Read on Medium.
If you’re gifted with multiple interests, you received blessing and doom at the same time. Especially in writing.
It’s a dangerous gift, to handle carefully. One that kept my mind busy for all my last reinvent years.
I now have multiple consolidated online identities – let’s say brands –, but it’s a never-ending journey, with pros and cons.
I’ll share my experience because I’m sure that others are in the same boat.
The reinvent big-bang
In my case, it all started with a blast. After two decades as a freelance, mostly in software development, I suddenly left my last position as an executive, due to intolerable circumstances.
A full reset. But we’re not interested in the details here. It’s just worth mentioning because it’s been the occasion to reimagine my professional and creative life from scratch. Sort of reinvent-yourself “case,” occasion for a full review of identities and personal brands.
It all started around my most authentic identity, in which I dived through a gap period of two long years. Funny fact, it’s been afterward an explosion of identities.
I’m interested in self-development, esoterism, the human condition, tech in multiple forms, software development, and too many other subjects. Choosing where not to put your energies is not fun. It’s like chopping off fingers.
Nevertheless, you either choose, or life chooses for you.
The business side
Writing is how I express my life purpose. So, with great awareness that at 50 it’s now or never, I started from there.
But when, after a couple of years, you can’t earn a living by writing – which is usually how things go – money tends to gain a higher priority. And not just money. Status, family, you know what I mean.
Simply put, I failed at reinventing by writing.
And the words of a friend kept resonating for months in my head. When I spoke to him about my doubts on reinventing, he kept it simple: “Vico, you’re a software developer.”
And that’s true. A few things can work in my life, but software development is where my passion, skills, and money can miraculously converge. If I weren’t my own enemy, that would have brought me far.
Also, you can’t avoid leveraging on what you invested in for a life. I started programming at 14, I’m an engineer, and I’ve seen more projects start, succeed, and fail, than most of my youngest doubles. I could do something with that.
But I’m also experienced in business. Product management, marketing, manufacturing, design, leadership, whatever. A client could draw with both hands, if I wanted.
And that’s the second problem, after the minor detail of the money. You can’t be both a software developer and a manager. It sounds absurd, but that’s reality. A few succeed – the ones you find on Wikipedia, I mean – but the others end up being one or the other. An excellent software developer who leaves ground to managers that will mess up, or a decent manager who can only direct or review the work of the others in the pauses between meetings.
I’m simplifying, of course. There are plenty of things on the side and in the middle. Still, making the two extremes of programmer and manager/consultant coexist is not easy. You confuse your clients. They need to know what they can use you for.
So, I decided to go back to earning a living with software development, giving priority to it, while open to consulting in other areas.
And that’s the business part.
And I still have no website for it. Just a neglected LinkedIn profile (which worked anyway).
I’m my worst enemy, do you remember?
Actually, I have a website for one of my products but I’m not going full throttle with freelancing, nor I’m sure if I want to. I still have to settle that part, so I didn’t put a professional website on the top of my to-do list. But it’s on the list, and soon a professional website will be there, plus websites for specific products.
If your writing and your business overlap, bingo. But it turned out that it’s not me. In business, writing is just a tool, for me.
Still, writing has a major role, in my life. So, now we come to the most “evolved” part, in terms of an online presence.
Splitting the identities – alias “brands”
Many bloggers, myself included, brag about not caring much about switching topics, about experimenting outside of a preset identity. Experimenting and writing out of inspiration has value in itself, and it can also be a way to success.
However, when it leads to success, it’s because a fil rouge is there. Maybe your fans follow you because of the voice. Maybe the community you’re gathering has something in common, beyond topics.
When success is there, a brand is there, you like it or not.
You can let a brand emerge – with luck – or you can drive your energies into a brand. You choose. And you should choose the second way.
“Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish just like grape.” – Kesuke Miyagi – Karate Kid
Writing about anything is like walking in the middle of the road. You won’t be ignored, but someone more focused will asphalt you.
Simply put, your energies won’t compound and will be dispersed in many streams, speaking today to someone and tomorrow to someone else, not building a solid and unique identity – someway a value proposition. If you were the only writer around, it could even work, but it’s not.
Luckily, any writer has definite creative streams. You just need to let them emerge. Maybe by blogging in communities like Medium, open to variety.
Knowing your creative interests and ways is critical. Building an identity without knowing where your passion leads will be artificial and unsustainable.
So, I first let my multiple identities emerge, accepting their exaggerated variety but keeping out what was clearly pointless. They had been there for decades, but they needed some sorting and labeling.
I ended figuring out six themes, good candidates for brands:
- The human condition. Existential questions, personal journey, poems. Maybe fiction.
- Self-development. That ranges from esoterism to more common self-development. Different things, actually, but they’re all around an interest in a better self.
- Tech. I’m a productivity geek, and I love experimenting and sharing advice on digital life.
- Blogging. Sometimes you write about what you know, most of the time you write about what you don’t know. And since I didn’t know about blogging while on a journey to it, I started to write abundantly about it. Makes sense, right?
I told six, and I wrote down four. That’s because there’s the professional life, a separate area, in my case. Sooner or later, two other identities will find a stable writing home:
- Software development. It should have found home way before, I know.
- Business. Organization, non-obvious sides of ventures, risk management, and so on.
Possible products (currently, only one, a Kanban for Windows – XPlan) – with likely separate brands – add to the equation.
It sounds complex, I know. And it’s because it is. Way too complicated and energy-sucking.
In my case, the multilingualism issue is there too. Part of my writing should address both my English and my Italian audience.
Imagine feeding each of those brands with posts, active presence in communities/socials, direct contacts, and so on. Not to mention possible investments in time and money.
Not even Superman.
Perfect branding failures
The good candidates for brands that I mentioned pulled experiments out of my writing life for more than three years. Even moderately successful experiments. I don’t count the previous decades because it wasn’t active writing life.
However, following opportunities and passions is not a business plan, nor a creative life.
At some point, you need to deal with what you should consider in the beginning: What are you doing that for?
I started a Medium publication about blogging. Then I also built a website for it, with a newsletter and everything. I like writing about blogging, and the blogging topic works. Why not?
But “why not” can be the friend of one period of your life, not a life partner. Your partner in life is “why yes?”
Other publications were more in line with my life goals. For example, “The Human Core,” about authentic stories. But again, “why yes?” The publication is a good idea and could be a strong brand, but do I want to be an editor? No. I love curation, but I can’t spend my time on that.
I realized on my skin that multiple brands, even if each one is a good idea, can’t work at a personal level. Synergy can be there, but not if you can’t put enough energy into each brand.
Getting it right from the beginning doesn’t belong to humans, especially to me. But failures gave me the awareness of what I needed to build and pursue in practice.
Merging the identities
We all know the trite but true advice from Warren Buffet. Write down your top 25. Pick 5 and pay attention not to put your time on the other 20.
That’s golden advice.
An advice that I never follow, as you can see. But I should. So, I adopted a compromise.
For the business identities, I’ll have no other choice than to focus on a single identity and website. I’ll need to make my different skills coexist, someway. But if one skill is incompatible with the primary skills or the mix, it must be put aside, at least on the main website.
For the writing identities, there’s too much. It’s just impossible to put everything under the same cap. It all also depends on your voice, purpose, and unique angle to things, of course. But in my case, insights on life are just a different planet from blogging advice. They can’t stay on the same branded website. They can’t gather the same audience, if any. It would just be… detrimental.
I needed to focus while, at the same time, not giving up on the aforementioned areas of writing.
So, I tried the next simplest solution: two brands. Three would again be too much, given that I also need a professional identity – a third brand – in a totally different area.
One brand – Vico Notes – is about the human condition and self-development. It embodies my writing purpose. Not exactly the end game, but it will evolve. It’s there for the long run.
The other one – Vico XL – is about blogging & tech. Not my life purpose, nor I want to build my life around that. But there’s my passion too, and I want a home for that. Vico XL gives a sense to that. It’s not just a brand about blogging or tech. It’s about my voice sharing advice and experience on the digital life of an indie creator.
Both brands will be channeled multilingual, in part.
Each of the two brands is too wide, and will warp with time. But it’s a compromise. Building two brands is better than not building four of them.
I had to renounce to followers and subscribers from the previous publications. Migrating them wouldn’t be fair. But some kept following me on the new personal brands and now those new followers are following exactly me. Much more reliable and long-term, if you’re a writer instead of an editor.
I’m still spread too thin, actually. I can only expect slow growth, this way, but this is for the long term, and I’ll adapt. I’ll probably have to choose drastically again. But now I’m settled with good containers for my work, something that points at the core of my work, something that feels home. I’m on my way.
Brands need platforms, of course. Speaking about the publishing platform, third-party platforms are an opportunity, because of their communities, but they’re also a significant risk. At least in part, you need your brand to grow on your own land.
However, unless your brand can attract organic traffic soon, an external website is a lonely place.
I’m no celebrity, but my writing already summed up to a bit of portfolio, so a mixed strategy is a good choice for me, meaning coupling websites with third-party platforms.
So, each of my two writing brands has a dedicated external website (soon, multilingual). They’ve also a twin publication each on Medium (medium.viconotes.com and medium.vicoxl.com), plus Facebook pages and newsletters. I’ve no time for extra platforms and I want to reserve LinkedIn to my professional identity.
For the business brands, I have a mixed presence. My product XPlan is fully branded, with a website, a Facebook page, and a newsletter. The rest – not much for now – finds its way in specific communities, Medium, LinkedIn.
This article is not advice. It’s specific to me, and it’s about an especially risky and solitary path. It’s just sharing, it’s just how things went for me.
I’m probably a hopeless case of scattering. Maybe things are more straightforward for you. The more your branding is consistent, the more you can commit your energies, drive attention, and get results.
“Only a monomaniac gets results” – Albert Einstein
I wish that weren’t true.
If you’re lucky enough to have one passion trumping the others, or a specific business you’re comfortable with prioritizing, push like hell on it.
If you’re in my boat, try at least to gather your energies around no more than two brands.
You need badassing brands. Brands you care for. Or you’ve nothing.