The Thing About Originality...

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my normal morning blog perusal when I came across a post that caught my eye. Penned by a team of branding entrepreneurs, the blog was aboutthe importance of originality. The writers shared about a recent experience they had with a copycat competitor. They used the incident to reprioritize originality in their business and share this wisdom with their community. I totally get it. It is super annoying to place creative energy into something only to have someone else ride on your coattails. But, just the same, something about the post irked me.

Here’s my 15-second rant:

We live in an age where the adage “there is nothing new under the sun” rings more true than ever. With a quick search of The Google we can know exactly what our competitors are up to, down to how much they make, who they buy from [and at what prices], and details of their so-called “proprietary” processes.

The Thing About Originality...

Here’s my current take on originality:

It’s cool, but it’s fleeting. You can’t stop investing in R + D, and developing unique offerings, but you also can’t hang your hat on these things either. The barriers to entry, particularly in knowledge-based businesses, are just too low these days. You’ll have your 15 minutes, and then you’ll be back to the drawing board.

So what’s the alternative?

I don’t have definitive answers, but I've recently been very taken by the concept of authenticity.

Authenticity happens when you realize that what's most useful to the people you serve is your truth.

C.S. Lewis Originality Quote

There is exactly one person in the world who holds  the precise mix of know-how, creativity, experience, humor, insight, and worldview that you have. Your authentic self is inherently original! No one can rip you off and do you justice. They can duplicate your products and services, but they can never duplicate you and what you bring to bear on your creation.

So how do we do it? How do we write, design, sell and build our brands authentically? Here are three practices I’ve been implementing recently:

3 Simple Practices for Creating Authentically

1. Filter, filter, filter!

I'm a fact-finder by nature. Before I take action, I research and read until I am sure I want to go in a particular direction. When it comes to my own business, I read voraciously. It's helpful to be keyed-in to what is going on in the branding and content worlds, but the downside is that I often grapple with immense information overwhelm.

It's hard to create authentically when you're deluged with other people's ideas.

To combat this, some of us need to go Marie Kondo on our social feeds!

I'm becoming a ruthless tidying-er when it comes to thethings I allow into my inbox or blog reader. The content that I value brings me joy and inspiration rather than "10 sure-fire ways to make a million bucks this month." Catch my drift?

When I do read something of someone else's that inspires me or helps to further an idea that I've been noodling, I jot down quotes and paraphrases and always attribute the source accordingly because authenticity and plagiarism aren't friends.

2. Ask Reflective Questions.

When I sit down to write my own material, I almost always start by asking myself a series of questions. Here are the ones that led to what I'm sharing today:

  • What's annoying me?
  • What have I learned recently that can help my followers?
  • How can they implement it?

You'll notice these are not earth-shattering questions, but they do help to uncover creative ideas that stem from my actual life and business as opposed to the make-believe life I can end up living vicariously if I'm not careful.

When you sit down to create, try the discipline of looking inward first before you look out to what the competition and market is doing. You can always adapt your authentic ideas, but it is hard to come up with them when you're taking your cues from other people's journeys.

3. Create for Exactly One Person.

This is a fun one. I recently watched an interview with the writer Elizabeth Gilbert [of Eat, Pray, Love fame] where she talks about her number one trick for writing [starts at minute 10.30]. It's simple but so profound: know who you are writing to.

The idea is to choose a person, not a demographic, archetype, or NRS social grade, -- someone you actually know who is representative of your target audience -- and create as if your product was going to be used by only them.

Gilbert's novel, The Signature of All Things, was written to her elementary school teacher, Miss Carpenter. Whenever Gilbert had to make a decision about what went in the book she would ask herself, "does Sandy Carpenter care about this?"

I think this is such a powerful exercise for cultivating creative authenticity no matter what you do! Whether you are blogging, sketching, or engineering, it is difficult to be inauthentic when you are creating for someone you actually know -- someone with real needs, hopes, curiosities, and annoyances. I've found that creating for someone [as opposed to a generic group of people] is a great filtering mechanism for my best ideas and lends a human quality to the the final product. Win-win.

So that's it! These are the habits I've been adopting recently to help me shoot for authenticity rather than stress about being original. Do you feel me on any of these? Undoubtedly, it's important to stand out from the crowd in business, but in the end, I believe that the best way to connect with our customers is by creating from who we actually are.


Today's post was adapted from the October Starknotes email, the monthly missives where I get a little bit deeper about the highs and lows of life from the creative entrepreneurship front.

Editing & Proofreading Hacks for Non-Writers

  Editing Hacks for Non-Writers

When you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, writing becomes a part of your job whether you consider yourself a true "writer" or not. Between website copy, press releases, email newsletters and advertising copy, it can feel daunting to represent your brand in words.

While our Articulation Intensive can help put you on the right track to creating and articulating the message and voice of your brand, there are still the smaller, day-to-day aspects of writing that can be intimidating. To help you produce copy that’s clear, brand-aligned and (mostly) error-free, I’ve put together a few tricks and resources that help me self-edit my writing.

1. Don’t forget the "first" part of first draft.

It’s easy when writing to get frustrated if the words just aren’t flowing. But rather than try to revise as you write or continually delete what you’ve put down already, just try and push forward. Remind yourself that it’s only your first draft and you’ll be able to change and edit anything you don’t like. Aim to get all your thoughts on paper first, then worry about condensing, organizing and making it all sound on-brand. Your first draft will almost never be perfect, and that’s perfectly fine.

2. Give yourself a deadline.

Since there’s no one "right" way to write anything, drafting a piece of content can turn into a never-ending task. You could theoretically revise something forever, but that’s definitely not a good use of your time. Instead, set deadlines for yourself for the first draft and subsequent edits and revisions. For example, tell yourself you have one hour to get a first draft done and set a timer. The looming buzzer will keep you focused on getting all your ideas down on paper and help limit staring at a blank screen or minor revising during your initial stages. For other drafts, give yourself a limit to the number of revisions you’ll do (say two or three rounds of revisions tops for example) and if you’re still unhappy with the piece at that point it’s time to call in some help.

3. Follow my "Write. Rest. Revise." method.

This means I’ll write a first draft of copy (whether it’s a blog post, press release, whatever) and then take a break before going back to edit it. Even taking 15 minutes to switch focus on another task or step away from my desk allows me to see my first draft with fresh eyes and makes it easier to spot mistakes or changes I want to make. For larger pieces of copy or if I struggled a bit with the first draft I’ll try and give myself a longer break to have time to relax and consider what I’m really trying to say with the piece. That way I’m in a better place to re-read and revise. Try and give yourself time to do the same, but if you’re really in a rush, even just a minute or two of looking away from the screen can help give you a new perspective on what you’ve written.

4. Read out loud.

Is reading your work out loud a bit awkward? Yes. Does it help catch typos and make your work sound more conversational? Also yes, so it’s worth a little awkwardness in my opinion. Often when you’re reading your own writing it can be easy to not notice missing or incorrect words or skip over phrasing that doesn’t totally make sense or is hard to read. But when you slowly read something out loud (key word here: slowly), you’ll be able to catch a lot of these mistakes easily. If you’re worried about people overhearing, at least mouth the words as you read, it’s not quite as good but still better than merely skimming with your eyes.

5. Enlist an eagle-eyed friend or coworker.

When you’ve gotten your copy to a point where you’re pretty happy with it, ask someone you trust to read it over and point out any grammar or spelling mistakes or anything that seems unclear or off-target with what you’re trying to do. Someone familiar with your brand voice is ideal, but anyone with a good eye for typos will be helpful. Of course, you don’t need to do this for every piece of content you write, but it’s a good idea for anything important.

6. Keep a checklist of common mistakes.

These will vary from person to person, but it’s good to be aware of and check for the common writing mistakes you make. Try keeping a post-it note on your monitor with your big things to watch out for and add to it as necessary. Then, as you’re editing your work run down the list and make sure you’re checking for each element.

A few common mistakes that may make your list:

- Skipping words or swapping small ones (like swapping "to" for "or", for example)

- Switching from present to past tense in the same piece of writing

- Switching from first to third person in the same piece of writing

- Inconsistencies in style, like capitalizing your business name in some instances but not all, using people’s first and last names interchangeably, using bullet points in part of an article and numbered lists later on, etc. (This doesn’t mean you can’t mix up the style of your writing sometimes, but it should be intentional and serve a purpose, not because you didn’t realize you were doing things differently from the beginning to the end of a piece.)

- Using industry jargon or other language that’s off-brand

- Writing long blocks of text that are hard to read on the web or in an email

- Burying the lede, a newspaper term for putting the important information at the end of a piece instead of the beginning

7. Stash these resources on your desk.

If you’ll be writing press releases, guest articles or communicating with journalists then buying a copy of the AP Stylebook or signing up for the digital version is a good idea. It will help you style your writing in a way that journalists will appreciate — and making busy journalists happy is a great way to boost your chances of getting coverage. There’s no need to memorize the book, but give it a skim, or do some searching if you opt for the online version, to see what sorts of words, titles and phrases have a specific formatting (it’s probably a lot more than you think).

Another great book to have handy is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. It covers the basics of grammar and style and will help you write clear, succinct copy easily. It’s been around forever for a reason, the lessons are timeless and incredibly helpful.

8. Remember that your web text isn’t set in stone.

One of the best things about the web versus print writing is that you can change your copy even after it’s published. Of course, you should aim to have your text as perfect as possible before it goes live, but you can also have the reassurance that you can update your copy if you spot an error or get feedback from customers. And overall you should aim to keep your website as up-to-date as possible and change your "about us" or "news" pages whenever you have an update.

Editing Hacks for Non-Writers

Is Your Messaging Missing?

  Brand Messaging

An entrepreneur has a lot on her plate. Between developing her products, fine-tuning her services, securing funding, finding reliable suppliers, and landing customers, going through an in-depth branding exercise often falls by the waysides.

She goes to market with her product, a stylish logo, a simple yet slick website, and all the passion in her heart, but it’s not long before she realizes something is missing…

SCENE 1 // The first clue comes when she meets up with old colleagues who ask about her exciting new venture. She shares about it enthusiastically but quickly realizes she’s rambling and Can’t. Quite. Cut. To. The. Chase. She leaves drinks feeling like she undersold her passion and wonders why it was so difficult to talk about her expertise. {Ugh}

SCENE 2 // The next clue comes when she sits down to write her weekly blog post. She opens up her laptop, finds home row, stares at the blinking cursor, and… nothing. She has nothing to write. It seems her launch excitement has given way to a bad case of “bloggers block.”

SCENE 3 // To break the tension and “search for creative inspiration,” she heads over to her trusty friend Instagram. She remembers that she needs to update the description on her profile tab. As she scans her pictures, she’s struck by how her posts are a messy mash up of quotes in contrasting fonts, fuzzy day-in-the-life captures, #annoyinglylonghashtags that are unrelated to her business or audience, and far too many food pics [fine if you are in the biz, not fine if you are selling stationary like she is.] Most troubling is that she secretly wonders if she’d follow her own account if given the chance.

These scenarios have our intrepid ‘trep wondering: “What on earth am I really trying to say???”

Does this sound familiar? If I’m honest, I know this has been me on more than one occasion. I’ve found myself asking, “What’s my point?” “What’s my big idea?” and “What did I just communicate about my brand…really?”

I have found that a common culprit in these situations and others like them is missing-in-action brand messaging.

When our messaging is MIA...

1. We tend to undersell our value

2. Content creation becomes a chore and

3. Our audience is confused about who we are and what we do.


None of this helps our chances at business success.

This begs the question, what is brand messaging and how do I create it?

Technically speaking, brand messaging is a collection of written statements that form the foundation of a business’ communication strategy. Over the years marketing scholars and practitioners have developed many different frameworks for arriving at messaging and formatting it, but at a minimum your statements should articulate:

  1. Why you do what you do
  2. What you care about
  3. How you work your magic
  4. Who your magic helps or delights
  5. How you differ from the competition
  6. The language used to describe your products and/or services and
  7. How you share [tone and voice] about all of the above

Solid brand messaging is your first port of call on the journey towards creating a meaningful brand. This matters because, as Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

In other words, people buy your purpose.

Smart messaging articulates your purpose, which is what gives meaning to what you do and sell [not to mention your logo and visual identity].

Everyone who shapes your brand – that’s actually everyone who works in your business [and even some that don’t] – must know your purpose and messaging in order to “sell” and build the right thing. Codifying your meaning into a living, breathing, working brand messaging document will go a long way in helping you get everyone on the same page.

There is much more to say on this topic, so I’m starting the multi-part Articulation Series here on The Ampersand. In each post we will unpack how to translate the heartbeat of a brand into words.

You will learn:

  1. Tips for uncovering and articulating your purpose and vision.
  2. The essential elements of a brand messaging guide (e.g. positioning statement, brand values, essence, etc.) and what each is intended to accomplish.
  3. How to write your product or service key messages.
  4. How to practically use your brand messaging to create content for your brand [because it is not okay to just copy and paste your messaging onto your website].
  5. And much, much more!

Brand Messaging

This just might be my favorite topic to read and write about, so I hope you’ll join me as we explore the heartbeat of our brands because if you want to get clear on your business' purpose and meaning, brand messaging is what will get you there.


Tired of going solo?

This series will be a great primer for DIYing your own brand messaging, but if you have tried going solo before with less-than-stellar results Stark & Splendor’s Articulation Intensive might be just for you.

In this 4-to-6-week program we craft words and ideas that powerfully express your brand's purpose and personality to rally your teams and audiences around why you matter.

To chat about your brand messaging needs, contact me at


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