Branding Yourself: Choosing a Niche

Have you ever wondered why people talk so much about branding yourself and your business?

I used to wonder this a lot.

branding yourself as a freelance writer

Maybe you’ve heard it in terms of choosing your niche (or “niching down”) or becoming an expert in a certain area or industry.

Or maybe you’ve been told to choose one thing and go all-in on it rather than being a generalist writer.

If you’re like most people, you resist the idea of branding yourself because you don’t want to miss out on paying work.

And I get it! However, today I’m going to tell you my story and why I took the advice to brand myself.

For my freelance business, focusing both brought in more paying work and the kind of writing I love to do. Amazing. Want to know more? Read on.

I got into freelance writing in a roundabout way.

Sort of.

When I was finishing my journalism degree I pitched stories all over the place, trying to get enough legitimate and varying clippings to be considered employable post graduation.

But once my portfolio was in good shape I stopped pitching articles and settled into blogging on my personal site instead.

After blogging for a while I began receiving emails requesting collaborations or offering sponsored post opportunities. How flattering! Also surprising.

I didn’t have any reason not to work with these people, companies, and brands so I did a variety of guest posts, sponsored posts, media events and promotional activities.

Lots of them over the years. And I enjoyed doing them, they gave me interesting experiences, allowed me to try new products, and I was able to meet a lot of interesting people.

For the most part, I was happy with my site. I wasn’t trying to make money so anything that came in was a plus.

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Then once you’re in the library, navigate to the blogging section and look for the worksheet called “Brand Elements.”

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And then everything changed

I would look at my blog from time to time and wonder what it was all about. Since it was always a general “lifestyle” blog (a word here, which is an umbrella term for personal website consisting of whatever I felt like writing about) I didn’t have much direction so I meandered about over the years.

A little writing about my journalism career, a little writing about my random jobs, a little writing about my travel adventures…whatever! And some promotional brand candy sprinkled in as it came up.

But then one day all the traffic stopped. Comments stopped. The money stopped. In stunned silence I looked around trying to figure out what had happened.

I realized my site had been punished for a search engine infraction. In fallout from one of the Google search updates, my site was no longer considered a positive contributor to the Internet.

From one day to the next I fell off the face of the blogosphere faster than…well, fast.

Branding Yourself: Choosing a Niche

Now, this was a few years ago.

And once I figured out what was going on and why I had a difficult decision to make. Do I start from scratch and rebuild everything or do I give up on my blog and try something else?

I knew it was time to start working on my freelance writing career and getting more clients but I wasn’t sure what to do.

Up until now clients had come to me and I was happy to write for whoever would pay me.

But now I had to put myself out there and try.

What kind of writer was I? What kind of clients did I want? And what kind of work did I need?

To be frank, it took me a while to decide what to do. I felt lost and ashamed.

Starting over seemed so difficult and I was afraid to go through all the work of building a website only to see nothing from it. But could I give it up? I loved blogging. Or did I? Was it just something I did because it was easy?

I had some soul searching to do.

And soul searching I did. For a couple years. I studied blogging, I took branding and social media courses, I learned about marketing and business, and I wrote down my writing and career goals.

And from all of this came a new direction. A clearer direction.

Towards a destination.

Even when I started down the path I had plotted out, I still wasn’t certain I had decided right, if that makes sense. I had a sense of direction and purpose but the view was still foggy. Also I was embarrassed. It was awkward to admit I was struggling.

When you’re feeling vulnerable it’s easy to compare yourself with others and allow that to hold you back and not get the help you need. But somehow I managed to push through it and kept asking questions and moving forward, step by step.

From this experience I’ve learned a lot about how branding yourself on your website or blog is good for search engine optimization as well as for attracting your ideal clients. But more than that, branding yourself is important for growing your business in the direction you want it to go.

When you’re desperate for work and a potential client approaches you waving wads of cash it is so easy to grab the money and take the gig so you can meet your immediate needs. And sometimes that’s just the way it is.

But if you want your freelance business to grow and mature then you need to work on branding yourself and that means figuring out what you want to write and for who.

Before you can figure out your brand you have to know a few things

  • Your ideal client
  • What problem you’re solving for your ideal client
  • Your focus/niche (what type of writing do you do? And what do you write about?)

When you know what you write and who you want to write for, it makes it a lot easier to attract those types of clients.

It also makes it easy for you to turn away work that doesn’t fit your brand. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but here’s the rationale: if you become an expert at one type of writing (aka really really good at it) then you become FAST at it.

And you don’t have to do as much prep work, pre-work, or research before you can dive into a job. When you’re writing about anything and everything you have to learn all about it before you can get to work. And while that’s fun sometimes, it’s not super efficient.

An online friend was telling me about how she does one kind of writing work: email sequences and sales pages for entrepreneurs. Now, that is quite specific.

However, she’s specialized in this type of writing and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s quick, she’s confident, and she has many, many happy clients.

By zooming in on this particular type of writing she’s able to maximize her writing time doing what she loves and what she’s good at. And she’s able to say no to the writing jobs that she’s not specialized at without feeling like she’s leaving money on the table.

I admire my friend because this is where I want to go. She’s a little further down the road from me and this helps me see the value in branding yourself, in choosing a niche, and in sticking with what you’re good at.

So, today I’m pitching you this idea of choosing a niche and branding yourself. And trust me, I know how much you might be resisting this idea. Because I did too

But here I am a couple years into my new and improved writing journey and I’m telling you, it’s amazing what a bit of clarity and direction can do for your writing business. And I’m only getting started.

Other posts related to branding yourself

Have you ever wondered why people talk so much about branding yourself and your business? Maybe you've heard it in terms of choosing your niche.

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Have you ever wondered why people talk so much about branding yourself and your business? Maybe you've heard it in terms of choosing your niche.

Building a Personal Brand Tips

One of the trickiest parts about establishing yourself and building a personal brand is actually deciding what that brand will look like.

Here are a few tips for navigating the process. It’s not comprehensive but hopefully a starting point to start building your brand.

Building a Personal Brand Tips

What is a personal brand?

Branding is so, like, vague. Can a colour be a brand? Yes. What about a sound? Sure. How about a particular hat, can that be a brand? Why yes, yes it can.

So…anything can be a brand?

Also, how does this relate to building a personal brand?

Think of your personal brand as an extension of your personality

Online, a personal brand is best represented by something simple yet distinct.

Here are a few examples:

  • The topics you talk about (stick to a core few and watch your brand explode)
  • Your hobbies (not all of them, but a few relateable nerdy things)
  • The way you do your hair (unique style maybe? Or a memorable streak?)
  • Strong opinions (yeah, drama works)
  • Interesting jewelry or accessories (bright glasses, apron, bling, etc.)

But maybe more important than the look of your persona is the way you make people feel. How do you want to be thought about? And what adjectives would you like people to describe you like?

For example:

  • Helpful
  • Relatable
  • Funny
  • Polarizing
  • Smart
  • Competent
  • Expert
  • Trustworthy
  • Influencer

When thinking through your personal brand try and stick to your actual personality.

If you’re not good with staying organized then don’t bother trying to brand yourself as an on-top-of-things entrepreneur. You’ll be found out one way or another and it will all have been for nothing.

And if you’re an outspoken extrovert maybe avoid acting like you’re demure. It just won’t ring true.

When thinking through building a personal brand remember to be yourself

It can be tempting to take cues from others who have a strong brand when you’re not sure about yours.

And that can be OK at first.

Just be careful not to copy. Being inspired to try something on (a look, an approach a style, whatever) is one thing, but stealing is another.

Aside from the ethical issues, if you are trying to pass something off as yours that isn’t true to you there will be some problems.

  • It won’t fit
  • It won’t ring true
  • People won’t know why but they will be able to tell something’s off

Extra credit: Building Your Brand as a Freelancer

Working on building a personal brand? Download this free worksheet

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Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password for my resource library.

Once you’re in the library, navigate to the blogging section and look for the worksheet called “Brand Elements.”

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Building a personal brand

For me, one of the most difficult things about crafting my brand has been trying to figure out which parts of me to highlight and which to leave behind.

Over the years I’ve tried things on, took cues from people I admired, threw spaghetti at the wall and generally struggled to find my laser-focused brand identity.

Part of my problem came from my resistance at narrowing my public persona. What do I cut? What do I keep? And how much do I share? Oh, and how much do I hold back?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to personal branding. If I’ve learned anything in all of my trial and error it’s this.

Building a personal brand is personal and should be carefully thought through

My brand used to be all over the place because I couldn’t decide which parts of me to share with others and which to keep private.

This all changed when I did a little exercise where I listed the things I was comfortable sharing online, in public, and the things I was not comfortable sharing.

Here’s what I came up with the first time I went through the exercise:

Things I’m comfortable sharing online, on social media

  • Things I like
  • Travelling pictures
  • My gardening
  • What I’m writing

Things I’m not comfortable sharing in public or online

  • Anything about my immediate family
  • About friends who are not colleagues or in my industry
  • My personal relationships

Once I listed out my go/no-go list I immediately stopped feeling pressure to share things about my personal life on social media. Up until this point I didn’t even realize how much internal turmoil I was going through.

Because other influencers were saying this is what I needed to do to build a personal brand. I had to be vulnerable. In order to build authentic relationships I had to put my whole self out on display.

But it didn’t sit right with me. I’m not secretive but I am selective. There are very few people in my every day life who know everything about me so the idea of sharing EVERYTHING online made me sick.

It’s not who I am.

Therefore, it didn’t fit.

So, yeah, people who can share their emotional ups and downs for everyone to see do attract a lot of people to them. And that’s great for them. But I am also confident that approach wouldn’t work for me.

My next concern was worrying that I’m not interesting enough to have a personal brand.

I love blending into the background, helping others get attention and observing from a distance.

Wasn’t working to stand out and draw people to me from my irresistable brand kind of the opposite of my favourite things?

Yeah, kind of.

And I’ve had to work through it. Because I want to be known as a trustworthy source of solid, reliable information I have had to learn to put myself out there and ask for attention.

And for a while, it didn’t fit.

But I’m learning, and I’m growing into it.

Case in point: this interview

Transcript: Robyn Roste | How to Become A Freelance Writer

You can read more about my journey in Platform Building: Smart and Strategic Tips for Writers

Free downloadable tips sheet. Elements of a brand | tips for bulding a personal brand

OK, time for a few quick tips. Remember, you can download these tips from my resource library, just subscribe to my email list and I’ll send you the password.

Once you’re in the library, navigate to the blogging section and look for the worksheet called “Brand Elements.”

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Elements of a brand

Branding is an interesting science mixed with art but there are consistent elements. These are all things you’ll need to think about, decide upon, and commit to if you want your branding to be solid.

  • Positioning (what you do and who you serve)
  • Colour palette (in general, like a signature colour)
  • Branded graphics or catchphrase etc.
  • Consistent fonts and image use
  • Voice (like, you need one and it should be distinct)
  • Consistent topics and keywords (whatever you decide you’re comfortable sharing, stick to the list)

Ready to go deeper into branding?

One of the trickiest parts about establishing yourself and building a personal brand is actually deciding what that brand will look like. Here are a few tips for navigating the process. It's not comprehensive but hopefully a starting point to start building your brand.

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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What is a Flat Lay and How to Style One

What is a flat lay? I hear this all the time and up until a few months ago it was me asking the Internet. Here’s the quick answer: it’s a photograph shot from above, flat.

What is a flat lay and how to style one for Instagram

What is a Flat Lay and How to Style One

Although this term is kind of sort of new (the earliest reference I can find is 2015) the style is not. It just went by different names.

Other names for flat lay

  • Flatlay (OK, that’s just a different spelling)
  • Collage
  • Bird’s-eye view
  • Top shot
  • God’s-eye view
  • Knolling (from the 80s, and the original flat lay)

If you’re styling your photo using a light background, natural light, and shooting it from above…then you already know what a flay lay photo is. You just didn’t have the vocabulary.

So. That was easy. How do I style a flat lay?

I love taking flay lay photos of books and movies because it makes them so much more interesting. The book or movie is the hero—none of the props should take attention away from the hero!—and everything else adds to the story.

Now you have to figure out what you’re going to take photos of. When figuring out what you want to showcase you also need to think about why.

  • Why are you showing this to your audience?
  • What makes it special?
  • Why do you want them to see it?

Whatever product or prop you land on, this becomes your “hero” or the focus of your composition.

But let’s break the flat lay down a bit using a personal example

I love taking flay lay photos of books and movies because it makes them so much more interesting.

The book or movie is the hero—none of the props should take attention away from the hero!—and everything else adds to the story.

If you look at the above examples, you can see I’ve achieved the storytelling angle better in some than others using props, background, and composition.

The more flat lays you do, the better you get at them (trust me). I shot these over a period of months using different techniques, camera angles, and lighting.

I also wanted to include my knitting photos so you can see a more minimalist approach. The easiest way to get consistent light and look is to shoot everything on the same day using similar props and the same background. I did this because I wanted a consistent look on my Instagram feed while showcasing my hand knit products.

I also wanted to include my knitting flat lays so you can see a more minimalist approach.

The easiest way to get consistent light and look is to shoot everything on the same day using similar props and the same background.

I did this because I wanted a consistent look on my Instagram feed while showcasing my hand knit products.

Here are a few tips for styling and shooting flat lays

Use a light background. In most cases, a piece of cardboard or a sheet will work great. A flat surface is ideal.

Try and style your flat lay. This can be difficult if you’re not artistic or confident with what looks good.

Here are a few questions to ask as you style:

  • Is my hero product the focus?
  • Do I like this composition?
  • What will make this more interesting?
  • What will my audience like?

Take a few shots and then re-style your flat lay and take a few more shots. The more you tweak the better you’ll get at it.

If possible, use natural lighting. After MUCH trial and error I found a window in my house that lets in a consistent amount of natural light from day to day.

I created a nice little setup with a card table by the window so I can take advantage of the great light.

Try to be parallel to your flat lay when shooting. This is where things get interesting. You’ll need to be above the shot in order to get it right.

Try a stool, chair, step ladder, or whatever you need to get in the correct position.

I use a combination of a chair and a tripod but I’m always trying to get my shots more parallel.

Remember to take lots of photos and to move your flat lay composition around a bit so when you get to the photo editing you have a few options.

This may take a while at first but you will get better, I promise! If I can figure it out…then you’ll be just fine.


By the way, if you want to skip the taking photos part altogether, here’s a free starter kit of stock photos.

More social media tricks and tips

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What is a flat lay? I hear this all the time and up until a few months ago it was me asking the Internet. Here's the quick answer: it's a photograph shot from above, flat.

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

* indicates required
What is a flat lay? It is when you take a photo from above, parallel to the styled objects you are shooting. It is a great way to showcase your products in an interesting and engaging light. Try different props, backgrounds, and textures to tell a story and involve your audience.

Platform Building: Smart and Strategic Tips for Writers

What are the most important things a writer can do to be smart and strategic about platform building (instead of being overwhelmed)?

No matter what kind of writer or author you are, this question is so important to ask.

Smart and strategic platform building tips for writers

What is a platform?

First I want to address this confusing term because it’s part jargon and part new word use. The way I’m using the phrase today is defining “platform” as it pertains to a writer. In many cases this is called an author platform. However, it can also apply to other types of writers.

At it’s most basic definition, a platform is the sum total of a writer’s ability to sell their work. It combines visibility with connections through established distribution channels.

The risk when pouring energy into platform building is you’ll either spend time focusing on areas that don’t pay off or you’ll put too much effort into one area and neglect other, equally important areas.

Here is an example of a well-rounded author platform:

  • Social media followers and existing contacts/fans/readers/email subscribers—30%
  • Knowledge and expertise on your topic—25%
  • Personality and follow through—25%
  • Previous work (articles, books, etc.)—20%

Extra reading: Learn more about author platforms

Extra credit: How to Set Up a Basic Author Platform from Kirsten Oliphant

So now we come back to our original question: how can a writer be smart and strategic about platform building, instead of being overwhelmed?

Tips for platform building

As you can gather from my example, your biggest ROI from platform-building activities comes from your circle of friends and followers.

But these people can’t just click “like” on your chosen online profile. They need to be fans—active, engaged, wallets-out fans.

Here are my top four suggestions for platform building (for growing and maintaining your following) without letting it take over your life

Platform building tips

Tip 1: Get clear on why you want a following

To some writers the “why” is obvious. And perhaps it makes sense through the lens of platform building. But still, think about WHY you’re trying to attract people to you and your writing.

There are no wrong answers here, but it’s important to know what your goal is so when things get hard or you get busy, you can stay laser-focused on your objective.

Think about why you want a following and write it down. Then figure out how to get this following. Do it! It’s worth 30% of your platform!

Extra reading with worksheets: Four Decisions Every Writer Needs to Make

(Or go direct to the worksheets in my resource library)

Tip 2: Make strong, authentic connections with your followers

Making connections with other human beings may seem like a big ask for writers who are introverted or shy.

But in today’s world, “if you write it they will come” isn’t a thing. We have to figure out how to build relationships with others. We need them in our tribe just like they need our writing. It’s a symbiotic relationship but it doesn’t happen without effort or by accident.

How you do this will look different for every person because you have to work with your strengths.

For some people, making connections means you publish high-quality articles in publications your ideal followers read.

For others, this means gaining a following through speaking at events or hosting workshops and showcasing your expertise on a topic.

Another example of how a writer can build relationships is by going all-in on a social media platform and building a huge following of loyal fans by showing up and doing the work.

This could mean:

  • Following your ideal readers
  • Engaging in discussions with your ideal readers and your existing followers
  • Leaving thoughtful comments on other people’s posts
  • Joining and becoming an active member of the community (or starting one)

While the “how” varies from writer to writer, the important piece to keep in mind is it must be true to who you are.

How do you best connect with people? Lean into that. It’s the only way these relationships will be authentic and genuine.

Extra reading: Make Stronger Connections with Your Ideal Clients

Tip 3: Optimize your online channels for your audience

Whether it’s a social media profile or your personal blog, it’s important to put due care and attention into your online presence.

As a writer, you’re the brand. How you present yourself online matters.

Make sure your profiles are consistent across the web and that your “about statement” reflects who you are as a writer. When you’re in platform-building mode, this isn’t the time to be cute or vague. State who you are in a clear way and write it for your ideal follower.

The same goes for your website. Ask yourself if your site or blog is an accurate reflection of the type of writer you want to be known as. If not, fix it. Get it up to snuff or make it private. Make sure it’s attractive and loads quickly and is easy to find.

Don’t assume people are aware of what you do or even understand it. Do you know the details of your entire network? Lay everything out for your followers like it’s the first time they’ve ever stumbled across your site or profile.

Optimize your website and social media channels for your audience. It’s time to put yourself out there by making yourself discoverable.

Remember, if you don’t take control of your brand story someone else will.

Extra reading: Five Tips for Optimizing your Social Media Profiles

Extra credit: How to Avoid Social Media Overwhelm

Tip 4: Have a strategy

You want to be consistent and smart about strengthening your platform, right? OK great. So you need a strategy. Even if you’re a pantser who doesn’t plan.

I’m serious!

Without the structure of a strategy (or at least the framework of a general direction) it will be too easy to let platform building go by the wayside when urgent things crop up.

Because this is a long game, which means it’s always important but rarely urgent. Which means you have to build these activities into your schedule and make it a part of your daily life.

Here are a few things to think about when creating a platform building strategy:

  • Who do you want to connect with?
  • Where are your potential friends and followers hanging out?
  • Which channels or networks will have the biggest payoff for you?
  • Where are you the most comfortable, the most yourself?
  • You can’t be everywhere so which networks will you focus on?
  • What can you do or post consistently to build your visibility, credibility and authority?
  • How can you serve your followers and build relationship with them?
  • What scheduling tools or services can you use to help you execute your strategy and stay on track?

Extra reading: Five Step Social Media Strategy for Writers

Platform building is a lot easier if you have a road map to follow

Yes, the plan has to change sometimes so it also needs to be a bit fluid. But it’s easier to adjust something in existence than it is to sit around wondering how on earth you’ll increase your influence so you can attract that agent or get a new client.


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What are the most important things a writer can do to be smart and strategic about platform building (instead of being overwhelmed)? Great question!

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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How to Choose Fonts for Your Website

Can we just agree fonts are important and move on to figuring out how to choose fonts when you know they matter but you can’t tell what works and what doesn’t?

How to Choose Fonts for Your Website When You're Not a Designer

How to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer

Why are fonts such a big deal? I know they are but I don’t “get” it. But I understand, at least, that it does matter. So I’m here to tell you fonts matter and I could try and tell you why but I’d only be plagiarizing because I don’t understand it.

OK so let’s just do this. When choosing fonts for your website choose it for readability over anything else.

Ugh, no fun right?

But think of it this way: website visitors are fickle. If they drop in and have to squint to read your words, they won’t bother. So choose function over form in this case.

But don’t think that means you can’t do something funky—it just needs to be legible.

There are four basic types to consider when you choose fonts.

Serif

These fonts have “feet” at the ends of their letters. These are known as more traditional fonts and it’s argued they’re easier to read in print.

These fonts have "feet" at the ends of their letters. These are known as more traditional fonts and it's argued they're easier to read in print.

Sans-Serif

These fonts don’t have “feet” at the ends of their letters and it’s argued they’re easier to read on pixel-based screens.

With no "feet" at the ends of their letters, it's argued they're easier to read on pixel-based screens.

Script

These fonts are easy to recognize: cursive. These are interesting but can be difficult to read on a screen.

These fonts are easy to recognize: cursive. These are interesting but can be difficult to read on a screen.

Decorative

These fonts are meant to grab attention and are not practical.

These fonts are meant to grab attention and are not practical.

What I recommend when you choose fonts

When choosing fonts for your website try and stay with serif or sans-serif. Wondering what your options are? Check out Google Fonts. There are tons of options and they’re all web friendly. Pick out something you like in the safe zone and then, if you want, let’s move to the next step.

IF you want a secondary font, then you need to do something called font pairing. I find this part mind boggling, but others seem to understand it. If you know what you’re doing then go for it! But if you’re like me, wondering how to choose fonts for your website when you’re not a designer, stick to the basics. Serifs with other serifs. Sans-serifs with other sans-serifs.

There is an argument for having more than one font—it adds contrast.

Kind of interesting, right?

I have looked all over the Internet for helpful articles on pairing fonts for non-designers. One is for the visual learner—The Art of Combining Fonts, and the other is for ones who want a more scientific approach—Four Techniques for Combining Fonts.

People who are passionate about fonts will tell you they make you feel something and help form your brand personality. So let’s circle back to my original point: fonts are important. They are, trust me. Well, take my word for it. Well, just go with it.

Want to go deeper on branding? Check out Brand Your Blog A Step-by-Step Guide.

Can we just agree fonts are important and move on to figuring out how to choose fonts when you know they matter but you can't tell what works and what doesn't?

One more thing. You may be interested in my free resource library. This is where I keep my files, downloads, ebooks, worksheets and whatever else I manage to create. I love sharing what I learn and want to keep adding to this library so it becomes a wealth of helpful goodness.

This is a free resource but I do require a password to access the library itself. You can get access by popping your email address into the form below.

Get Access to My Free Resource Library

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I'm here to tell you fonts matter and give you some quick tips on how to choose fonts for your website when you're not a designer.