In this podcast, I chat to Julia from Amadeus Brand about how she moved past her fear to unleash the next growth phase of her business and we get real about being a Mum in business and how our husbands deal with it.
Nat: Hi Julia, how are you?
Julia: Good thanks Nat, how are you?
Nat: I’m great. Thank you so much for being here, I’m really looking forward to hearing your story and getting some of your best tips and advice. You’re a strategic branding expert and I’d love if you could fill everyone in on what your business is and what it is you actually do.
Julia: Ok, thank you. I run Amadeus Brand and as you said, I provide strategic branding advice to what I call small and micro businesses. So, small business is pretty self explanatory but also too, there are more and more people who are working for themselves and so that’s what I classify as a micro business, and I’m just helping them get their brand positioning right. So I like to say it’s like figuring out what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to. And from there we figure out how we say it through branding. That’s the simplest way to explain it.
Nat: So I really love the story behind your business and how you actually got into it. Would you like to share where it all started?
Julia: Yeah sure. So I guess we’ll go back over the last 15 years really. I’ve got a broad collection of work experience, I like to call it. I didn’t quite find my niche until later on. I started off in marketing but really quickly decided that I wanted to be a graphic designer, so I went back and retrained and did that. I never felt really 100% comfortable either as a marketer or a graphic designer and so later on I found myself in brand management.
Everything was going well and then I fell pregnant very unexpectedly with our first child. Smooth sailing, got a promotion while I was pregnant. Really reluctantly left work to go and have my baby – obviously I was very excited to have my baby but also very excited to get back and continue with my career. And then three weeks before I was due back at work I got made redundant! A massive change of management who didn’t know me from a bar of soap because I’d been on maternity leave and so I found myself…. My baby was nine months old and I sort of knew that I wanted to have another baby within the next 18 months or so. I also knew that I didn’t want to work full time, I really wanted to be able to spend some time as a mum to my little girl, and I just thought what the bleep am I going to do?!
I was really lost. I was also very sad, very angry as well and just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It took me a couple of months really. Obviously because I was three weeks short of returning to the workforce, I’d found day care for my daughter so I had to keep that up if I wanted to get a job anytime soon. I really quickly figured out that part time branding roles are non-existent so I just thought, shit, I’ve got to do this for myself. I’d gotten a decent payout from my job so I had a bit of capital behind me and I just thought look, I’m going to be my own consultant – my husband is also a consultant and he was very encouraging – so I just thought I’m going to start my own thing and it was the best thing I ever did.
Nat: So tracking back to what you said just a second ago about never feeling 100% happy in marketing or graphic design, do you think that was a sign of things to come? It was almost like your gut intuition leading you?
Julia: Yeah for sure because also too, I always felt I was only using about 50% of my capability. Like no role has ever ever challenged me so this gave me a real opportunity to craft my own role and I can honestly say, I am challenged… this business that I’ve created for myself, I’m challenged every single day and I find my skill sets lend me to a broad range of things. I like to do a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of copywriting, a bit of designing, a bit of project management….I find running my own shop, I really get the opportunity to do a lot of those things and as a result I feel really satisfied and challenged and in that way it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Nat: I find it really fascinating just because we have similar stories – I was fired, not made redundant – but usually with a bit of hindsight you can track back to signals and signs that are actually pointing you to the direction you need to go in and it’s always masked as something uncomfortable. I think a lot of the times we could look at being fired or made redundant as the worst thing in the whole world, but do you feel like it was such a good to happen to you now?
Julia: Absolutely, and I probably never would have done it if I hadn’t been given a push. And it was a very big uncomfortable push but I never actually would have just gotten off my ass and done it if I hadn’t been given that.
Nat: Definitely. So when you actually made the decision….you said you had a bit of capital behind you, but did you have those feelings of fear and doubt? How did you feel when you said to yourself, right I’m going to do this?
Julia: Shit yeah! I reckon for the first 12 months, even more than that, you go through this oscillating oh my god this is the best thing ever and I’m master of my own destiny and I’m doing exactly what I want to do….and then to the flip side of oh my God what am I doing? Who am I to do this? This is just a crazy idea. And I’ve been in business almost 4 years now and those periods, while they’re still present, they’re getting less and less.
Nat: And we get better at overcoming them as well. I still have periods where I’m like oh my God, exactly that, who am I to do this, and what am I doing and if I push post on this thing that I’ve just written, what’s going to be the response? Because I think for so many people that are about to start a business is that fear, and it never goes away, but we just get better at continuing to move forward despite it.
Julia: Yeah and I think it’s power becomes less and less. So it does crop up from time to time but it’s not as powerful as time goes on and far easier to just push through. And the great thing is when your business is ramping up you just get busy. You can’t give those thoughts any kind of oxygen.
Nat: But then I think when you start to see things tracking and progressing along, that starts to overtake that fear and overwhelm and doubt so it counterbalances it, and the end goal is to be tracking along so well that that fear just gets put into the passenger seat and you can shut the door on it. I read something that you wrote just recently actually in regards to your perspective on what it means to be scared. I saw that you’d pulled it from a book that you’d read? Can you share a little bit about that?
Julia: Yeah so it’s a fantastic book called The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield and basically he was a writer and he was talking about overcoming writer’s block but it’s pretty much applicable to anything. I found myself as a creative, obviously it resonated with me but I think it can resonate with anything. And it’s basically the more scared of something you are, the more sure you should be that you need to do it. That book unblocked so much for me. It was about 12 months ago that I read it and business was really really quiet at the time and I’d just come back from 6 months of ‘maternity leave’ which consisted of about 6 weeks off and then trying to juggle clients…I did work far less in that year but it was no maternity leave!
So I’d been back about 6 months and I had my regular bank of clients but hadn’t really gotten any new business and was way under capacity of where I wanted to be. And I took a look around and thought wow, I really need to do some marketing here. I’d always wanted to start a blog and just write because I love writing, and I’d always been like, who am I to do that? Who’s going to read it? It’s just a waste of time blah blah blah. And then I read this book and thought I’m going to give it a shot! What’s there to lose? Once a week just writing something and putting it up on my website, starting a facebook page …. And all of this was like excruciating for me because I’m not that sort of person, but I thought, no, I’m just going to do it.
And almost 12 months later, my business is a completely shifted landscape. I really wanted to do brand strategy and creative solutions that are heavily rooted in brand strategy and you know, to begin with I took work that wasn’t that. Like for one of my clients I was doing their powerpoint presentations but because I’d done a whole lot of brand strategy for them, I was now doing those powerpoint presentations for those brands I was able to justify it, but there was a lot of that to begin with. And I desperately wanted to be doing more brand strategy. And so 12 months after starting my blog I’ve been able to position myself as someone who can do that work. So pretty much all of my work now is that. And the quality and quantity of work has certainly improved and I’m pretty much at 100% capacity now most months. But I credit that book absolutely with just getting me out of my own way really.
Nat: Yep and I think that it’s something that is so pivotal in business. And I remember in my old business I didn’t really take that much time for self development and learning and then just before Business Jump, I really focussed heavily on self development and learning new strategies and really immersing myself in it and it wasn’t just that, but then it was taking action. Because so many times we’ll read something and think oh yep I’ll implement that later, but then we never do. That was instrumental. It changed my life. Continuing to educate myself and read books and I think as women in business we can continue growing by ensuring that we’re always learning and making time for it as well. There’s lots of times I don’t let my kids listen to music, usually some kind of Wiggles in the car, because I’m listening to a podcast or something. I make time to fit it in. And that book was obviously a game changer for you and I think it just demonstrates the power of always continually learning to find those gold nuggets that take us to the next level.
So what is it what is it that you want out of your business? Obviously you want to be at capacity but what about just as a mum and in life…. If you could fast forward to 5 years time, what are the things that you want your business to be affording you?
Julia: Um, that’s a good question! Look, practically, in 5 years time both my kids will be at school, and so that comes with it’s own constraints. Even though both my husband and I work, there’s always got to be a primary parent…
Nat: Is that you?
Julia: It is, yep, so I’ll be the one doing the drop offs and the pick ups. So I’ll be working mostly from 9 till 3 and we will just have to live with that. So working within that, a business that I can do in those hours, but also allows me the freedom to be there for my kids after school and we can go and do something together, be there when they’re sick, be there on school holidays. Because otherwise we’ve just created another job for ourselves haven’t we? We may as well get on the train and go into the city for the day. So not only something that allows me to have a meaningful career but also for my kids to have that experience that I was there for them. My mum went back to work part time when I was 7 and then when I was about 10 she had to go back to work full time just for finance sake. And my perception of her work experience was not a happy one. She wasn’t happy doing that. I remember her being really stressed and I don’t think they were happy years for her. I think that drives me too. I want to be a happy mum. I want my work to make me happy so that I can be a happy mum for my kids.
Nat: I love that. You mentioned your husband before and said that he was a consultant. Is he in a full time job or does he work for himself?
Julia: No he runs his own shop as well which is great for us, but not so great when we go to talk to bank managers though! It’s kind of hard. I’m hoping the world will catch up with that one. He’s a management consultant so he specialises in business strategy. Whilst he does work for himself, when he’s on, he’s on. He does get 3, 6 month projects and he may as well be working full time as he works crazy hours.
Nat: I find it always really fascinating the juggle of who’s the primary parent and how that balances with life, because I’m going through that with my husband at the moment. For the last few months we’ve been transitioning from me being the primary parent, because the kids are 8 and 4 now and for forever I’ve always been the one to do drop offs and pick ups and doctor’s appointments and everything that goes along with being a mum. But he’s just started his own business so for the last couple of months, I’ve been saying you can do drop offs now and you can start taking over. So we’re still trying to find our balance because I would like now essentially for him to be the primary parent but he’s like ‘I have my own business, I need to work’ and I’m like, ‘Welcome to my world!’ So it’s a bit of a balance going on between us but that’s just life and everything ebbs and flows. And I find that husbands can be very instrumental with helping us power forward or they can sometimes not get it so it’s great that you guys have a bit of a system and seem to be working that out, because it can be a real minefield to navigate.
Julia: Oh yeah. Also lots of us start businesses after we get married, so the horse has bolted in that sense. So it’s important who you’re with, who your partner is. It would be very very difficult for me to do what I do without the support of my husband. And sure it’s not always practical support or it’s not always that he’s around but he’s my number one fan, and he’s also my number one challenger too, which is great. I do really value his input. So in that perspective I do feel really supported and I think that’s really important.
Nat: Definitely. I know that the lady from Boost Juice, Janine Allis, I read her book and she wrote a massive part in her book saying that your husband will be the make or break of your business in regards to their support and all they do to help you. I gave up very long ago being aligned with that because sometimes my husband hasn’t always understood exactly what I do. And I realised it would be great to have his support in every way that I felt I needed it but at the end of the day it also came down to me, and if I want to do something I’m just going to make it happen. So for us it’s always been an ebb and a flow. I think you absolutely can do it but if you’ve got their support and if they understand, it does make the journey a lot easier.
Julia: Yeah and I totally get what Janine said. I’ve actually got a friend who is a partner in a law firm and very very senior and she gives talks and her number one piece of advice for young women is be choosy about who you marry. If you want to have a lengthy career then the best piece of advice I can give you is to choose your husband carefully. But I think you’re right, in the best case scenario, in the perfect world you would marry this angel of a man or woman and that would be great. But that’s not always reality for a lot of us and it can’t always be done. It would just be nice if it could.
Nat: And I think in business as well we need to learn how to be strong in all areas and sometimes that actually means just working it out ourselves and doing it anyway. Because sometimes not even our husbands, sometimes families don’t get it. So I think exactly as you said, in a perfect world it would be awesome and the women that do have those supportive husbands are absolutely blessed, but for the ones who don’t, I believe that anyone is strong enough to overcome it and to work it out if that’s what they want to do.
So you mentioned that everything started to change for you when you started blogging. What else….can you maybe pinpoint maybe 3 particular things that really started to drive your business forward?
Julia: Um, obviously that’s a recent one, that’s in the last 12 months but in terms of overall success is networking. And I’m a terrible networker! If I go to a networking event I tend to zero in on one person and talk to them because I find it horrible. I hate all of that. But I actually find that I’m an excellent networker in the way that I play the long game. I play the long game in my business and when I started I made a list or a map of everyone that I knew and it was mainly made up of professional connections, colleagues that I’d worked with, and so I made a list of where they sat and I just knew through Linked In and Facebook what they were up to and it was just like a little worm in my head. Ok, they’ve just started a new position there and I know that they’re quite senior and… it sounds really calculating… I’d think, maybe I’ll just have a coffee with that person, I’ve got nothing to lose. I had a shitload of time on my hands and I love coffee, coffee is like a fundamental part of my life, and this was not difficult to do! And I think probably 4 or 5 of my pieces of business came off that way. Maybe not straight away but within a 12 month period and then from there, those connections have introduced me to other connections and I still find myself doing it. If someone has started a new role I’ll just drop them a note… I’m really not a calculating person but maybe in business I am, and it’s kind of paid off.
Nat: I think what you actually did there was that you worked out that networking was a key piece but then you also worked out that you didn’t particularly love being with a group of people so you consciously or unconsciously worked out that your strength was in one to one. So not calculating, that’s actually quite smart because you’re working in your zone of genius there, you worked out where you’re most comfortable and you activated that and obviously got results from it. And that’s a massive thing in business to work out where you get results with the most ease and execute that.
Julia: I also think too in any business, you just have to love what you do. You have to have a genuine desire to serve the world doing whatever it is you do. And when I started a job way ago, I was working in a big corporate bank, a branding person, it was an odd situation to be in but as a joke one day I said to the girl next to me, you know my mission in this world is to rid the world of bad graphic design, one piece at a time. And it’s true, it sounds a little bit negative to say rid the world of bad graphic design but it’s absolutely been my fundamental drive since I became a graphic designer.
And I geniuinely want to help people. I end up doing so much work that I don’t actually get paid for because I just can’t bare… you know they may have paid me to do their branding and their website but I can’t bare to see their Facebook page looking terrible so I’ll send them a header image and I’ll do this extra work for them just so they don’t look bad! I think that genuine desire to help people, it comes from such an authentic place for me. And I think it’s really important in business, whatever you do you have to be authentic and that makes you go the extra mile and I think that’s why my business continues to grow, because people tell other people and….
Nat: So, here’s a big question for you – would you say you’re living within your purpose now?
Julia: Yes, for sure, absolutely, there’s no question.
Nat: That was something that I didn’t expect to find when I started my online business, my purpose. And this is why I fully believe that I’m living in my purpose because I started my business but then I found my purpose in it. And I was like, oh my God, this is what I’m meant to be doing. I’m meant to be helping mums start an online business and I think when you’re living within your purpose the world is a much nicer place. There’s so much fulfilment in that and you’re exactly right, you’re then doing business authentically from a place of serving and helping instead of just trying to make money and it changes everything from just trying to take from people to actually giving to people and you just said, that’s exactly what you do, and that’s the power of an online business, when you can find your purpose, everything changes.
Julia: Yes I completely agree with that.
Nat: So would you say there’s anything that you’ve done that hasn’t worked the way that you thought it would?
Julia: Well when I started this I’d done… around the time I started my business, maybe about a year or two earlier I’d gotten married and I did this really intricate wedding invite. It was very graphic, very illustrative, it’s kind of hard to explain, but people loved it. And then a friend of mine wanted me to do a similar thing for her business. So then I thought, hey I could create a business doing this kind of quirky graphical style. It was so labour intensive and it took forever to do one of these things, so when I started my Amadeus Brand, I started a separate business doing illustration and I thought I’d sell it on Etsy, so it was…. You know I put a bit of effort into it at the start but I quickly realised it wasn’t what I was meant to be doing. There was no way to automate it or scale it at all. It was me sitting there for hours and I ended up doing a baby shower invitation for this woman and she really micromanaged me and all revisions went through the roof and I think I got paid about $200 for it and I was just like… nup. So fortunately for me it was quite quick that I figured out that that wasn’t the way I was going to ….
Nat: And how do you feel about competitors because I know a lot of people think, ‘Oh I’m not going to start a business because there’s too many people out there doing the same thing.’ And even when we’re in our business journey, it’s very easy to look at what other people are doing and start to feel a bit smaller because it looks like everyone is out there nailing it.
Julia: That’s a great question and I’ve actually got this girl I’ve been doing some work with and we actually met on the Remarkable Business Mums Facebook group. I had put a call out because I needed a hand with something and she lives in Sydney so we started to do a bit of business together. And she was telling me she’d been at a networking event when she started her business and she is a marketing consultant and this woman hit her up basically and said, there’s a thousand marketing consultants out there, what makes you different? And this poor girl had just started her business and it rattled her a bit, and she probably had a big flood of ‘Who am I to be doing this?’ and we were talking about this and I said Ok yes this woman is right, there are a thousand marketing consultants out there, there are a thousand people who do branding as well but don’t be scared of that.
The fact is that there are so many businesses that are being formed now. There’s never been a better time to be a small business or start a small business. So the ecosystem around all of that creates all this extra business. People need and use small service providers like me and like my friend Mel and so just by that fact alone, there’s more business being generated out there, the pie is getting a lot bigger…there are so many slices of that pie. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is you don’t actually need to be all that different from the next person, and you don’t need to be better, you just need to be really clear about what you are doing and go after it. So my advice to anyone would be don’t be afraid, even if there’s a million people doing what you want to do, because they’re not going to do it in the same way that you’re going to do it. So don’t be scared by that.
Nat: Exactly. And there’s no other you out there as well. There may be thousands of other businesses but there’s no other you and I think that it’s your spin and your story and your messaging and your communication that makes you unique and stand out and people will either gravitate towards it or gravitate away from it. And if they gravitate away from it that’s totally fine because it just means they’re not your people anyway. And I think it’s a really sad thing to have a dream or to have a calling to start a business and think to yourself well I can’t do it because they’re doing it. That’s really sad. You’ve got just as much right to go and start any type of business that you want, regardless of who’s doing it.
Julia: Absolutely and don’t forget your own work experience in the lead up to that. What are all the things you’ve done in your life that have positioned you to be doing what you’re doing? So for my friend, she’d had heaps of marketing experience, like in a consumer background. Whereas I’ve done a bit of marketing but it’s been in more of a B2B background. So the work experience that’s gotten us to a point in our lives is completely different from person to person obviously so just that in itself is going to position you as a slightly different marketer from the next person to the next person. And that’s part of what makes us so unique. It just creates different voices.
Nat: So speaking of starting a business, what would your tips be for someone who is starting to think about their brand?
Julia: Um, good questions. Like I said before, what I do with my clients is figure out who they’re speaking to, what they’re saying, and then once those things are clear we figure out how they’re going to say it through branding and things like that. So I would always recommend firstly figure out what it is that you want to do. What is your business going to be about? Are you a consultant like me or you are providing an online business? It doesn’t matter, you can apply that across businesses, across sectors, across everything. What is it that you want to do?
Then figure out who you want to do it for. Who is your target audience? What are their problems? What are their preferences? What are their concerns? What are their goals? Be really really clear on that. And go and test it. Go out and talk to as many relevant people as possible and test your theory. This is what I’m thinking of doing and this is who I’m thinking of doing it for, and get their feedback. And don’t be afraid of negative feedback because sometimes people have their own stuff going on. I mean if there’s lots of the same type of feedback that’s a bit negative, definitely look into it.
Nat: I think that’s a big one too because sometimes when we ask people for their opinions, if we just….sometimes the opinion is not something we expect and I think the important thing is to evaluate that opinion and either make the decision to either leave it to the side or to add it to the pile.
Julia: And also too for some people, starting their own business scares the shit out them. They cannot imagine not getting a pay check every week. I know my family are a bit like this. Like when I said I was starting my own thing it took years for my mum to acknowledge that what I did was a real thing. Because they’re so afraid for us that it’s all going to go belly up and we’ll have to go back into employment with our tails between our legs. And people will have that genuine fear for you, their negativity is just a mask for these fears they have for you. It’s coming from a good place but sometimes they can’t understand that it’s a viable opportunity. So go out and test it as best you can. If you can get enough people to fill out an online questionnaire, get a bit of feedback, so then you can have some confidence that your proposition is a good one. And then you can figure out how to brand that. How it needs to look and how it needs to feel. The average person these days has 4 thousand marketing messages a day that they come into contact with. Fortunately the human brain gets really good at filtering all that out and our brains become really good at sifting through all that useful information. Your brand needs to be part of that useful information and so how you brand that becomes important. The look and the feel of it and obviously that’s really different for every business and who their audience is. But just make sure that your branding is tops for the kind of proposition that you’ve built.
Nat: Do you have any tips for anyone who might be in that procrastination stage? You know they’ve got some options but just can’t work out which option to go with. Because I know that it’s really common to get into a state of paralysis when trying to make a decision. So with branding and trying to make the best decisions on how to go forward, do you first of all encounter anyone who gets stuck in a bit of paralysis and two, do you have any tips as to how you can get yourself out of it?
Julia: Yes! It’s really common actually. I’ll get a few clients who’ll be really hung up on the logo, but to me the logo is the least important part of your branding. If I had my way, every logo would be a typographical logo that would just say the business name because it’s really just not that important. I mean we see these beautiful brands like Apple that have these wonderful symbols and people get caught up that they need to be this beautiful symbol and say all of this stuff about your business. But it doesn’t. What actually builds your brand is the kinds of interactions people have with your brand. And I get people where the logo just has to be perfect and I often find that is a smoke screen about other things that might be holding them back in their business. They might be scared to take the next step or get their website up so they get … it’s really frustrating for me, it’s frustrating for them. Just take a look at that if you are feeling that paralysis. What’s it really about? Because any one of a number of logos could be suitable for your business.
Nat: And it’s not life or death either. A logo can be changed. A website can be changed. The most important thing is to just keep taking those small steps of action and know that if you get to a month down the track, you can change it. It’s not ideal but it’s not life or death. What’s most important is just to keep moving.
Julia: And also the 80/20 rule – if it’s 80% there, just go with it. Don’t wait for that last 20% because you’ll be there forever. And I know myself, I’m very much an 80/20 person. If it’s good enough then it’s onwards we go. And even with my own website, I’ve been, ‘Ah shit I just have to get this up’ and I’ll get it up and I’ll think I can always change it and you know what, I never do. It just stays there. And am I 100% happy with it? No but it does the job.
Nat: And look at you, you’re out there killing it which is the most important thing and it just goes to show it doesn’t have to be 100% in order to have a successful business. The most important thing is just actually continually moving forward.
Julia: I don’t think I’ve ever done anything 100% in my life. Honestly!
Nat: I’m not a 100% person either!
Julia: It’s just not that important. 80% is fine.
Nat: So to wrap up now, do you have any tips for people that are maybe starting their own business? What would you say to them if they are hesitating, based on your experience of looking back on your journey? What would you say to them? What would be your best piece of advice?
Julia: Well if they are confident in the business, they’ve got their buseiness idea and they’re confident that that’s the thing they want to do, just start it. My sister is a family lawyer and wanted to start her own family law mediation business, and she was all like, oh no I’ll just wait until next year because her daughter will be in school then… and I said no Sarah start now. Just do it now. Because it will take a year just to get your feet on the ground and it will take a year just to do this. And she did. And she never looked back. It does take time to get the momentum up in a business. I don’t think it’s possible to hit the gorund running with a business. You’ll have small teething problems that you can tweak along the way but it’s really important just to get started because you won’t know that until you actually start. The earlier you start the quicker you can figure those things out and start to kick some goals.
Nat: I think it’s like what they say about having a baby too. You know, there’s never really a right time so you may as well just do it and work it out as you go.
Julia: That’s exactly right, just start it, Start.
Nat: It was so lovely chatting to you. I’m so glad you came on and shared your story and your tips and advice and everything about branding. Thank you so much!