The Gratefulist had it's birthday in October 2015. The first six months in business were such a whirlwind. Setting up an online business and running a website and online community (something I'd never done before) & figuring out how to do all of that as a solopreneur, while still working a regular full-time job, was a scary but also exhilarating challenge.
In it's first months The Gratefulist celebrated a lot of 'firsts': writing and selling my first ebook, doing my first online workshop, pitching and writing my first guest post, and hosting my first Twitter chat.
When I started out I had a big idea and business model for The Gratefulist in mind, but I had a hard time envisioning my ideal audience & putting into words how I wanted the brand and website to look and feel. I'm a writer at heart, so being visually-oriented doesn't come as naturally to me as being text-oriented.
Over these past few months I gradually started to understand my vision for my brand and business better & I got an idea of who I want The Gratefulist to serve and how The Gratefulist could be of service.
I couldn't have done this when first starting out. It really helped to just start DOING and get clarity through trial and error, learning through wins and mistakes, and growing from failure. I'm a big believer in the approach of TAKING ACTION.
It was very tempting to fall into the trap of spending too much time tweaking and perfecting the website - believe me, as a recovering perfectionist this way of thinking comes naturally to me! - instead of taking the leap and pressing 'Publish'. But that approach wouldn't have given me the wisdom and hard-earned experience I needed as a new solopreneur.
So, I knew I wanted to make a change.
I knew I wanted to take The Gratefulist in a new creative direction, serving a very specific audience.
I knew there was a bigger and deeper vision for The Gratefulist waiting to be uncovered.
But I had no idea where to start or how to get there...
That is, until Made Vibrant's Believe Your Brand Challenge came along. The Believe Your Brand Challenge is a free 5-day email series that helped me go deep and uncover The Gratefulist's uniqueness and how I could translate that into the brand. Caroline of Made Vibrant has such a fun and inspiring take on the branding process and her voice really resonates with me.
Instead of spending for-e-ver figuring everything out myself and after having such a great experience of finding someone that 'gets me' and my way of thinking, I decided to invest in Made Vibrant's Better Branding Course. It's the best investment I could have made for my business.
What's special about the Better Branding Course is that, at first, it made me focus on my story, my experiences, my big WHY so that I could get a deeper understanding of The Gratefulist's big WHY. Having that understanding made it much easier to give voice to The Gratefulist's mission and, of course, translate that mission into a clear visual identity.
(Please note, that I'm in no way affiliated with Made Vibrant or the Better Branding Course. I just really believe in Caroline's unique approach to branding. Also, this post describes the major STEPS in my branding process and only the parts that can serve as an inspiration for you. By no means is this blog post a summary of the curriculum of the Better Branding Course. Interested in that course? Learn more about it here.)
I'm sure by now you're like 'okay Wendy, show me the brand!'. Let's get to it, shall we? :)
PIN AWAY! :)
I'll take you step-by-step through the branding and re-design process. I'll also let you in on my thought process and why I made the decisions I made.
Ready? Let’s do this.
I was inspired by the Believe Your Brand Challenge (again it's free, so sign up!) in which an entire lesson is dedicated to uncovering your origin story. An origin story is nothing more than a back-story; in this case, the back-story of how and why The Gratefulist came about and how it was shaped by my experiences.
Here's the origin story for The Gratefulist as a brand and business.
Chapter 1: Overachieving perfectionist goes to college
Meet Wendy. An overachieving, straight-A student in high school. I proudly called myself a perfectionist. It felt good to be good in something and my school performance was the only way to get praise and attention from my family.
Plot point: Seeing the downside of perfectionism for the first time
While in college, studying for a Marketing degree, the perfectionist in me blossoms. But I also see the downside for the first time: it stops me from making authentic connections, it makes me too single-mindedly focused, and I have lots of stress and not enough fun.
Chapter 2: College degree #2
The marketing world is a competitive and high-achieving environment and I try my best to fit in. The perfectionist in me is happy with the challenge, but there’s another part of me that longs for more fulfilling work.
Plot point: Pursuing a second degree
Becoming increasingly frustrated with the superficial marketing world, I choose not to take a high profile internship offer and instead decide to pursue a second degree (Business Administration) with the intention of working for a local government organization after graduation. For the first time, I listen to my intuition over outside expectations.
Chapter 3: My first job leaves me unfulfilled
This second degree leads to my first job as a policy consultant for a local government organization. Hoping to make a difference in people’s lives through my work, I quickly find out that it’s not going to happen in this job and through local government. My chronic people-pleasing and insecurity catch up with me and I try to keep them at bay (and invisible to the outside world) through my perfectionism.
Plot point: Hitting a low point
A few months after starting my job I move to a different city, a city where I don’t know a single soul. At the same time, one of my closest friends moves to another country. Mixed in with the stress, unfulfillment, and disillusionment at work, I am also tired, lonely and depressed. I hit my lowest point.
Chapter 4: Finding gratitude
I follow my intuition and do what’s right for me at that moment: I take a lower-level job, so that I can make space for myself and my personal growth. I start focusing on gratitude. There’s very little I could muster up the energy for, but the one thing I feel like I can do is writing a daily gratitude list. And that’s what I do.
Plot point: My perspective changes
Writing down three things I am grateful for each day is a turning point for me. Slowly and steadily, gratitude changes my outlook on life. I am more positive, take nothing for granted, and I'm more appreciative of the people and beauty around me.
Chapter 5: Embracing imperfection
Letting go of my perfectionism is another step on my personal development journey. I dig deep within myself to find out what drives my perfectionism and I discover that it’s mostly fear. I also do research and read all there is to know about this topic. Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly is an important book in understanding my perfectionism.
Plot point: Putting down the shield
A realization hits me: perfectionism is the shield I use to stop people seeing the real me and what’s really going on on the inside. When I put that shield down (hesitantly at first) I find a whole new world opening up to me.
Chapter 6: Taking a chance in creating The Gratefulist
Having seen the power of practicing gratitude and embracing imperfection and still feeling that drive to make a difference in people’s lives, I decide to launch a business to help women make the same journey from Perfectionist to Gratefulist.
It’s been four exciting (& sometimes difficult) years filled with gratitude, vulnerability, connection, personal development, and growth. These are the lessons I learned along the way.
1. I learned to do it anyway. To put myself out there. To experiment. Even when I’m scared or anxious. Even when my perfectionism kicks in. I found that the response is (almost) always overwhelmingly positive.
2. Another lesson I learned is to listen to my intuition and choose my values and happiness over what other people expect from me. For me, it’s been crucial to learn how to make a distinction between intuition and perfectionistic fear.
3. I also learned to be open about my struggles. When I did so, the response was overwhelmingly positive yet again. What I feared the most actually made me more relatable, authentic, and human.
4. The biggest lesson was that there’s no growth without vulnerability. My new motto is that I’d rather do what I set out to do and feel vulnerable than give in to the fear of perfectionism. I’d rather be courageous and try something than give in to perfectionism and never put myself out there.
Find more inspiration about uncovering your brand story here:
Through writing my story and The Gratefulist's brand story I found out that certain themes kept popping up. By that I don't mean TOPICS, like perfectionism, but deeper, underlying THEMES or lessons. You could also call them values.
After exploring which values kept returning over and over again in the brand story, I decided to write down what each value meant to me. In doing that, it became clear to me that these values are what connect me to The Gratefulist and what (hopefully!) makes you (and others) feel instantly connected to the brand.
Defining my brand values gave me a big advantage when it came to creating the brand visuals. I also choose to incorporate the brand values on The Gratefulist website. I'll explain both later.
These are the brand values I came up with.
PIN AWAY! :)
Find more inspiration about coming up with your brand values here:
The next thing I wanted to get clear on was the audience I want to serve. I spent a lot of time thinking about who would NEED help with letting go of perfectionism and embracing imperfection, but also who I - a big creative at heart myself - would WANT to work with.
This vision came to mind...
Then I asked: "Can I narrow it down even further? And, how do these creatives, makers, artists, and doers relate to The Gratefulist's brand values?"
I knew I needed to come up with a short and catchy phrase to refer to these creatives on the site and blog. Something you (and others like you) could instantly relate to.
This is what I came up with...
To me, it was very important to treat my site and blog as a virtual home base for these soul-connected creatives and I wanted it to feel like a online community. That's why I invented the Soul-Connected Squad: an online community for soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives. You can learn more about the Soul-Connected Squad here.
Find more inspiration about defining your ideal audience here:
With the brand story and values & my squad in mind, it was time to formulate The Gratefulist's big WHY.
Remember, I had my ideal audience down: soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives. That one was easy.
I knew I wanted to address the main topic of The Gratefulist's website, blog, and (soon to be!) products.
Another dimension is that for many of us perfectionism shows up in many areas of our lives. Creatives battle perfectionism not only in their creative/professional lives but ALSO in their personal lives.
The last part of the puzzle was figuring out why it's so important for creatives to leave behind their perfectionism.
As I was coming to grips with all of this I realized that, in The Gratefulist's mission statement, I wanted to say something about the WHO, the WHAT, the HOW & the WHY.
Mission = Who + What + How + Why
For The Gratefulist it came down to this...
WHO: Soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives.
WHAT: Letting go of perfectionism and embracing imperfection.
HOW: Creatives battle perfectionism not only in their creative/professional lives but also in their personal lives.
WHY: Letting go of perfectionism is important for creatives, because it allows their creative and personal potential to be unleashed and it allows them to feel empowered as creatives.
Combining these elements resulted in the following mission for The Gratefulist...
Find more inspiring resources about honing in on your mission statement here:
Phew, are you still with me? But don't worry, there's still some juicy bits ahead! :)
Up until this point in the branding process I did a lot of writing: writing down my story, uncovering my brand values, defining my squad, and honing in on The Gratefulist's mission.
This is where things get visual.
This is, also, where things became challenging.
* record scratch *
It was! The most challenging part for me was that I had a really hard time translating words to visuals.
What helped me here was the concept of tone words. A tone word is a word that describes the visual tone (duh! ;) or vibe of your brand. During this process I kept my brand values in mind, as well.
The first tone word was easy to come by. The Gratefulist is all about embracing imperfection, so that definitely had to come across through the visual aspect of the brand.
A big part of The Gratefulist's mission is to make creatives feel empowered. The way to get that across visually is through bold and striking graphic elements. On the other hand, I wanted the brand to feel relatable, too.
Lastly, it was important to me that the brand and website had an upbeat, positive, colorful feel to it. I felt that that was something soul-connected creatives would be attracted to.
With all of this in mind I decided on the following tone words:
Imperfect \\ Bold \\ Empowering \\ Optimistic \\ Relatable
Having these tone words made it a breeze to find images for my mood board. I created a secret board on Pinterest and started pinning images that fit the criteria of at least two tone words. Quick tip: make sure you add both photos and graphics & some font inspiration, so that you have a few different types of graphic elements to choose from when creating your mood board.
I started this process scrolling through my existing Pinterest boards to see if there were images fitting the criteria. Then I started searching and used different combinations of tone words and graphics (for instance 'Bold' + 'Photography').
Afterwards I had to narrow down the images I initially selected.
This is the final mood board for The Gratefulist brand...
PIN THIS! :)
Find more inspiring resources about creating a mood board here:
One of the biggest decisions in the branding and re-designing process was the decision to create an identifying brand mark. I purposefully kept the logo simple and clean, so that it's extremely versatile and can be used on the website and on blog post, social media & other graphics.
Here's The Gratefulist's primary logo...
Keeping the logo simple meant I could go all out when it came to creating a bold and colorful brand mark. It ended up being a hand drawn, abstract piece of art and it encompasses both The Gratefulist's brand colors (which came from the mood board I had previously created) and graphic elements. It's the first thing you see when landing on the site and it's an instant identifier.
(P.S. A few years ago, when I was deep down in the trenches of perfectionism, creating this brand mark wouldn't have happened. Creating something hand drawn would've felt too scary. The idea that my creation wasn't perfect would've been terrifying. Showing a piece of myself through art would simply have been out of the question.)
Then I went on creating a set of icons. I wanted these icons to have an imperfect feel to them. So again, I opted to create hand drawn graphic elements. Letting go of perfectionism, personal growth & writing gratitude lists were themes represented in the icons.
Finally, I created a set of content dividers which can be used to divide up large chunks of copy on my site. You've seen me use one of those dividers throughout this blog post and - oh, what a coincidence - there happens to be one below! ;)
Find more inspiring resources about creating your logo and other graphic and visual brand elements here:
The brand board is the place where all of The Gratefulist's graphic brand elements truly came together on a cohesive way. Because the rest of the graphic elements are so bold, imperfect & colorful, I choose a basic and simple sans serif font which I use in different weights and variations throughout my brand.
You can see the brand board below...
PIN THIS! :)
With the branding process finished, the time came to translate it to The Gratefulist's website. Choosing the hosting service was super quick, since I was on Squarespace already. I absolutely love Squarespace's easy to understand & easy to use page builder and intuitive interface.
I created a new trial site (Squarespace offers a free 14-day trial period!), so that I could experiment with different templates and design styles.
Once I picked my template (Pacific, for those who are interested) I began laying out and designing all the pages, writing copy & creating additional graphic elements.
On the day of the launch I put a 'Under Construction' page up on my existing website, using Squarespace Cover Pages and disabled the old website's pages. Then came the tedious process of copying the newly designed pages from the trial site to the existing site. All in all, my website was only out of commission for one day, with thanks to the amazing free trial sites Squarespace provides.
When writing the copy for The Gratefulist's new website, it was very important to me to make use of all of the time and energy I put into the branding process and all of the beautiful nuggets I unearthed in that process.
I also wanted to make it very clear for anyone landing on my site who the site is for. I wanted soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives to have an instant click and say "this was made for me!".
The most important way I made sure this was the case was through using a part of my brand's mission as a tagline on the homepage. The first thing you see when landing on my home page & the blog's main page is the brand mark and the tagline 'Helping soul-connected yet stressed-out creatives embrace their perfectly imperfect selves.'.
New visitors on your website decide within seconds if they want to further explore the site. Well, if all I have are a few seconds... then I want it to be abundantly clear that "YES! You soul-connected creative, this site was made for you. Have a look around!"
Aside from the tagline, you can also find snippets of The Gratefulist's mission throughout the copy on the homepage and About page.
Another important decision was that I made my brand values take centre stage on the About page. This way visitors to the website can, again, quickly and easily decide if The Gratefulist is for them (or not). Besides, our values are what makes us relate and connect to others. And I wanted creatives to feel an instant connection to my brand and website.
I even created a visual representation of my brand values and how they guided me in my transformation from Perfectionist to Gratefulist.
PIN THIS! :)
Find more inspiring resources about creating your brand's web presence here:
social media strategy
I only started communicating about The Gratefulist's re-branding and re-launch one week in advance. In hindsight, I should have taken more time to prepare my peers and followers for the big changes coming their way.
The time I DID spent promoting the re-launch, mostly on Instagram, but also on Twitter and Facebook, I very consciously told the deeper story behind The Gratefulist. I created graphics in the new branding style and using quotes or sentences from my mission and brand values, like this one...
On launch day, I made sure to change the bio sections on all of my social media channels. However, I haven't had time yet to create new cover images for Twitter and Facebook. Changing those cover images is high on my to do list! :)
Okay superstar, I hope this 4,000+ words (!) long blog post was helpful and, at the very least, insightful.
Let me say that, by no means, am I a professional - or even trained - designer. However, I AM the person that best understands The Gratefulist and it's vision and mission. Thanks to Caroline from Made Vibrant, the Better Branding Course & and the help and support from my fellow students, I created The Gratefulist's new brand and website in about three, very intensive weeks. And I'm very happy with the final result! :)