Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 106 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks to Carol Cox about refining your brand and sharing your story.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Randle Browning about creating courses. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
How would you define your brand?
It’s an interesting and important question to answer about your business. Carol, however, thinks it’s even more important to gauge how your audience defines your brand.
Once you understand that, you can then refine your brand and use your expertise to support your audience. Carol’s advice will show you how you can help your readers by choosing the stories you share and the niche you pick.
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Bjork Ostrom: In this episode, we talk to Carol Cox from Speaking Your Brand about what it was like to be a political analyst on TV during the 2016 US Presidential election, how to clarify your brand as a blogger or a business owner, and running the London marathon in a gorilla suit.
Hey there everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom and I am so thankful that you are tuning into the Food Blogger Pro podcast today, wherever you are. Maybe you are on a run or you are in your car or maybe you’re doing the dishes or maybe you are a dedicated listener and you are sitting and listening to the podcast on the couch on a beautiful day. Whatever it is, I’m really thankful that you’re here. I think that you will get a lot out of today’s episode and today’s interview with Carol Cox. Carol comes from the brand Speaking Your Brand from the brand and the website and the blog. It’s all of those things. She’s coming to us today to talk about this idea of branding and Speaking Your Brand, really coming from a perspective of somebody that is an authority in the speaking space.
As I said in the intro, she’s a political analyst, which she’ll talk about in a little bit and she also has a lot of experience delivering keynote presentations, as well as working with business owners to clarify their messaging and their marketing so their audience perceives them in the way that they want to be perceived. Really important for anybody, whether it’s brick and mortar or an online blog to be really good at crafting that message. We’re going to go ahead and jump in here with this interview with Carol Cox. Carol, welcome to the podcast.
Carol Cox: Thank you so much for having me, Bjork. I’m so glad to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’ll be fun to chat. Before we get into some of the things about Speaking Your Brand and why that’s so important for bloggers and content creators, I want to talk a little bit about what you were doing previously and your previous career was as a political analyst. Is that right?
Carol Cox: Yes. I’ve been doing that, off and on, for the past about 12 years. I do it mostly during the Presidential election cycles and then, sometimes during the midterm cycle as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. It’s something that you’re still actively doing. In this last Presidential election, were you able to make appearances and do the political analyst thing?
Carol Cox: Yes. In 2016, I was contracted by our NBC station in Orlando, Florida where I live, so I was the Democratic political analyst for them and then, there was the Republican counterpart. We would come on after the debates, primary elections, obviously election night. It was a very busy time and a very challenging year compared to some of the other years, for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m so curious to know is that the kind of thing where maybe this just happens every year, but it feels like this year was a really big exception for just what a circus it was. Is that really nice for you as a political analyst in that you’re like oh, I have so much content to work with? The analogy being if you’re a potter, you have this giant thing of clay that you can then morph around and create something with. Or, is it almost so much that it’s difficult to navigate it?
Carol Cox: There was definitely a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, as someone, I would guess I would consider myself more of a policy wonk, we didn’t end up talking a whole lot about policy or issues. It tended to be more about personality. While there was a lot going on and it definitely was much more of a circus than any previous year that I have done, I think that because of the sensationalist nature of it, I think this all started back with reality TV and us seeing now these elections as reality TV and that has shifted what we consider to be newsworthy and wanting spectacle and entertainment. There was so much wrapped up in there and how the news media had to go about filtering all of this and figuring out what to cover.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, what a difficult job. I’m totally not jealous of you having to do that, because I feel like it’d be really difficult to do, not only are you having to cut the fat away and speak to the actual important stuff, but also doing it in such an extremely interesting and I would assume atypical environment. Kudos to you for doing that.
Carol Cox: Right. Remember, we only get about two minutes per segment.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
Carol Cox: That includes the reporter who’s asking us the questions, my response, my Republican counterpart’s response all within a huge issue in two minutes, which is why I love podcasts so much more cause we can talk for 45 minutes.
Bjork Ostrom: We have an hour here. We can really dig in to stuff, for sure. It just feels like an eternity I bet. You do the political analyst thing. You are able to segment that. It’s not the full time thing that you do. You also have this brand that you’ve developed around branding. Can you talk a little bit about Speaking Your Brand, what that is, and how you got started with that?
Carol Cox: Sure. I have been in business for over 15 years. My background is in technology. I’m a self taught computer programmer, web and database programmer way back in the day. I did that for about 10 years, and as my clients evolved with technology, they also needed more marketing help, online marketing, so my skills evolved with that as well. Then, I got to the age where I just didn’t really want to do programming and coding and staring at the screen all the time. Along the way, I also teach business and marketing classes at a university, would always give presentations on different topics. A few years ago, after experiencing probably too many not so great presentations at conferences and events that I went to, I realized that people needed help in creating really great content and content that was relevant and relatable to the audience, so that’s where Speaking Your Brand was born.
I primarily work with entrepreneurs and professionals to help them create their presentations, whether it’s for a keynote, a TEDx talk, a business presentation, but while we’re doing that, the reason it’s called Speaking Your Brand is that we’re really building also the foundation of either their business brand or their personal brand or both.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Can you talk about that and why that’s so important? It’s interesting, as kind of a backstory, I was meeting with a good friend and a mentor this morning. He’s starting a consulting business. We were starting to talk about this. His consulting business was called Good News Consulting. He has a background in working with churches, and he wants to work with businesses and other churches to help develop leadership. We were kind of talking about why, drilling it down to really a thing where he could talk about it and people would know exactly what it is that he’s talking about. I would assume that’s part of what you’re doing is helping people understand what it is that they do, first, and then also how to communicate that. Can you maybe share a story of somebody that you worked with or even how you apply it with your own business, as an example, so people can understand what that process looks like?
Carol Cox: Sure. Let me start by defining exactly what a brand is, because a lot of people don’t know. A brand is what other people say about you. We have our own idea of what we want our brand to be. We want our brand to be edgy and we want it to be fun, or we want it to be serious and structured, or whatever it happens to be. That may be the message and the content that you’re putting out, but your brand is really what is being received on the other end. There’s lots of different assessments you can do to figure out do those things match or not, and then working to get them to match. Obviously, what you want to convey is what you also want to be received.
I’ll give you an example is that I have a client and she actually just recently, I helped her with a TEDx talk that she recently gave. Even though TEDx talks are a little bit different because they’re not about your business brand, but her business is that she is a money coach. She does financial planning, but financial planning in a very different way, not in a traditional let’s look at your stocks and bonds and investments, but really digging in to understand what are your money beliefs? What are your money behaviors? Where did they come from when you were young?
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost a little bit of money psychology.
Carol Cox: Yes. That’s exactly what it is, because from her vantage point, a budget is not going to solve psychological behaviors that you had that you don’t maybe not even understand what they are. As far as her brand is concerned, she really wants to pull out and to convey how important the psychology and beliefs and mindset are regarding your finances. That is how she’s differentiating herself from a lot of other financial planners out there. I think that, especially for your listeners who a lot of them are food bloggers or in the food industry, there are so many out there, because it’s so easy to get started, the barriers to entry are so easy to start a blog and to start posting recipes and photos. For your brand, it’s how are you going to take what you’re naturally good at, what you naturally like, what your strengths are, and then wrap that together into a brand that appeals to a certain segment of people?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think that example talking about this money coach and she came to you and said “This is who I know that I am and want to be. Can you help work with me so what I’m saying and what I’m doing, that communicates that to other people and that actually lands?” It’s a really interesting picture in my mind, where you have point A and point B or person A and person B. Person A is saying something and then it floats through the air and by the time it gets to Person B, sometimes it’s something totally different. I feel like what I understand you to do is working with people on that path in between, so when it lands with person B, it’s actually what you want it to be. But, a huge part of that, too, is figuring out what you want to say and who the brand is, what your brand is.
Like you said, in the food industry recipe sites or even just blogs in general, that’s really true. I think the most successful blogs or brands or influencers have a really strong brand. They’ve nailed that, and people can really understand what that is. One of the question I had for you, you had mentioned this previously, was that there are things you can do to reach out to your followers or your fans or whoever that might be to gauge whether you’re understanding of your brand matches what they perceive it to be. Can you talk about how people can do that?
Carol Cox: Yes. You can do things as simple as just create your own survey and send it to your email list or post it on your blog. When you think of me or you think of my site or you think of my recipes or whatever the content happens to be, what are three words that come to mind? You can even just ask something as simple and open ended as that. Now, there are also tools out there. There’s one by a company called 360 Reach or Reach 360. You can Google that. That’s a free assessment, where there’s a whole list of words and you specifically send it to people, so colleagues, friends, people in your community. Then, they fill it out. It takes a little bit longer, because there’s more words to check off. But, that will give you a good sense of the words you think describe you are the same words other people would use.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. One of the things that Pinch of Yum does, so Pinch of Yum, my wife Lindsay, has a blog Pinch of Yum and she has, I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again, she has an email that goes out as part of her autoresponder series. It’s a survey. We check in on that once a year or so, just to see who are the people that are following along with Pinch of Yum and signing up for the email list. A really tangible example of one of the takeaways that we had was we realized the vast majority of people are shopping at places like Super Target. They’re not going to somewhere like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, so that really informs a lot of the content that Lindsay creates.
I don’t remember in that survey if she also asks. We did this at one point. I don’t know if it’s in that survey or not, but exactly like you said, what’s one word that describes Pinch of Yum? Then, we created one of those word map things, so you could see what the bigger word was that showed up more than any of the others. That was really informative to see okay, this is how people understand the brand. Let’s say you do that, and maybe you do a word map. You see these really big words, but what if those words don’t line up with what you want your brand to be? How do you go about refining that and changing it?
Carol Cox: There’s a couple of different ways. First, you can really do a deep self-reflection and figure out why things aren’t matching with what you think they are versus how it’s being received. You can also get help with someone. It’s really hard to do this in your own head. It’s hard to do strategy and understanding yourself and your brand in your own head, so you probably need to have someone to bounce those ideas off of. But, if you feel really strongly that the brand that you want to convey is the one that you want to own, then it may be that you haven’t found the right audience. Maybe the content that you’re creating or the people that it’s getting viewed by are not the people who are best suited for your audience. You may need, then, to niche down further, go even narrower in your niche and see if that can help you align your brand.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Got it. Let’s say you are creating a certain type of paleo recipes, cause paleo’s an easy diet, because people are familiar with it. Then, you get a lot of people who are saying oh, I really wish that you would do my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. You’re like I’m really trying to do healthy paleo. Then, you could say either how do I create different content? Maybe go back and look at your content and say okay, there’s actually some recipes I did that were paleo cookie recipes, so maybe I cut that out. I just do strictly healthy paleo. Or, you could say maybe there’s something that I’m doing in my intentional outreach for these people, in getting these people to come to my site or to engage with me as an influencer, whatever it would be. It doesn’t have to be a website, where I have to switch and refocus where I’m marketing towards people. I feel like that was like 70% of what I wanted it to be. Could you refine that?
Carol Cox: Sure. Maybe chocolate chip cookie recipes are just really popular, so maybe it’s just that. I’m a big believer that as whether you’re a blogger, you’re a business owner, you’re a coach, whatever you happen to be that you need to serve your audience wherever they’re at on their journey. If you are a paleo blogger and the people who are coming to your site are asking you for chocolate chip cookie recipes, then maybe they need a bridge to get from the diet that they’re currently on to the diet that they want to be on, which is the paleo. Maybe some type of chocolate chip cookie recipe can bridge that gap for them, because maybe they haven’t gone all in. You’re serving them on the journey, wherever they are at on their journey. If you’re just hardcore paleo and you don’t want to offer that kind of thing, then have that be part of your brand, really just stand for that. That’s another I believe as far as people having a successful brand is being willing to stand for something and to advocate for your community and what they need.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Yep. To clarify, I think you can do good chocolate chip cookies, maybe not traditional chocolate chip cookies, with paleo. I’m not a paleo expert by any means.
Carol Cox: Me either.
Bjork Ostrom: I think what you said makes a lot of sense, where even if you are creating something for the site you want to be doing, your brand is strictly healthy paleo, maybe like you said, you use that as a bridge to other content or to your main brand. Speaking Your Brand, the idea is two fold it sounds like. Number one, it’s refining the marketing piece of your site or your business. The other piece is literally the speaking, like keynote presentation, like a TEDx talk. I’m interested to talk about first, to focus in on the marketing angle of it. One of the things you talk a lot about on your site is this idea od story and excavating a story. Can you talk about what that is and why that’s important?
Carol Cox: Yes. I love this question, because I think in business, we tend to have forgotten that as human beings, the way that we learn is through story. Ever since we’re little kids and we first start understanding language, we learn through stories and fables and the bedtime stories that our parents would read to use back along the campfire, thousands of years ago. That’s how we learned and that’s how we transmitted culture and history and memories. In business, whether it’s marketing messaging on your website or it’s in your presentation, or even it’s on a recipe post, telling a story is what engages the audience to get them more interested. A story, really simply, is something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s something that has where you’re sitting up a situation, so what’s involved. You’re setting up some type of conflict. A tension happens, things aren’t going the right way. The cookies are burnt in the oven, whatever it happens to be. The recipe’s a disaster.
Bjork Ostrom: You get halfway through a story and you realize you don’t fully understand paleo.
Carol Cox: Right. We have the situation, the conflict, and then the resolution, which is the lessons you learned. That’s the part of stories that I think people leave out, is failures make really good stories. Obstacles and challenges make really good stories, because that’s how we learn. We learn ourselves, most, from mistakes that we’ve made or challenges that we’ve overcome. Then, other people can learn from our stories, so it’s taking our personal stories and then universalizing them out so that other people can learn from them and experience them as well.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s really interesting. I think one of the things I’ve thought about a lot and I think applies to this is when interacting with people or giving advice or talking to people that ask for advice, I think one of the best ways to do that is to tell a story but not a story, like a general story. I think it’s most powerful when you can say here’s a story that happened to me, and I don’t even think that you need to draw the parallel to what they’re trying to figure out. I think naturally what we do is we process information through our own reality. By telling a story about this time, I was on a podcast and I’m talking about this thing that I didn’t actually know about, people think about that in the context of their own story and their own business or their own life. It doesn’t have to be informative, in the sense of here are the three things you need to do. It can be a story that people take, they process through that, and are impacted by it.
Carol Cox: Yes. Absolutely Bjork. I couldn’t have said it better, and the sharing the story in enough detail where they understand it, but not too much detail where it gets bogged down. That’s the whole idea is that the person listening puts themselves in your shoes as they’re listening to you telling your story.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m using, on the iPhone, they have the News app, so I was like oh, I like news. I’m going to start trying this app out and reading it and looking through it. One of the articles, and I don’t remember the source it was from, but it was like one of those clickbait-y articles and I was scrolling through. I was like oh, this is interesting. It was like the number one sign that you’re a boring person. I was like oh, I don’t want to click on this but I’m going to. It was all about story and it was talking about how people that are able to tell really good stories are universally perceived as interesting people. It’s made me think about my conversations, whether in business or personally, and challenged me to tell better stories. I think of the people in my life that are good storytellers and I just love when I get to see them and be with them.
For those that are listening, that want to be better storytellers in their business or in their personal life, what are the things that they need to start doing? What do they need to be aware of?
Carol Cox: I create and I have my clients create what I call a story bank, so this is just a list of stories that you start thinking of. Anything all the way back from your childhood through the present day. Not every story is going to be relevant to every situation, every person that you’re talking to, which is why you have a bank of them, depending on what you want to pull from, whether it’s for marketing content or for a presentation or just so you keep them top of mind. Then, the best stories are ones again where you overcome adversity, something happened that didn’t go the way you initially thought, but then it ended up being good on the other end, whether it’s client examples, your own experiences. Then, I will keep a running list say, in a Google doc or Evernote.
If something happens in my day to day life that I think oh, that might be a good lesson or a good story to share, I’ll just jot down a few notes about it. Then, I’ll go back and I’ll categorize in the story bank okay, this is a work related story or this is a client example or this is a personal or a travel story or whatever it happens to be.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s great. It’s funny that you said Evernote. What I did is in my little notes here for the show, I wrote down story journal in Evernote. That’s just for me, because I think that’s such a great idea to have that bank of stories that you can draw on. I think of how often I use analogies or stories to describe some of the business stuff that we’re going through. One that I’ve been using all the time, it’s not a story that I went through, but people ask all the time “How are things going in your business?” I’ve tried to describe what it’s like for us, and I haven’t come up with a good example until recently when I read this story about a guy who was going to do the London marathon, right? We’re all familiar with London marathon, but then he was going to do it a little bit differently and he was raising money for some cause. I don’t remember what it was. He decided to do it in a gorilla suit, but not only did he do it in a gorilla suit but he crawled it. He crawled the London marathon in a gorilla suit.
What I’ve been saying recently when people ask how’s it going with your businesses specifically, I say I feel like the analogy or the parallel is this guy that goes through this London marathon, wearing a gorilla suit, and crawling the entire thing. I said it feels a little bit weird when we’re doing it. A lot of times people don’t fully understand how it works or what it’s about, and it feels like everyday we’re just crawling. But, by the end, we get to a point where we’re able to cross the finish line and be like oh my gosh, we ran a marathon. That story has really helped me communicate a really important concept that I feel like is true for us. Do you feel like when you’re telling stories that they have to be stories about your own personal life? Or, can you borrow those stories and then, apply those in those situations kind of like I was doing?
Carol Cox: I think that worked great, and the reason why particularly is because it evoked a visual image. As soon as you started describing this guy running the marathon in a gorilla suit, so instantly in my mind, I’m imagining this guy in a gorilla suit. Then, you said he was crawling, so then in my mind, I’m literally seeing him on the street on the pavement crawling in a gorilla suit. Again, as humans, we remember images much more than we’ll remember text or audio content. If you can paint a picture like that visually, then it’s going to help someone remember it even more.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, that’s great. When I’ve told that to a few people, it just seems to really resonate. I think that’s one of the reasons why is because I’m not describing what it’s like, the daily grind of building a business and working on something and feeling like you don’t make progress in a day, but then after six months, then feeling like you have. But when you have that super strong visual, people are like I understand. I totally get that and it makes sense. I think I haven’t thought about that until you said that about the visual piece, which I think is really true. Another question that I have for you about storytelling. Let’s say you have something that happens to you, a story that you have, how much of the storytelling that you do after should be an amplified version of that?
Something happens, and if you look at it, it’s 100% of what it is, but the story then becomes 150%. I feel like there are people in my life that I know they’re kind of juicing the story a little bit, but I’m okay with it, because I enjoy it so much. Do you have any thoughts on that, in terms of communicating a story that’s maybe 1.5 times of what it actually is?
Carol Cox: This is a really interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this specifically, but here’s my initial reaction to that is if the story’s being told for entertainment purposes, like comedians. When comedians tell stories, you know that they’re amplifying the story. They’re adding color to it to make it more interesting. As long as it seems pretty clear to the audience that that’s what you’re doing, I think that’s totally fine. Now, if you are conveying some type of business or marketing information or even a recipe where you said okay, this is what happened to me, then if you’re amplifying, you could be exaggerating, which maybe goes on the spectrum of not quite telling the truth. That may be a little bit different. The first rule is if it’s for entertainment and it’s clear, I think that’s fine.
The second rule about stories, especially recent stories, is you have to have, especially if it’s a challenging story that you’ve overcome, it has to be something that you have already processed yourself. Don’t use your blog or your speaking engagement as therapy for yourself with an audience sitting there. You can tell when someone’s sharing a story and they haven’t quite processed it themselves yet, and it feels really awkward. You don’t want to do that.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. That would be where you said it has a beginning, middle, and an end, the end being something where you say “and so here is what I learned after going through this experience”. You set it up. You introduce some type of tension, and then you get to this point where you say after that, the tension resolved, hopefully in some way, and here’s what I learned from it. Is that what you’re saying, is there needs to be a “here’s what I learned from it” moment?
Carol Cox: Yes. You cannot be in the middle of the messy middle of it personally yourself and then be sharing it. I just don’t think it usually goes well.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Interesting, too, to go back to what you were saying before about this idea of when do you amplify stories? When do you not? I think it makes a lot of sense to draw that line and say is it entertainment? I think within entertainment, too, there are ways that you would say something and people would know. I think of maybe you tell this story of getting in a back alley fight, and you say the guy was twice my size and his muscles were ripping your shirt. You can amplify it in a way where people know you’re going over the top with it. That draws this clear picture that okay, I see that you are telling this story in a way that makes it entertaining, but for a business purpose or information, here’s this hard event that I went through and here are the things that I learned from it.
Don’t lean so much on the exaggeration, but lean into the things like you talked about before where you can really start to communicate the visual element of things. That’s one of the takeaways that I got from you is as much as possible, talk about those visual elements because we draw into those so much. Would all of that stuff be things you would describe as part of the story arc and what is a story arc? Can you explain what that is?
Carol Cox: Yes. You’ve been doing your research, Bjork, on my website it sounds like. I love it. A story arc is that beginning, middle, and end. Really great stories are set up in those three acts, which we talked about before. The situation, the conflict, and the resolution. The story arc is you want to take the person who’s listening from the very beginning all the way to the end. Here’s how I also relate the story arc is the idea of the hero’s journey. If your listeners are familiar with Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. He was a researcher and academic back in the 1950’s and 60’s and he researched different cultures and peoples for across thousands of years. He found that so fascinating that they all had very similar stories, stories they would tell around the campfire, fables that they had in their culture.
They called it a mono myth, because it was all the same. What he found was that there would be a central person or a central character, the hero. The hero would be in his ordinary world, so in the tribe or in the village, and then something would happen to get him to wake up and realize he needed to go do something else. He needed to go explore. He would go then leave his ordinary world. There would usually be a mentor or a guide that he would find along the way to help him out. He would encounter all these challenges and obstacles and monsters and what have you, and then he would end up succeeding through that, getting the reward at the end, and then bringing that reward back to his village, his ordinary world. Whoever your audience is, whether it’s your blog audience or your speaking audience or even the clients that you work with, you’re helping them through their own hero’s journey and you are the guide. You’re the mentor helping them.
If you think of Star Wars, the movie, the original one, George Lucas explicitly used Joseph Campbell’s work to write the Star Wars movie. Luke Skywalker is that hero. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, they’re Luke’s mentors and guides. You, you’re that mentor or guide helping them on their journey. Remember, back a little while ago, we talked about this idea of serving your audience where they are on their journey, so you’re helping them get past those obstacles.
Bjork Ostrom: When you’re getting into that, what I was assuming was that if you’re giving a speech or telling a story, you want to use the hero’s journey as a way to structure your story. But, what I hear you saying is you want to position yourself so you are the guide for somebody else that is going through their hero’s journey. What does that look like for somebody to step into this role as the, what did you call it? Yoda.
Carol Cox: Yeah. Yoda. The guide. The mentor along the way.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, the Sherpa, the guide. How do people place themselves in that position, whether it’s giving a speech or would it even apply to building a brand? You want to build a brand that is a guide or a Yoda to other people?
Carol Cox: Yes. Absolutely. That is it. Bjork, you mentioned earlier that you and Lindsay, with Pinch of Yum, that you do this annual survey. You’re finding out more about your audience, where they’re shopping, what their interests are, maybe some of their demographics. Helping someone along their hero’s journey is really first, having a really clear picture or who they are and what that ordinary world looks like for them, and what that vision is that they have for this extraordinary world that they want to get to for themselves.
It could be for their health, their personal life, their business, their career. What is that vision that they have for themselves? What are those obstacles that are standing in the way? Then, how you as that mentor, that guide, how do your products, your services, your content, your recipes, your meal plans, whatever it happens to be, how do those things help them get past those obstacles so they can get to where they want?
Bjork Ostrom: Hmm. Interesting. Yeah. It’s a shift, I think, in thinking from Lindsay and I talk about this quite a bit as we think about the content that we produce, and it’s the difference between here I am versus there you are. It was a concept Lindsay got from another writer, who I don’t remember. But, that’s a shift for me as I think about the hero’s journey, as opposed to being like here’s my hero’s journey versus here is how I’m going to help you on your hero’s journey and the transformation that you’re going to see.
Carol Cox: Exactly. Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Hypothetical, so let’s say somebody has a food and recipe website. They don’t have a real specific niche. They’re producing recipes. They’re producing content. If you came to that person, what would that look like for you to step into their business that they’re starting, their blog, and say here’s the pieces we need to rearrange in order for you to better align with telling your story and playing into somebody else’s life as a guide?
Carol Cox: The first thing is really helping them find that niche, because as someone said “If you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to no one”.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm.
Carol Cox: Because people need to be able to see themselves in your content. That’s what we talked a bit before about this idea of story and as you’re telling the story, the person listening sees themselves in your story. The same thing goes with your business and your blog, so it’s really finding that niche. How do you find that niche? You find it by talking to people and figuring out who is it that you can best help based on your own experience. Most likely, in the beginning, it’s going to be people who are very similar to you, but maybe are a few steps behind you on this journey. You can help them, because you’re a few steps ahead, so whatever it happens to be. For example, I’m vegan. I think I mentioned this to you in my email. I did a main stream vegan academy a few years ago, and I started a blog.
It was called Vegan Transitions, and I had my recipes up there, so I knew specifically I wanted to help people who were transitioning, who had an interest, in becoming vegan, so incorporating more vegan recipes into their diet and making that shift. I could’ve niched down much further. I didn’t end up having much time to spend, because it really is time consuming if you want to do it well.
Bjork Ostrom: Super easy to get started. I would say it’s like crawling a marathon in a gorilla suit.
Carol Cox: Right. Yes. Exactly. But, I knew that’s who I wanted to reach and I knew where they were on the journey, and what was it they needed to get along, because I had done market research. Not fancy market research, but I had just talked to people who would be in the market, who I thought would be in my niche, and said what is it that you need? What are the struggles that you’re facing? What kind of recipes or meal plans or content would you want? I think we tend to hide behind our computers so much, and we tend to make things one way. We’re pushing out information, but we’re not stopping to ask the people what is it that you’re struggling with, and how can I help you?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For those that are familiar with this idea of the lean startup, it’s this methodology for building a company. One of the things they say is most important when you’re building a company is number one, to start. Then, number two, to as much as possible shorten the feedback loop. You’re creating something and then getting feedback from people, and then iterating on it. That can be applied, I think, also to the content side of things or the branding side of things, where you have a feedback loop and you say I’m creating this thing. I’m getting feedback on it, and I’m adjusting it, not in massive huge ways, but in micro ways. That allows you, when you’re further down the path in a year or two years, to be in a better place as opposed to like you said, hiding behind your computer screen, publishing content, just crossing your fingers and hoping that it kind of lines up. I really love that idea of leaning into those conversations and reaching out to people. Do you think the best way to do that is surveys or is it literally sitting down with people? What does that look like?
Carol Cox: I would actually talk to people one on one. I’m going to send out a challenge to your listeners, because I love challenges and to leave people with them, is to, especially if you’re struggling with whether your content is hitting, whether you’re not sure who your niche is, whether you’re not exactly sure what people want when they come to your site or your blog or to your business is make a plan right now to reach out to at least six people. Have one on one conversations. It probably takes 15 or 20 minutes. Bjork, you use Calendly, I use Calendly to schedule. It’s free. It’s really easy to use. Schedule those calls and just ask them to talk about whatever related to it is that you do, to talk through what they need help with and be listening.
Also, not only is it helping you to define your niche, but you’re getting their own words, the words that they’re using to describe what they need, because the words that they use may be different from the words that you’re using because you’re so close to your topic that we kind of tend to use a lot of jargon or insider industry words that regular people who are not as close to it would never think of using when they’re doing a Google search or they’re reading content.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. If you hear someone over and over talk about really struggling to know what to buy at the grocery store, that would be different words than creating a meal plan. Maybe what you realize is that people don’t really have the terminology for meal plan, so then, you can speak to those people in a way that they understand. Maybe you’ll use meal plan eventually, but you’re able to get the actual words that people use. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Carol Cox: Yes. Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. All of this stuff can fit under the very broad umbrella of crafting your brand as a business, as a blog, really refining that and starting to understand it better. If you had to say that there’s one thing that I always notice or the number one thing that I always start with when I work with a client, what would that thing be that you think is really important for people to fine tune and to pay attention to?
Carol Cox: I would say find the intersections. As we talked about earlier, there is so much competition out there online, whether it’s food industry, coaching, any type of business, just cause there’s so many. It’s not just your local geographic market anymore. There’s so much out there.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Carol Cox: But, what makes you unique is those intersections. The intersections of all of the things you like doing, the interests you have, the natural strengths, the things that you go to. Do a mind map, and grab someone. Grab a family member, grab a friend, and just talk about all your different interests. Do a mind map and you’re going to see things that pop up. Then, find how is how you approach what you do related to these different things, these intersections. That’s when you’re going to find your unique angle, your process, your methodologies in those intersections.
I’ll give you an example. I had a friend do this for me, and I came up with things like I’m really big into leadership for women, obviously politics is a part of what I do, so is my Masters degree in history, so I love people and cultures. I love technology. I love marketing. I love speaking. I like communications, so I did all those things. Those intersections, which is where I came up with not only my podcast but also the framework that I use with my clients.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Yeah. What I love about that is you talk about how massive this market could be, right? It’s like anybody that’s online. You can reach anybody. You can reach billions of people, which is altogether awesome and overwhelming. Then, it’s saying okay, how can we get this to be really small and to notice the overlaps? I feel like this podcasT would maybe be an example. The Food Blogger Pro podcast, right? It’s a super small niche, but there are thousands of people each week that tune in and the intersection for me is I’m really interested in technology. I’m really interested in building businesses online. Love talking to people in this type of conversation. Then, also, we have a food blog that we run. One intersection for me is not being an expert chef. I’m not developing recipes, but there are all these other overlaps that do create this intersection that has resulted in us kind of having this little niche. It sounds like the same is true for you as you talk about what you’ve developed from your interests and your passions.
Carol Cox: Exactly. Yes. It’s really doing that mind map and finding those intersections is what’s going to help you where your unique message is.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. For those that aren’t familiar, can you talk about what a mind map is and how people could do that? Is that just a pen and paper kind of thing, or is there a program people can use?
Carol Cox: I highly recommend pen and paper. There’s something that unleashes more creativity, I believe, when doing pen and paper. I have hundreds of Google docs, so I’m a big believer in technology, but there’s something about pen and paper. All you do is you just draw a circle on a piece of paper and then draw out lines, kind of like a sun with rays. Then, each line represents a different word that tends to be something that is meaningful to you. We talked about for you it’s technology and business and food and lean startups, cause you mentioned that before. Those things would be around your mind map. Then, you start thinking about how can I bring these together into something that is unique.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Yep. From that, you could even do, if we’re using the sun analogy, little suns around the big sun. There’s the middle one of Bjork. Off of that, it would be business, but off of that, maybe it would be online businesses or social profits. I’m interested in that space of not nonprofit, but it’s a standard for profit agencies as well. You can into these sub mind maps as well, which is always interesting to look at. We talked about the branding side of things. We have a little bit of time left, and I would love to talk just briefly about this idea of speaking as a keynote presenter. We had to reschedule this interview twice, which has never happened to me before. Once because Lindsay wasn’t feeling well, and I had to stand in at an event for her.
Then, the second time because our dog, Sage, was going to have emergency surgery, which ended up not happening, which we were so thankful for. But, we had to reschedule twice, and the second time you said “Actually, it works out relatively well, because I have this speaking gig that I have coming up”. I’m interested to hear about that industry as a whole. Are you working with people that are going around and part of their business is they are speakers? What does that look like and how does that work?
Carol Cox: Yes. My clients are definitely people who want to do speaking engagements. That’s how they get referred to me. That’s how they find me, so they either want to do speaking engagements as part of their business so go to business groups, local networking groups in their town or their city, and do like a lunch and learn where they talk about what they do. It’s for lead generation and for brand awareness is a reason that they’re doing it, but in a non-salesy way. If you’re around the speaking industry much, you’ll hear this phrase “sell from the stage” that makes me cringe.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Can you explain what that is, and why does it make you cringe?
Carol Cox: Yes, because no one goes to a conference, an event, a group meeting, whatever it happens to be to listen to an infomercial. Sure, some infomercials on TV are really entertaining, but they spend a lot of money to make it entertaining. I promise you you’re speech at a business group is not that entertaining, so you don’t want to be an infomercial. You want to provide really valuable, useful content that is enough for people to do something with, but not too much that they feel overwhelmed.
Then, and this is the big thing about being a speaker, is that you’re then seen as the expert, the authority on that topic. If people do want help, if they want to go further, then they’re going to reach out to you or contact you or refer people to you, because you’re seen as that expert. Part of my clients, they’re doing those local business presentations. Some of them get asked to do keynotes at their conferences. In their industry, they may have a big conference they go to every year, and they’ve been asked to do a keynote address, which tends to be more professional, where business presentations tend to be more tactical. Then, I also have a subset of clients who are doing TEDx talks.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Carol Cox: That’s a whole different thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yep. For people who are interested in stepping into that world of being an authority, being an expert and using presentation or keynotes or speaking engagements as a way to do that, what advice would you give for those people, maybe people that haven’t ever done it before?
Carol Cox: First, I would say get to know the local groups in your community that are potential places where you would want to speak. Get to know the event organizers, the group organizers. Join the groups. Become a member, because that’s going to increase your comfort level. You’ll get to know the space that they hold their events at. You’ll get to know the other members. You’ll get to know the organizers. Then, as they get to know you and they know what you do, then it naturally lends itself to okay, I would like to come to the next meeting or meeting a few months from now and talk to your group about whatever your topic is.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. These would be people who maybe have service based industries that they’re working on? When you talk about lead generation, what is an example of maybe a business that somebody would be in that would benefit from doing this type of speaking?
Carol Cox: Primarily, I would say service based industries and ones that are very much personal, so personal, hands on interactions. Whether you’re a real estate agent, financial planner, photographers, wedding planners, coaches, business strategists, marketing strategists, web designers and developers. Really, anything where you’re seen as an expert and there are businesses out there or individuals out there that could use your services.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think of, I do a meetup here in the Twin Cities and it’s called Boot Strappers Breakfast, and it’s people that get together and talk about boot strapping businesses and for people that aren’t familiar, boot strapping is when you don’t take any type of funding. You use sweat equity to build a company and a lot of times, the people who will show up at those will be designers or developers. I think they’re also interested in the business side, but like you said, I think they’re interested in connecting with people that they would potentially work with as well. I can see how that would work. That was one of the questions that I had was how do you get started with that kind of thing?
Lindsay and I will do speaking occasionally at different conferences and stuff, but it kind of felt like a happenstance thing where people reached out and said hey, I know you do a food blogging podcast and you have a food blogging membership and we have a food blogging conference, so it lines up and it makes sense. But, for people who are looking to get into it, would you say the best way is to start small like that? Reach out to those local communities, start to speak, and then make those connections that you then grow from?
Carol Cox: Yes, because it really is all about relationships, because that’s where you’re going to get most of your speaking engagements from. Definitely, if there’s a conference out there and you really want to speak there, they oftentimes will open it up for speaking proposals, so you’ll be able to submit your speaker proposal on the website.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it.
Carol Cox: You can do that, but I have to tell you that most of the time, the conference organizers are going to select people they already know or have been referred to them, because they want a known entity for a variety of reasons. Number one, known entities will help them sell tickets to the event, because they’re known. Number two, they don’t have to worry that the speaker’s not going to be very good.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Yep. It’s people that they’re familiar with that are recommended, and like you said, I think this is important, the idea that they would potentially help to sell tickets to whatever it is that they’re doing. In a situation like that, this is the last question I had about keynotes and speaking, do you find that people usually have three to five speeches or keynotes? Kind of like a speech as a product that they have kind of in their back pocket. Or, are you seeing people a lot of times develop individually crafted presentations that they’re doing?
Carol Cox: If you’re a crazy person like me, I always create individual presentations, but this is also my business. Obviously, I really enjoy doing it. It’s my creativity. That’s my content creation. But, for most people, what I recommend is having what’s called a signature talk. It’s one talk structure, one big outline that you can repurpose for different formats, different audiences, different lengths of time, so that’s what I help my clients to create is their signature talk. Then, they can go do it as a business presentation. They can go do it as a half day workshop for paying clients. They could repurpose it a bit to do it for a keynote, so that way they’re not reinventing it every single time. They’re not spending a lot of time having to constantly create new presentations.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. You have one core pillar presentation that maybe you augment a little bit, depending on the audience or the content that you want to present. But, the general core of it is the same, that makes sense.
Carol Cox: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: We are coming to the end here, Carol, but before we wrap up, I would really love for you to talk a little bit about where people can follow along with you, where they can read more about or see some of your presentations maybe, and potentially work with you as well. Where can people follow along with you online?
Carol Cox: Thank you, Bjork. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I actually have a special page that I’ve setup for your listeners that has a free PDF of a lot of the things we’ve been talking about today, about how to find your core message, about this presentation framework that you can use not just for your presentations, but also for your marketing messaging in general. If you go to SpeakingYourBrand.com/FoodBloggerPro and that’s altogether. SpeakingYourBrand.com/FoodBloggerPro and they can get that PDF there. Then, once there, they can visit the other pages on my website to find out more about what I do.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes as well, so people can hop on over and download that. I really appreciate you coming on today, Carol. Really fun to talk to you and looking forward to staying connected.
Carol Cox: Thank you, likewise.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. That’s a wrap. Thanks, one more time, to Carol for coming on the podcast today. A reminder that if you want to check out any of these show notes, which is essentially the links we talked about today or any of the resources, you can go to FoodBloggerPro.com/blog and then you’ll see all of the different podcasts that we post there on the blog, as well as some general tidbits and other information about FoodBloggerPro. If you haven’t yet, we’d really appreciate it if you subscribe to the podcast. You can do that in your favorite podcast app. For a lot of you, you might have an iPhone. You can use the actual podcast app for that. If you’re on Android, you can download an app like Stitcher to listen to your podcast. Or, if you like to listen online, you can into iTunes, go and subscribe to that. That works both for PC and Mac. Thanks so much for tuning in, really appreciate you, and make it a great week. Thanks guys.
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