Freedom, Vanilla, Customers and Story: 4 things that changed my perspective on branding

Lidia D at her workshopOver the last few years, whilst being self-employed, I have struggled with building a client profile and in the process, I’ve become allergic to the word “niche”. I don’t know how many times I’ve wished it would go out of fashion. It’s not that I don’t understand the concepts. I totally get it. As a teacher, I specialised in my subjects with learners coming to me to gain the skills required to pass specific examinations. I just couldn’t apply this to what I wanted to do when thinking about it from a business perspective.

Since changing from a monthly salary as a teacher to the ups and downs of the freelance world, I’ve had a lot to learn. There’s been plenty of advice about choosing the ideal client and giving out a clear message.

While I’ve always understood on the surface what to do, it never really fell into place until the day I was sitting in Lidia’s Drzewiecka’s workshop listening to Lidia talk about branding. In one of those moments of inspiration, fuelled by Lidia’s knowledge and perspective, it all became clear.

Not only have I gained more clarity around what I want to do, but I also feel that I could set up another business, describe an ideal client and create a message, colour scheme and brand essence for that company.

Have I suddenly turned into a female entrepreneur overnight? I think not.

Here are the four of the things that helped me gain that clarity:

1. The freedom to see things differently

I realised that Lidia’s skill has freed me up to see things differently. I’ve become detached. My focus has shifted from internal to external.

One of the first things Lidia said in her workshop was

“Branding is not about you, it’s about your customer”

I can relate this to teaching and learning – it’s the same. Teaching and training is not about the teacher, it’s about the learners. I have applied this philosophy thousands of times to workshops and the classroom, but it had never occurred to me to apply it to my freelance career. I was too busy focusing on my own doubts and worries.

2. Your branding should never be ‘vanilla’

Lidia explained that branding should either attract or repel people. In other words, if people think your website is ‘okay’, you’ve got work to do! Your branding is the way you show up – the visual connection you make with your clients.  People buy the experience they get and branding helps you influence that experience. If your brand isn’t clearly defined, there’s nothing for people to connect with and therefore they are less likely to buy.

3. Turn your story into your brand

Lidia started off the day by telling us her story and journey and the mistakes she has made on the way. She cleverly combined her story into the rest of the day’s learning. When she wanted to highlight certain things she referred back to her ‘mistakes’ demonstrating how to improve.

Branding with Lidia at Visuals
Branding workbooks

It’s this honesty that warms you to Lidia and defines her own brand. She’s authentic and genuine. She’s made mistakes and is not afraid to share that. She was that ‘quirky’ photographer in the luxury wedding market, wondering why couples weren’t buying her services when her photos were fantastic quality. She admitted that she was looking for customers in the wrong place. At the time, she didn’t match what the luxury market client was looking for. She was fun and quirky, not luxury. This openness on Lidia’s part made me feel okay about my lack of branding. I relaxed and opened up to learning.

4. Your branding belongs to your customers

Until I started to write this article, I hadn’t realised what an enormous effect Lidia’s way of looking at branding has had on me. Take this, for example: I recently posted a photo on Instagram. A friend rightly pointed out that it looked like a holiday snap and gave me some tips on using filters, reminding me in the process that what I publish online represents my business. I was grateful for the advice. However, after reflecting on it, I began to think it’s actually the other way round. In other words, what we post online, needs to represent our customers, not ourselves. I now need to take a look at the message potential customers are picking up when I post. What do they want to see and hear? This will take some time, but I know it will be worth it long-term. Forgive me, if for some of you that’s old news, but without Lidia’s input, it may have taken me a while to work that out.

Lidia’s passion for helping people to get this right is clear. She’s professional, fun and brimming over with insights, knowledge and experience that make working with her a relaxed but productive experience

How I ended up on this workshop

For a while, I’ve known that my online presence needs a turn around and have approached a few website designers for advice.  Recently, I came across an advert for a workshop called ‘Defining your Brand’. Lidia Drzewiecka was looking for a blogger to participate in her workshop in exchange for a review. I contacted her and before I knew it, I was signed up for the workshop.

What we did on the workshop

Exploring brand identity
Exploring brand identity

The workshop was divided into three sessions of 90 minutes with a break for refreshments and another for lunch. Lidia worked us through our brand value, identity and positioning giving us examples and showing us  how to stand out.

Two things that stood out for me

Apart from Lidia’s knowledge in her subject area, there were two other things that clearly stood out for me.

1. Lidia’s research on her clients

Before attending the workshop, we had exchanged emails and had a chat on the phone. Lidia had already checked out my websites and I was impressed by this.

At the workshop it became clear that Lidia had researched all the attendees and knew something about everyone’s products and services. I loved this personal touch and know that it’s not common. It meant that Lidia not only had dedicated time prior to the workshop to us all, but was also able to make references to our businesses and provide specific insights to all of us throughout the day.

Lidia had researched all the attendees and knew something about everyone’s products and services.

#2. Lidia’s ability to visualise a brand

Lidia has an amazing capacity to visualise a brand. I felt that she was taking our websites off the page and helping us to see our brand identity as if it were 3D. The effect this has had on how I now see my business has been amazing.

 So, what has changed? notebook Lidia D

I’ve realised that while I haven’t yet consciously set out to apply my learning, my subconscious has been working on it ever since I attended the workshop. I’ve started to become more aware of how businesses are sending messages out to their clients, rather than just focusing on what they are sending. I’ve been more conscious about my audience when I write, who I want to work with and what I can help with.  (Oh! Is that my niche?  🙂 )

In short, Lidia’s workshop has changed the way I think about my work, my clients and what, as well as how, to share with them. I have the freedom to look at it from a different perspective and can clearly see where my online presence needs improving.

I’m still reeling from the effect this workshop has had on me and I now realise that it’s part of Lidia’s skill. Somehow I feel like I have gained far more than the exchange rate.

I gained clarity, a sense of freedom with regards to perspective and the ability to clearly define an ideal client.

Find out more

If you are looking for help defining your brand identity in order to attract more clients, Lidia’s workshop might be a great starting point for you.

You can find out more about Lidia’s workshops and how to work with her and her amazing team here: Visuable

Disclaimer: I was invited to Lidia’s workshop in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

Spicy chocolate, truffles and change

Chocolate, the perfect business

As I sip my spicy hot chocolate, the flavour hits the tip of my tongue. Cinnamon, cloves, chilli and star anise. It’s warm, exotic and luxurious.  Just like hot chocolate should be.spicy spoon and mug

I stir my chocolate and think of Nicola Eaton.  When anyone mentions living the ideal life and having the dream job to Nicola, she shrugs and smiles to herself. She considers she already has her ideal lifestyle.

“I don’t need to go up Everest. I’m very happy with the life I’ve got.”

As the owner and creator of The Really Expensive Chocolate Company, it might be easy for some of us to see why Nicola is so happy with her choice.

So, how did she make the transition from children’s nurse to running her own chocolate company?

At the workshop

As I sat down and got ready to interview Nicola, she whipped me up a hot chocolate. She used cacao powder from her new source. It’s the same powder that she uses for her hot chocolate cubes.

I first met Nicola at a network meeting, so I know a bit about her already, but I was keen to find out more.

We settled down with our chocolate and some almond and lemon curd biscuits that Nicola bought at the Doynton market on Saturday.  I was feeling rather privileged to be spending an hour of a Monday morning sipping hot chocolate and listening to Nicola’s story.

Nicola has converted her garage into her workshop. It’s bright and light. There’s a table in the middle, two chocolate making machines and a small kitchen area. A corner with paperwork and a printer where Nicola prints transfers to go directly onto white chocolate.

box of chocs
Assorted truffles in orange, lime and strawberry chocolate flavours

Nicola has been making chocolate here since 2009. In this quiet, tranquil room this is where it all happens. The chocolate gets designed, made, tasted, packed and sent out. She also runs adult workshops here.

How it all started

It might be fair to say that chocolate-making found Nicola rather than the opposite. Although chocolate has always had an influence in her life, as Nicola’s great uncle used to work for Cadbury at Bournville. She remembers going there as a child and her great uncle would bring home misshapes for her to eat.

“Chocolates with caramel in them; they were bashed about, but they were lovely.”

In 2006 Nicola’s family gave her a voucher for Betty’s in Harrogate.  Betty’s, a well-established tea room with a cookery school, offers a wide range of courses. Nicola chose to spend her voucher on a chocolate-making workshop. She had a lovely day there and came back with a big bag of chocolates she had made. Wanting to make the most of her new skill, Nicola began making chocolate as presents for family.

From children’s nurse to chocolate maker

At the time Nicola began making chocolate, she was involved in research for palliative care for children.  She started her working life as a children’s nurse in Great Ormond Street, moved to Wales to study a PHD and then taught nursing and computing at university.

People liked the chocolate she was making and started to ask her if they could buy it.gift box

“Would I make some for them to buy?”

There’s a slight hint of amazement in her tone, as though she still can’t quite believe it.

From her kitchen, Nicola started making chocolate by hand. She approached a local village market in Doynton and started to sell her chocolate there on a Saturday morning.  In 2007, she set up a little business using the smallest of the three machines that are now in her workshop.

Nicola began to understand her clients and what they would buy.  In 2008 a three-day business course helped her with branding. She had called herself Nicola’s Chocolates, but decided that, if she was going to make this work, she needed a name that sounded more business-like. She chose The Really Expensive Chocolate Company.

As Nicola began to sell more, she took the decision to give up her day job to concentrate on making chocolate full time in 2009.

Nicola now works with Julie who helps her taste, make chocolate and pack, and she regularly works with freelancer, Jo Rymell, photographer and graphic designer from Hot Hibiscus Design. Jo designs the personalised labels that are Nicola’s speciality, making the chocolate bars an ideal gift.

At busy times of the year she also employs local students looking for some extra income to construct boxes for her.

Getting her business off the ground

Nicola sells most of her chocolate online via her website and has an Etsy shop called Belgian Chocolate Shop.belgian choc shop

She goes regularly to local markets and craft fairs. She also does talks and demonstrations at Women’s Institute meetings, friendship groups and Rotary groups. She had just received a phone call before I arrived to book her again for next year.

“I take a lot of chocolate samples. I take champagne truffles ganache and I make truffles while I’m there and I dip them in chocolate.”  No wonder they keep inviting her back.

M-TRF-CHAM-12-1_large
Champagne Truffles

“I give them a history of chocolate, how it’s made. Just a few facts I’ve picked up along the way,” she said modestly. The audience also get a 10% discount to spend on her products. She told me about the Mayans and how the Spanish took cacao beans back to Spain and made a thick chocolate drink with them. Nicola liked it when I told her the Spanish still make this drink. I made a mental note to bring Nicola some Spanish hot chocolate on my next visit to Spain.

We talked about the importance of finding support at networking groups. Nicola regularly attends a local ladies networking group, Ladies Who Latte .

“When I met the group about two years ago, my business sort of turned a corner. It was really helpful. Through Ladies Who Latte, I had the impetus to set up a new website. I met Jo, she did lots of photos for me. We’re friends now.”

She often takes samples of her work with her for us to taste. At meetings Nicola tells us how wonderful it is to work with Jo. She’s very generous when it comes to recommending the people in the group that she has worked with.

Tasting time

Spicy Hot Chocolate Spoon based on 17th century recipe.

Nicola has also been approached by the National Trust to make spicy spoons from a 17th Century recipe found at Dyrham Park, near Bath.
“You have to get all the spices right. Julie and I spent ages drinking hot chocolate, just to try and get the flavour right”

She laughed as she remembers that one sample had too much chilli.

“We couldn’t taste anything for the next hour!”

She told me that the volumes of spices used vary, depending whether the spices are in the powder or in the chocolate itself. When milk is added to the powder it affects the quantity of spices.

“So, we had to taste quite a few of those too,” she added.

Nicola likes to be able to identify all the spices, “I don’t particularly like very strong chilli, but actually, in chocolate it’s very nice.”

I have to agree.

“When you are making things like this, you have to try a lot of hot chocolate” joked Nicola.

The feel-good factor

We talked about the benefits of chocolate.

“It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for senile dementia. It reduces stress” It also contains iron and magnesium.

The Really Expensive Chocolate Company uses Belgian chocolate. Nicola uses only cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (if it’s milk chocolate). All her chocolate is gluten free and the dark chocolate is dairy free. She makes a range of Moo free chocolate and the 80% dark chocolate has very little sugar.

As well as the health benefits, Nicola understands how chocolate connects to others. It’s a way of showing you care.

“Of course,” she reminded me, “the three Quaker families (Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry) who advocated the drinking of chocolate in the U.K., instead of alcohol, were philanthropists who looked after their workers.”

Show you care with chocolate

For businesses who are looking for something special to give their clients or members of staff, Nicola can “make chocolate to help their business.”

Personalised wrappers
Personalised wrappers

Nicola’s speciality is personalisation. She makes bespoke labels for her bars, making them ideal gifts for events, place names at weddings and dinner parties and thank you presents.  Or, have your logo printed straight onto white chocolate with edible ink. It’s a bit like putting a transfer onto chocolate and looks fantastic. A great touch for business. She also makes letters and numbers and is currently exploring with Lego®.

logo on white choc
Company logo on white chocolate

The philanthropist and chocolate fits. While Nicola has changed her career, she’s still very much involved in caring for children. She’s a trustee of the Jessie May Trust, a volunteer at a messy church play session and sometimes looks after some local children. Until recently she was also a school governor.

Time to go

I left with a spicy spoon and instructions to report back. The sort of homework I like. I have enjoyed talking to this warm, generous and unassuming lady. Later as I drink my spicy spoon, I realise that Nicola’s nature is reflected in her chocolate. I feel peaceful, relaxed and content.

It would be hard to say which of Nicola’s chocolate is my favourite as it is all so good, but as a dark chocolate lover, I am going to go for the 80% dark chocolate. And, I highly recommend the spicy spoon.

choc spoon

Where to buy  

Website: https://www.recc.co.uk/

Etsy shop – https://BelgianChocolateShop.etsy.com

Doynton Market: http://www.doyntonvillage.org/events.html