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How The Pandemic Is Changing My Professional Life (And What I’m Doing To Survive)

What I've learned from investing in myself in the midst of chaos

A lifetime ago, AKA back in the beginning of March, I went to Palm Springs to participate in the biggest conference in the year for us: Alt Summit. I spent a glorious sun-soaked week in Palm Springs, doing all the things I fantasize about now: going to parties, attending packed educational sessions, giving tons of hugs, and seeing all of my favorite female business owners in one place. And then, I closed out the week attending a micro version of The Huddle, the women’s business retreat I was part of, last September in Sonoma. But this time, I was back as a mentor.

It was amazing. I came back with a list of business projects I wanted to pursue.

And then we entered a different world, almost instantaneously. And with the economy falling apart and weddings not happening because we can’t gather, I needed to pivot right away. And even though I attended those conferences and wrote up lists in what seems like a different world, I’d never been happier to have a back pocket full of ideas ready to go.

When disaster struck, I had new plans and ideas. And I knew just where to bring them to life.

Investing In Myself

For the past six years, we’ve had an amazing partnership with Squarespace. It’s a brand I’ve always believed in (I started on the internet before it was easy to put together your own website, and what Squarespace has done to democratize access to websites has been truly incredible.) And in the past few years, I’ve built a number of Squarespace websites. I built one for APW Studio—our creative studio, another for The Compact—our feminist summer camp. I built one for our ten-year anniversary party this summer (and loaded it up with pictures after the fact). And when I got back from Palm Springs, I built one for Hotline Ring, our on-demand wedding planning product.

When it came to pivoting (something so many of us are needing to do right now, whether we run our own businesses or not) I knew I needed to dig deeper. I needed to define what my career really was, and what meant the most to me. I needed to figure out my personal brand (which is really a fancy way of saying that I needed to figure out my professional life on a bone-deep level). And that meant that I needed to re-launch the Squarespace site that I always shove in the proverbial corner, gathering a few cobwebs. And that (no surprise) is MegKeene.com.

I mean, obviously, insert a joke about the cobblers children having no shoes here. But beyond that, my own website is also a website I’ve never known quite what to do with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve spent time on it. You can read about when I launched it, or when I most recently gave it a revamp. I’ve worked on it. It always looked great. It had all of the relevant information about me. It pitched my skills. It existed so I could set my own narrative for the internet (you never want people to Google you and get a site you don’t control). But the only action you could really take with it was to email me. (And people did! I receive most of my media requests through that site.)

But for as much as I always give out the advice, “Make sure you tell people how they can work with you,” the truth is, until a few weeks ago, I didn’t really want to work with anyone. APW was thriving and I was busy. My website was more a place to say: this is who I am and what I’ve done, and you can get in touch with me if you’d like.

But a month ago, all of that changed.

How To Understand Yourself, One Step At A Time

I started small. Since MegKeene.com was feeling a little outdated to me (here’s the retired version), both in terms of design, and content, I decided that I’d pick a new Squarespace template, and transfer all of my personal information over, and then make some small tweaks. I assured the APW team that it would take me a day, max.

Spoiler: I was very wrong. And I’m very grateful I was wrong.

It turns out that creating your personal brand, or creating your own website, or whatever you want to call it, is a really deep exercise in figuring out what you care about, what you do best, and the work you want to do in the world. And if, like me, the Pandemic has upended all your best-laid plans, or it feels like the rug was pulled out from underneath you, it may be time for you to do a full refresh of how you’re presenting yourself to the world professionally. There is no work that is more worthy of your attention right now. It’s work that will leave you feeling more fulfilled, more sure of yourself, and like you’ve invested really quality time in yourself, and done something deeply productive in the middle of a crisis.

I’ve spent weeks doing this work, and I’m here to tell you what I learned so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. (And next month I’ll be back to walk you through how to do things like pick a color pallet, or design a logo when you don’t have extra funds to spend on branding.)

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR WEBSITE

As with much in life, I found that the easiest way to get started with this overwhelming project was to start with the small stuff. Or in short. Work backwards. So after I picked a new template (I went with Degraw, but Squarespace’s current extra easy to use update makes it so that you can use basically any tool on any template… so a template is more of a starting place than anything else). I decided what pages I needed on my website and then started filling in information.

Here’s what you should think about including on your personal or portfolio website:

Home page

While you (obviously) have to have a home page, this is the page that I’d suggest you do last. Your home page should be a really clear, simple pitch for who you are, what you do, and what you can help clients with. It should contain an overarching idea that encompasses all of the work you do. It should also have a statement of the value that you are able to offer others. For some of you, this might be easy (or at least, you might initially think it’s easy). Maybe you’re a freelance writer that focuses on feminist issues. Maybe you’re an electrical engineer. Maybe you’re a Rabbi who does progressive lifestyle events.

But generally it’s more complicated than that. I ended up settling on this: “No Bullshit, just Business. No Fluff, all action.” (Oh, and my always favorite Beyonce quote right up front.)

megkeene.com website hosted by Squarespace, open on a laptop

And even after weeks of work, I’m still tweaking and refining it (and expect to for quite some time).

On your home page, you’ll also want to include a picture of yourself, and very likely a testimonial from one or more people that has worked with you. (A note here: I found asking for testimonials a key part of the process of figuring out what I offer to the world. Other people are able to see you so much more clearly than you see yourself, and each testimonial gave me a clearer idea of who I am as a business professional, and what value I offered.)

Who are you?

I used to think that the ‘About’ section of my website was a place where I stuck my business bio. As a writer and editor, I’d be the first to tell you that writing should be in an active voice, not a passive one. And every time I looked at the bio on my website, it felt really passive. It stated what I did, but wasn’t really in conversation with the reader. Why did they want to know this info? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I was supposed to have it on my website, so I had it on my website.

As part of putting together my personal brand this time around, I spoke with my friend and mentee from The Huddle, Macy Robinson of Up Light Creative. She’s an incredible marketer, who helps you figure out not just what you do, but also how you tell that story to the world… and how you execute on that in a way that makes money. (She’s one of the first people I want to hire when we get out of the dark.) She explained to me that my ‘About’ section should be a conversation with the reader… because at the end of the day, we all want to know how someone will help us.

megkeene.com website hosted by Squarespace, open on a laptop

So I re-tooled my bio, and loaded it front and center onto my home page. The fact that I bootstrapped a business (APW) with no access to capital is no longer just a fact about me, it’s something I understand, and if you’re doing it too, I can help you. The same is true with so many facets of my life and skill set. I’ve built a media career without being media trained or having a PR agent… and I can help you figure out how to do the same. Unlike lots of entrepreneurs, I come from a poor area, which means I understand what hustle looks and feels like, and I can help those people shape the lives and careers they want.

In this exercise, your bio doesn’t just become a statement of historical fact—it becomes a way for you to relate to your potential clients, and tell the story of how you can work together?

Who Is Your Client?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: you don’t just want clients, you want the right clients. And if you’re looking for a job, the same holds true. You don’t just want a job, you want the right job.  The wrong clients (or the wrong job) will drain you of your energy, and often ending up costing you… in more ways than one.

So your job with your website is to attract and repel (I learned this concept from Jasmine Star). You want to attract the right clients and repel the wrong ones. As my friend Hannah Chester, social media and brand manager extraordinaire says, “Your brand should be you-er than you.” This is in part because nobody can be more you than you can. (The market for you is never oversaturated). But also because you want to attract people that like the real you, not the fake you that you created because you thought people might like it. (Because yeah, some people might like the fake you, but those are not your people.)

Really, every part of your website should be aimed at your ideal client (and feel free to let it repel the clients you don’t want). That is a bottom-to-top project, from your pictures to your colors, to your text. But your About section, or your ‘Work With Me’ page is a great time to speak directly to your client in an affirming way. Who are they? Why are you the right person for them? (And again, I added this to my Home page, because it’s one of the first things I want you to see about me.)

Megkeene.com website, hosted on squarespace, open to a 'who are you' client information section

What Do You Offer?

“What do you offer?” is another way of asking the question “How can people work with me?”

Again, for you, it might be simple. Maybe you’re a data scientist who’s looking for a new job. Maybe you’re a lawyer who’s taking pro-bono work.

But for me (and for many creative types) this can be a much more complicated question. I’m good at a whole lot of things! In this new world, what is it that I want to offer to the world? After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I want to offer myself up primarily as a small business coach. It’s what I do as a passion project, it’s what so many of us need right now, and it was something I was really excited to be offering. So I spent endless hours thinking about what that looked like, what I wanted to focus on, and what my pricing structure should be. (I even had my 7-year-old do some business modeling as part of his homeschool work, after he begged me to “teach him business.”)

megkeene.com website hosted by Squarespace, open on a computer to services page

I’m still deep in the weeds of building out my whole coaching program. (Next up: a sales funnel, worksheets, and more.) But! If you’re interested in 1:1 coaching or group coaching, go check out my options over here. I’m currently offering one group coaching for entrepreneurs, but also a group for bad-ass womxn who need accountability and support as we all try to survive 2020. More on signing up for those groups here.

Image of computer with megkeene.com squarespace personal brand website group coaching section.

What do you want to be hired for?

There is nothing that I hate more than a website page called, “Work with me,” that says something like “If you want to work with me, drop me an email!” Work with you on what? How? For how much? If you leave it up to your potential clients to answer those questions, they will become overwhelmed and leave, and you’ll never get to talk with them.

megkeene.com website hosted by Squarespace, open on a laptop to her Speaker page

It is your job to figure out what you can be hired for, and how that might work. After some pondering, I realized that I wanted to get hired as a speaker. (And given that public speaking can’t happen right now, I decided to offer myself up as a virtual speaker.) On this page, I haven’t listed my rates because, frankly, I’m looking to build a speaking career, so I’m more than willing to speak for free for conferences. And when it comes to speaking for brands, I’m going to want to have a conversation about their budget… so in this case, I’m breaking my own rule about pricing.

What Are Your Upcoming Projects?

I know. It’s scary to list your upcoming projects because what if they don’t happen? But I like to think that making my upcoming projects public makes the internet my accountability buddy. After all, if other people know that I’m planning to do it, I’m more likely to follow through.

So I used my website to announce my upcoming podcast project. Just before the world changed we were about a day away from recording our first funny, sassy wedding planning podcast episode. That quickly became… just not appropriate. But our team still really wanted to do a podcast. So I’ve decided that 2020 is the year I finally launch my business podcast. I’m due to start recording it as soon as I finish my website so… stay tuned. (After all this, I probably still have another week of work on my website, but I’m finding it to be such emotionally rewarding work that I really don’t mind.)

Image of computer with megkeene.com squarespace personal brand website.

However, I have learned that when you’re announcing an upcoming project, you should make your launch time a little vague. “April 2020” is… well, frankly, almost half gone already. But “Coming Soon” could be… literally anytime, so keep it safe. (An extra secret tip: not many folks are that interested in what you’re doing. If you make a project public and it ends up not happening, it can just disappear into the black hole of the internet, and very few people will ever notice.)

What Are Your Past Projects?

There is a reason personal websites are called “Portfolio Websites.” They are, after all, supposed to contain your portfolio of past work. If you looked at the prior MegKeene.com site, the whole thing was basically a portfolio. I showed off my books, APW, past essays, past press, etc. And great! That stuff is all very worth showing off… just like all of your past accomplishments are.

Image of computer with megkeene.com squarespace personal brand website.

As I started working on this site, I had all of these accomplishments divided into individual pages. But I quickly realized that none of these pages seemed particularly actionable. Yes! I’ve written a book! I run a website! I produced a feminist summer camp! I’m an accomplished art director! That’s all great, and it’s stuff you might want to know about me. But it’s not something you can do a lot with. So having it cluttering up the menu of my website didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

megkeene.com website hosted by Squarespace, open on a laptop

My friend Macy of Uplight Creative finally explained the idea of the “website junk drawer.” I know. None of us want to think of our hard-earned accomplishments as junk… and they’re not. But the website junk drawer is a place to stick all the things people might want to know about you, but are not particularly actionable. They might impress people, but they’re not going to directly get me clients.

Image of computer with megkeene.com squarespace personal brand website.

So after a lot of stops and starts, I ended up rolling ALL of my portfolio content into one page. If you want to see it, it’s there. And it has lots of action buttons: you can buy my book! you can see APW! You can contact me to talk about art direction! But those are not the things I’m most interested in having you hire me for, so I’ve relegated them to one fancy ‘junk drawer’ on my site.

This Project Has Only Just Begun

It turns out that building my personal brand may well be a lifelong project. And while I started this thinking I was “just updating a website,” I quickly realized that I was building a whole new business, with multiple business lines. And given that there isn’t a lot going on in the world of weddings right now, I’ve got a lot of time. And I’m going to use that time to build cool new stuff. So I have months of building a coaching business, online courses, and podcasts ahead of me.

Up Next: All About Design

Next month I’ll be back, to talk about how you can put this all together to design your own website. I’ll talk about how you can pick colors, add fonts, and even do light custom CSS (something I never thought I was capable of). We’ll talk about how you can create a logo, and build a brand without paying a consultant.

I’m Going To Keep On Working (And You Can To)

But in the meantime, I’ll be over here working away on my website. Squarespace has endlessly improved and simplified their tools, and it’s gotten to the point that I am delighted any day that I have “build a Squarespace website” on my to-do list. It’s become a soothing act of creation for me, in a world that feels unstable. Set up pages, tweak fonts, pick colors, style layouts, see what works. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Spring of 2020 hasn’t brought a lot of joys, but building my website and developing my personal brand has surprisingly enough, been first among them. (And no, I wasn’t paid to say that. I just really, really mean it.)

Go check out my retired site, and most importantly my fresh new site! Tell me what you think. Do you have any projects in the works? Let’s hear about them. APW can be your accountability buddy. 

This post was sponsored by Squarespace. We are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with Squarespace talking about what it means to be a womxn with #goals in this modern world. Whether you’re stepping up in your career or striking out to do your own thing, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to create a place online where you can show off your work in the form of a portfolio site, an online resume, or another hub that displays just how awesome you are. Squarespace provides an all-in-one hub (including everything from custom domains to template, SEO tools, and now even built-in marketing tools like e-mail marketing) that makes it easy to build your online home beautifully. Never made a website before and have no idea where to start? Check out their webinars for free help and step-by-step details, or hire a designer if that’s more your speed—plus they have 24/7 support. Click here to get your website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace. APW readers get 10% off your first Squarespace purchase when you use the code APW2020 at checkout.

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