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?
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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.

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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.
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 Tips: 4 Simple Ways to Improve Your Brand

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.

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

Four Important Decisions Every Writer Needs to Make

There are four decisions every writer needs to make before they get started marketing themselves online. They’re foundational to your writing life and should be part of every writer’s resource list.

Four Decisions Every Writer Needs to Make. Every Writer's Resource

Every writer’s resource: want the worksheet for this training?

Download the Four Decisions Every Writer Needs to Make worksheets from my resource library.

Pop your email address in the form below, confirm your subscription to my email list and I’ll send you the password to my free writer’s resource library. Once you’re in, navigate to the writing section and look for the worksheet titled “Four Decisions Every Writer Needs to Make.”

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Four decisions every writer needs to make

In the writing life, it’s easy to get swept up in tactics and strategies other people recommend. When you’re just getting started it makes sense! You don’t know what to do so why not try something that seems like it’s working?

Making decisions about who you are as a writer may seem overwhelming and restrictive, I get it. But in thinking this through, it will provide you with an important foundation. These decisions will help keep you focused when the writing gets hard and the rejections pile up.

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The four questions

Consider these four questions and try and come up with answers that reflect your personal writing goals. What you come up with will help you stay focused in the wild west of online marketing. And yes, you can change your answers over time.

Definitely!

Who is your target reader?

  • Try and form a mental picture of your ideal reader, your biggest fan
  • Where does this person spend time online?
  • What does this person care about?
  • Why does this person love reading your work?

For more on discovering your ideal reader, here’s a longer walkthrough.

Why do you want an online following?

  • This may feel like a selfish/self-serving question but it’s important to know what your goal is and why you want followers
  • There are no wrong answers so be honest with yourself!
  • It’s important to know your end goal so you don’t get swept up in every trend and fad
  • Understanding why you want an online following will help you hang in there when you don’t feel like being online or you encounter bad Internet people

Writers who want to be traditionally published should be working towards growing a platform. For more on author platforms, here’s a definition and an explanation.

What is your focus/niche?

  • What do you write about?
  • In a perfect world, what would you be known for?
  • What type of writing do you do?
  • While you may have diverse interests and write in several genres, decide on a primary topic or focus

Often, writers are resistant to choosing a narrow focus or niche. I’ve written about my journey and expand on why branding yourself is so important in the online world.

What problem do you solve for your readers?

  • What is something you offer your ideal readers that they both need and want?
  • Be as specific as possible
  • Think about what your reader is hoping you’ll help them with
  • The problems and solutions you offer can be big or small

Understanding why what you write is important to your readers is a fabulous opportunity to help people take the next step on their journey. It also helps you build your brand, which I expand on in this article.

Why do you write?

Bonus question: Why do you write?

No matter the reason, you should know why you write. If you can get clear about your why it will act as a beacon when your path isn’t clear. You know, when things like self-doubt and insecurity knock at your door. Or when success doesn’t come in the timeline you daydreamed about.

Your why will help you see past the discouragement of the day and keep moving ahead. Because you have a larger purpose! Your why is bigger than a momentary setback.

Your Writer's Statement Worksheet (Free Download)

Ready to create your writer’s statement? Download the worksheet from my free resource library.

Enter your email address in the form below, confirm your subscription to my email list and then I’ll send you the password to my free resource library. Once you’re in, navigate to the writing section and look for the worksheet titled “Writer’s Statement Worksheet.”

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And for the sake of an example and accountability, here is my recently-updated writer’s statement.

I write stories and articles to help others create vulnerable connections—with others, with themselves, with the world—so they can move towards the person they’re meant to be.

My goal in sharing is to help someone else discover they’re not alone and give them hope for the future.

Writer’s Statement, Robyn Roste (February 2020)

By the way, I worked through this at Laura Munson’s Haven 1 Writing Retreat earlier this year. Ask me about that incredible experience!

This is an excerpt from my workshop Blogging and Social Media for Writers.

You’ve heard that, as a writer, you need to build an online platform, but what does that mean? While building a presence through blogging and social media is both a science and an art, there are consistent elements writers need to think about and commit to. This workshop reviews the top elements to consider and the four decisions every writer needs to know before they get started.

There are four decisions every writer needs to make before they get started marketing themselves online. They're foundational to your writing life.

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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There are four decisions every writer needs to make before they get started marketing themselves online. They're foundational to your writing life.

Make Stronger Connections with Your Ideal Clients

Wondering how to make stronger connections online with your clients or prospects?

Make Stronger Connections with Your Ideal Clients

It all comes down to understanding your ideal readers/clients/customers, answering their questions and delighting them with your generosity.

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How to make stronger connections with your ideal clients

In order to get more engagement with people online, there are a few areas worth considering. One of the most important is content. Yes, writing!

Part of a strong digital presence is what you write, on your website or blog and on social media. This comes from a strong foundation based on your unique, individual brand.

Here are a few tips for making stronger connections in the digital space.

Get to know your ideal client

It’s important to know your customers, clients, prospects, followers, readers, etc. Critical even! We’ve all heard when you try and appeal to everyone you appeal to no one.

Getting laser focused on your target customer will help you make authentic connections and build relationships.

As a busy freelance writer, you don’t have time to craft posts that don’t do anything for your business.

Try writing for your ideal client when you’re posting online, not just when you’re doing paid work. Write for and to them. See what happens.

Extra credit: Want to discover your ideal reader? Here’s an exercise I hope you’ll enjoy!

I’ve also created a worksheet to help you discover your ideal reader. It’s a free download in my resource library, but you will need a password. Just pop your email address into the form below and I’ll send you the password.

Once you’re in the resource library navigate to the writing section and look for the “Discover Your Ideal Reader” worksheet.

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Create high-quality content

Everything you do online is marketing your business. So when posting, no matter if it’s a four-word meme or a 2,000 word blog post, make sure it’s quality.

People sometimes get swept up in thinking they need to post frequently in order be noticed. To stand out. To stay top of mind. And yes, posting on your chosen platforms consistently IS criticial.

However, think quality over quantity. Post as much as you can at a rate you can sustain. Keep the quality up. You’re doing this for your people.

Strengthen your lede

“Lede” is a journalism term meaning the first sentence/introduction of a news story. This is the most important piece! The lede should tell the reader what to expect and compel them to go deeper.

In the noisy digital world, you have micro seconds to grab attention. If your lede doesn’t entice people to keep reading? They’ll keep scrolling.

Build stronger connections

When thinking about blogging and SEO, getting noticed online means standing out. And that starts with the title. Get creative and think about what your ideal clients want to read. Answer the questions they’re asking. Be generous with your advice.

But most of all, hook them so they’ll stick around.

Want to make stronger connections? Engage!

While creating content that connects is important, showing up online and interacting with your ideal clients is where the magic happens.

It does take some extra time so it’s easy to tell yourself you don’t have time to be social. But might I push you to reconsider? Just a bit? A few minutes per day?

If you want to build relationships online it comes down to spending time with people. Yes, it’s work. And yes, it’s difficult to attach ROI (but not impossible!). But it’s, in my opinion, time well spent.

Wondering how to make stronger connections online with your clients or prospects? It comes down to understanding your ideal readers/clients/customers.

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.

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Wondering how to make stronger connections online with your clients or prospects? It comes down to understanding your ideal readers/clients/customers.

Dead Easy Ideas For Building a Personal Brand | Simple Tips

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

Building a Personal Brand Tips

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

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.

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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

Download this free worksheet on elements of a brand

Download the worksheet that goes with this training

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

* indicates required
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.