and just communicating more of you, your story and what you care about.
[0:30:16.4] DJ: Yeah. Natalie, if I had less restraint here, I’d be tempted to take this conversation off into another direction, where we talk a little bit of neuroscience, right? Talk about what happens in the brain when you get likes and things like that and maybe – and we could totally go off of that direction.
[0:30:33.8] NH: Don’t get me started about dopamine and driven feedback loops, because I could go on for days about the addictive outcomes of those, but we won’t go there. Maybe another episode later on.
[0:30:42.9] DJ: Exactly. It would have to be a two-hour episode. We probably have to get Huey involved in that one as well, just because we’re talking about tech and social media and all that stuff. Anyway, so we won’t go there. I wanted you to know, we had talked before the episode here that we could probably talk for three to five hours on just random stuff like that. I want you to know, I’m intentionally not taking the conversation into that direction.
I guess, the direction that we that we ought to go is I’m going to use myself as an example. I really struggle really just sharing anything on social media. I think in general, I’m a pretty private person, which I know is maybe ironic on some level, just because I do like speaking, I do like talking to people, but I’m pretty reserved in I think what I share. Could you coach me through, can you walk me through somebody who wants, or anybody out there who’s maybe similar, somebody who wants to build a platform who struggles getting to that point where they feel they can share anything personal? How does a person like that start building a platform? I guess, maybe we should even start with some mistakes you see people make at the outset.
[0:31:51.8] NH: Absolutely. I think, first thing I would ultimately do, especially for someone who maybe already is communicating on social media, but perhaps it’s just about the craft, it’s just about the business, it’s not maybe about themselves, or maybe they haven’t even taken the first step to share anything would be to really understand what you are trying to communicate, who you are trying to communicate to and just to start very basically.
Let’s use a designer, for instance. As a designer, you are creating work for your clients, right? It’s more than transaction. It actually definitely transcends, that becomes relational. What I would recommend doing is actually trying to understand who are the clients and you guys do branding work all the time, so this is not new to you at all. Understanding who you’re talking to, who you’re trying to attract to your business. Also, maybe even taking the step of outlining what that persona looks like and understanding what elements that person doesn’t want to hear about, right?
It’s like what will attract them, what also though unfortunately would repel that ideal person that you’re communicating to. Just start there. Start very basic in like communications in marketing 101, understanding the fundamentals. Then from there, what I recommend doing is taking a step further and saying, “Okay great. Why are you running this business and what is the purpose behind it?” Almost taking the Simon Sinek, start with why approach, mix with a little bit of a Seth Godin tribes approach of understanding that any community in this sense, but I actually would relate it to audience, which I think is the new online version of a community, needs to be connected to a leader, which is you or the brand needs to be connected to an idea, which is where I’m getting with the mission statement, the why, the purpose and needs to be connected to one another.
They actually need to be able to communicate with one another. Your community does, your audience does. They need to feel connected to this greater platform, this greater thing that is you, your brand, the message that you’re putting forth; in this case for the designer, the work that you’re actually creating. It’s not just about creating a pretty logo, it’s about creating a holistic brand that tells someone’s story that enables them to pursue their passion for instance.
In knowing that, you now are getting to a more qualitative, more emotional, perhaps more connected place and understanding something deeper about your platform and what you do. Then from there, what I recommend doing is going one level deeper and saying, “Okay, so this is my purpose and this is why I’m doing it and this is what my brand looks like and this is who I’m communicating to. What elements of me right, as the person, as the individual behind the business in the brand do I think really enable me to connect with that audience member? That maybe enable me to communicate why my purpose is my purpose? Why do I care about helping people to tell their stories? Is it something about my own story? Is it that I maybe should tell my story a little more? Is it that I was a kid that didn’t talk till I was five and then once I did I never stopped?”
I mean, what is it about you that makes you want to create brands and makes you want to design a new identity for others? When you can start to dig deeper and then just pick out a couple of things, right? You don’t need to tell your whole story in an Instagram caption. You can choose five things, five things about you that are important that you think your audience needs to know about. It might be your marriage, or your relationship and maybe that’s important, because you feel like at the heart of every business should be love and that could be the love of a parent that inspired you to pick up a camera and become a photographer. It could be the support of a spouse that empowered you to take this hobby and turn it into a business.
Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s that you are an amazing cook, or you’re a terrible cook. I actually incorporated being a terrible cook earlier on in my brand. I’ve gotten better, thank God, but I used to post videos of the fire alarm in my little town house going off when I tried to make Huey dinner to demonstrate that I was trying, I was making an effort, but also that that was how I signaled to him that dinner was ready. Something burned, therefore dinner must be done.
What’s great about that is I was working with a lot of newlywed couples. I was working with a lot of couples that are getting ready to get married. Let me just tell you, neither of them knew how to cook either, right? They were just making crap mac and cheese too. They could connect with that authenticity of, “Okay, she might look like she has it all together, but we all know she just burned her dinner, right? We all know she’s still struggling to figure out temperature control.”
There was a little element of that that when I continued to share it over and over, it connected with my ideal audience. It also enabled me to be a little vulnerable and it made for a great kickoff conversation when I actually would sit down with clients and they would say like, “Okay, I have to just tell you, he can’t cook. He is exactly like you.” It opened up a gateway for communication.
I know that was a long answer, but I think it’s understanding the business, moving one step deeper into your purpose and then actually going a step even deeper, which is where the personal comes in of how can you communicate about yourself in a way that drives you towards maybe illuminating the purpose more, maybe just connecting with the audience on a deeper level, but finding five things. Five things, right? I mentioned marriage. I mentioned even something silly, like you can’t cook. It could be your love of a color. It could be your love of another artist or musician or a song, I think of Madison Short who loves the remix to Ignition.
At first, everyone was like, “Okay, I don’t get it.” To this day, I still see other wedding photographers taking videos of themselves on Instagram stories when that song comes on and tagging her and actually spreading her brand, just by communicating, “Maddie, this song made me think of you.” It’s finding those elements and then communicating them consistently.
[0:37:35.2] DJ: Yeah. I was just vigorously taking notes here. I think there needs to be lots of doodles, right, for people to go back to if they if they miss some of that. Fortunately, it is podcast so you can always rewind. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those episodes where people are going back and taking notes. There’s so much good stuff that you said in there. One thing I want to ask you about is one thing that I’ve noticed about people who are I think really good at what you’re really good at, which I think is in terms of connecting and engaging with the community, growing a community is that they’re able to talk about their why without explicitly talking about their why. Does that make sense?
They never come out and just – they’re not in Insta stories just reading their mission statement, let’s say. They’re always using different means to I guess, explain to people what they’re about. How can people do that? How can people get better about making sure that they’re conveying who they are, what they do, why they do it without coming out and saying it?
[0:38:35.5] NH: Oh, man. I think it starts by truly having a why that aligns with who you are and what you really believe in at your core. Because if it’s something you truly believe in to a degree that you live it every single day, then all you have to do is open up a window and document your own life, right? If it’s so authentic to who you are, think about friends of mine – it could be anything, but friends of mine who where faith is every – every part of their day, their faith system is integrated into who they are. It’s not something they just talk about on the internet. It truly is it’s who they are.
Then all they have to do is share their life with people and they’re going to see that belief system resonate and see it shine through and their values and how they invest time and their family, or their church group, or in their synagogue, or whatever it is, because it is really who they are. I think that’s where you start. It is your mission statement. The question isn’t how do you communicate the mission statement without saying it is it’s really make sure your mission statement is actually something that aligns with who you are, to a level where it’s ingrained in your very being.
I look at people who practice what they preach and it still doesn’t feel – really doesn’t feel authentic and you can tell. You can just tell that they’re putting on a show, or they’re trying to live up to this brand that they created. It’s almost more aspirational than it is authentic and that’s okay. I think that there’s beauty in having a mission statement, a why, a purpose that is so ingrained with your values and who you are and what you want to see the to become, or what you want to do for your clients and how you want to impact their life that’s simply by documenting your daily existence, you’re showcasing what really matters to you, you’re showcasing your why.
A good example of someone that does this so beautifully is Abbey Grace actually, who I think will be either have already been on an episode, or if not is very, very soon upcoming. She’s a dear friend of both of us. She is someone who I remember very early on talking about why she cared so much about photography and her images and this idea of creating heirlooms. She shares a lot about her life, her travels, her time with Matt her husband, and documenting her own journey, her own marriage, she inspires other people to do the same with their.
She inspired Huey and I to get pictures taken together. She was the first person I thought of when I wanted pictures outside of our wedding. I brought her up to Maryland to shoot for us, because she really believes these heirlooms are so important that she’s creating them herself and she’s inspiring people to do the same and in telling the story of her, her family and what she dreams up for her future. She’s just doing it every single day.
I think it’s really finding ways to align that mission statement with who you are and what you really care about as a creative and as a creator, in a way that as you move forward, it becomes very natural to communicate it. Even if it’s playing with your dog, it can align. Showing off how much you love your dog and you’re running around and/or how much you love your kids and how you start to tell stories about parenthood. I’ve seen those things.
With you and Krista, it goes to show that you guys care immensely about family and you care immensely about creating this legacy of love in your lives, that is so much deeper and so much richer. I can see how you want to help other people to have that same life, where they can be joyous in every moment and really pursue their passion and do what makes them happy, do ultimately what allows them to leave a legacy behind. In creating brands for people, you guys do that. You enable them to have that same circle of love and faith and honestly, just joy, right? I know that was a rambling answer. Davey knows I ramble.
[0:42:28.2] DJ: No, that is great. You’re too kind. What’s funny too is Abbey actually brought you up in her episode as well, and so your episodes will be released around the same time period. Both are great, so I encourage you to go and listen to Abbey’s episode as well. I think that is a great example. I guess, one other thing that comes to mind is when I think about people that I really like to engage with online, whose community is I feel I’m a part of. One thing that they’re so good at is telling stories. I think that aligns perfectly with what you were saying is just that if you’re truly living out your why, right, the stories you tell about your life align with that.
It just makes sense that people would connect and engage with that and that whatever they’re living in their lives would resonate with your own life. I appreciate that answer and I don’t think it was as rambling as you think.
[0:43:18.5] NH: There’s a reason I doodle. I think the doodles have become a new method of communication that require far few words that I’m used to, because I do feel like I ramble. You know what? It’s okay. That’s why I’ve picked up my iPad and I’ve started doodling, truthfully.
[0:43:32.9] DJ: I want at least one doodle to go into the show notes.
[0:43:35.6] NH: All right, I’m going to try. I will do my best.
[0:43:37.5] DJ: Concentric circles. Concentric circles, that’s the one I want. Before we wrap up here, I want to know are there any mistakes that you see people make, that they should just absolutely avoid when first – when trying to grow a platform?
[0:43:50.4] NH: Yes. I think the biggest mistake is spending more time looking at your competition than looking at your client. I think that we have a tendency to want to model behavior after what we see other people doing that we perceive to be successful. Key word ‘perceive’ to be successful. Therefore, we oftentimes and I see a lot of people make this mistake, but we oftentimes follow somebody else’s trajectory, or path to a point where their inspiration, their brand, their message, their audience, we almost absorb elements of that, rather than defining for ourselves who we are and who we want to be.
Actually, Krista was someone that was really instrumental for me in determining this for myself. I think back to an early rebrand of Natalie Franke Photography, when I desperately wanted what everyone else had, I wanted calligraphy, I wanted pink, I wanted watercolor, I wanted all of these elements, but Krista said to me – she just looked at me –
[0:44:45.8] DJ: I don’t remember this. I’m enjoying this.
[0:44:49.4] NH: I mean, this is real old-school here. We’re going all the way back. Krista in her Kristafay looked at me and was like, “But you’re not that. You’re not that. I’m looking at you, you’re wearing Sperrys, you don’t have your nails painted, you’re not super girly, you’re not a fine artist, you’re not a watercolor painter. Nothing wrong with that Nat, but you’re sitting here.”
[0:45:10.9] DJ: I’m sure Krista said it in her very blunt – the very blunt way that she says those sorts of things.
[0:45:15.8] NH: Which I needed so desperately, because again, what was I doing? I was looking at other people when I was saying, “I want to be just like her.” When in reality, what Krista reminded me was, “No, you’re pretty darn awesome yourself. Be you. You’re nautical, you are more of a preppy classic person. You grew up in Annapolis.” She identified for me I think that my uniqueness was not a weakness. That ultimately, the brand I needed to create wasn’t one that mirrored what other people were doing, but rather was one that communicated who I was in a way that connected to my clients.
This is like, I’m talking way back when. We know she’s a genius. She’s always been a genius. This moment was really transformational for me. I think the biggest mistake I see people making honestly, is they’re focusing more on their competition than their client. They are comparing themselves and they’re trying to build something that resembles what they think other people are doing and are doing successfully, rather than taking that step back and really figuring out who they are and what makes them different and looking at their uniqueness, looking at that element of them that maybe even they’ve been insecure about.
I talk about like, I’m a nerd. I never used to talk about that until a couple years back. I was so afraid of that. I looked at the industry and everyone was so glamorous and social and fun and cute, all those words. Here I was, truly a nerd. I really enjoyed reading journal entries about which side of the state stage to speak to when you’re trying to be humorous versus trying to be emotional. I mean, I love the neuroscience of everything. I was so afraid to be vulnerable about oh, that actually is who I am. I’m not always the most social.
I’m awkward. Anyone who knows me knows that I get scared. I get terrified before I walk into a room of people. Then afterwards, I collapse and just want to sleep for the rest of the night, because I’m an introvert. I never let that shine through, because I was trying to be somebody that I thought other people wanted me to be, rather than being myself. I think that’s a mistake a lot of us make.
[0:47:08.9] DJ: It’s so true, even not in business, right? I think just in competition in general. I think back to my experience in coaching is one thing it was really hard while we prep for games, and so I coached a high school varsity lacrosse. One thing that was very difficult in terms of managing players was trying to get them not to focus too much on the film of their competition, right? Because what happened is they would focus so much on that, they would forget what they had to execute on their own, like our game plan.
I just thought, I think it’s such an interesting parallel to business as well. I think sometimes just like you said, we do something similar and focus – instead of focusing in our own game plan, the things that we have to execute, we get so wrapped up in what other people are doing and it takes us away from what we should be focused on, what’s going to move our business forward.
[0:48:00.0] NH: Absolutely.
[0:48:01.1] DJ: Again, I think that’s great insight to wrap up this episode with. I’m excited to hopefully see you and Huey in Annapolis, not in another state since we’re literally miles from each other again, but it has like you said, it’s just a busy season especially with the holidays. I want to thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the show. For those people listening, where can they learn more about you?
[0:48:26.8] NH: Yes, absolutely. The best place is at nataliefranke.com. Then on social media, I spend most of my social media time allocated towards Instagram these days. I would say @NatalieFranke on Instagram and I would just love a chance to connect with all of you who are listening. Davey, seriously thank you so much for having me on. I do feel it’s a throwback to our Coffee Commute podcast days. This has been so much fun and just a huge honor to be on the platform. Thank you so much.
[0:48:53.6] DJ: Yeah, well I will say it was really The Coffee Commute. We talked about even before we stepped down from our TS how much we enjoyed doing the podcast, even though –
[0:49:02.2] NH: Just so fun.
[0:49:03.0] DJ: – we were just learning. I mean, it was just – it was a very raw I think experience, because we had never done something like it before, but really, I mean, one of the reasons I started this podcast was because I had such fond memories of that podcast and it was just such a good learning experience too for this one as well. Thank you again and hopefully, we will see you around soon.
[0:49:25.9] NH: Thanks Davey.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:49:30.0] DJ: Thanks for tuning in to the Brands That Book Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review in iTunes. For show notes and other resources, head on over to daveyandkrista.com.
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