New, office-less horizons
Moving from working for an employer to working for one’s self is a big change, and there’s plenty to consider. Even when venturing out as a freelancer as I have, with minimal startup costs, money is still a real concern. Gone is the stability of a steady paycheque. Still, the stability and structure of having an employer comes with its own costs; costs that I no longer wanted to pay. And I had a pretty great employer too. This time, though, it wasn’t about changing jobs. It was about putting what I valued first.
Fitting into someone else’s structure just wasn’t working for me. For the first time in a long time, though, I felt (and still remain confident) in my ability to make things work on my own. So, while the decision to branch out still was one I took seriously and considered for a long time, I took the leap of faith when the time came. It really was a leap of faith because this time, this was a lifestyle change. An opportunity to live on my own terms. An opportunity to redefine myself after a period of massive change. While the instability of that period persists, I’m honestly pretty comfortable with 'unstable' now.
Shaking hands with the unknown and the uncomfortable
I think becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable has been one of the biggest signs for me that I’ve changed this year. I have always felt a little resistant towards structures and authority, but to a point where I wouldn’t let myself commit to ... anything. Putting myself fully into something felt like closing doors rather than opening them. But, on top of that, I was still risk averse. And when you’re afraid of putting yourself out there and you also refuse to commit to an external cause, opportunity, or vision, you end up doing, well, a lot of nothing.
Now that I’m feeling more confident about existing in uncertainty, I’m able to embrace life a little more fully, and all the risks that come along with it. And not just the financial risks that come with working for myself either. This also includes the risks of putting myself out there.
Of course, when social media, my own self, and the business I’m running intersect, important decisions arise.
The grey landscape of social media
With social media being (more or less) essential to promoting a business and also a large part of many people’s personal lives, mine included, the personal/professional divide isn’t so black and white. How does one approach social media, or their “professional” image when realms of professional and personal are so closely linked? What social media channels do you need? Facebook? Snapchat? Twitter? LinkedIn? Instagram? ..All of the above? And more importantly, what feels right?
I’ve heard plenty of opinions and advice on how to proceed, and they often conflict with each other. Here’s a few. They might sound familiar:
“Keep your professional and personal life separate.”
“Have a strategy and plan for your online image, regardless of the social channel.”
“A good professional image is one with personality.”
“Don’t put anything online you wouldn’t want a client to see.”
“Anybody who is somebody wasn’t afraid to play big and let their true personality shine through their public image.”
“Towing the company line and maintaining a safe image won’t make you any enemies and will get you a nice house in the suburbs and a spot in middle management. If that’s your thing.”
“One mistake online could sink your entire career. Everything you put out there needs to be carefully thought-out.”
“An active and engaging social media presence is pretty much essential if you want to be successful these days.”
“Social media is a waste of time.”
"...use lots of memes."
...the list goes on. What’s a guy to do?
Finding what matters
In the end, how to approach social media and your online presence really boils down to what your goals are, personally and for your own business. I could take all the advice in the world, but at the end of the day, it's what matters to me that should be guiding my decisions.
To help with making that decision for myself, I defined what I wanted to do, what my work means to me, and what things in my life are important to me.
My work is most definitely a lifestyle business right now. I’m good at what I do and want to use those skills so I can have some awesome experiences.
I like the flexibility that freelancing affords.
I enjoy what I do, but communications, writing, and design are a small part of my interests, and therefore me as a person.
I want to write about more than just business things. I also love and want to write about music, mental health, personal development, relationships, and travel.
I’d love to connect with (and ideally work with) people who share my passions.
A lot of my past struggles stem from trying to be whatever others needed from me rather than being myself. I want to live true to myself and my values.
I strongly value honesty and authenticity.
I’m more artist than entrepreneur. And I’m ok with that.
I spend a lot of time on social media as-is; I wouldn’t want to take on more.
My social media principles
With all this in mind, I was able to craft some guiding principles that were in line with my goals and values. Of course, these are my own, and yours may differ. Totally OK. The whole point of defining your values is to create guiding principles that fit for you.
I’m fine working within my current social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, and my personal Facebook).
I won’t be opening a business Facebook page anytime soon, nor will I post public content. I’m a little more open and personal on Facebook and I want to keep that to my friends and family. I’ll still post work-related stuff though, as my network is a good source of leads. I’m comfortable with the crossover.
I can be more active on Twitter and LinkedIn for sharing my posts and any big news.
My work is a part of me, but so are things like music, backpacking, alternative housing, human connection, mental health, and more.
While maintaining healthy boundaries, I’m not going to limit my social communication or blogs to exclude any of the above. I’m going to try to keep politics out, though :)
While I plan on writing about communication strategy, writing etc., I’m also going to write about other stuff I care about on here rather than try to segment myself. Doing so might be the safer option, but, playing safe and polite hasn’t got me where I want to be. Time for a new approach.
I want to connect with others who share my interests and my values. I can’t do that if I’m sharing strictly communications/writing content or things just to get leads for my work.
A lot of this comes back to being comfortable with uncertainty. Opportunity never comes without fear and risk. Ever. I think the biggest mistake I could make at this point is playing it safe. Social media can encourage that, to a degree (more on that another time).
My goal in all this is to find the right balance between offering value and staying authentic.
I’m not crafting a professional persona outside of myself. I’m not building a “brand” in the traditional sense. There's no Business Dallas and Everything-Else Dallas. There's just me. Above all, my business is an extension of myself. I am not an extension of my business.
I’m going to write about what’s important to me. I’m going to use my knowledge and experience as a writer and designer to write some good content about what I do for work, but, I’m going to be as three-dimensional here as I am in life as well. I believe the people I’d like to work with will appreciate knowing who they’ll be working with too. And even if things go south, I’ll know I stayed true to myself.
And that’s what matters most.