THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHENTICITY
I’ve been itching to write this post for months. I don’t typically write content for other photographers, but since they make up a large part of my following, there’s a chance that this might actually be worthwhile.
I’ll do my best to avoid this turning into a rant. I’ve taken time to compose myself, but I can’t deny that I’m hurting. For months I’ve been compelled to ‘rise above it’, but it’s a lot to bear, and so I want to try turn this pain into something constructive; something that can actually help people.
So, whether you’ve pinched someone else’s content yourself in the past (and hopefully want to do better), or you’ve experienced copy theft and are looking for a way to share your frustration, hopefully this post has something for everyone. I’ll start by talking about myself for a bit, but bear with me…
I rebranded my business as The Artisan Hound in 2018 – it was a process that took over a year of research, planning and self-reflection, and I’m insanely proud of the brand that I’ve cultivated since then. But when I first started out in pet photography in 2015 it was a very different story. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or even why I wanted to do it. I chose a business name without much thought, picked a colour scheme that ‘looked pretty’, and perused other photographers’ websites for inspiration on how to build my own.
But as time went on, I developed this uncomfortable feeling that I couldn’t shake.
Nothing about my business or brand felt quite right. I found myself constantly tempted to change my logo or tweak my colour scheme. My website was never ‘good enough’, and I was constantly changing the layout or the copy. When I met clients face to face, I struggled to have meaningful conversations with them. When people approached me at events to enquire about my services, I could barely string a sentence together. I actually think I was putting people off!
Eventually, I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t just keep changing the banners on my event stalls every time I saw someone else doing it differently. I couldn’t keep changing the ‘About Me’ page on my website because I’d seen some witty play on words elsewhere that week. It all felt so ‘icky’, and it was exhausting too!
I’ll go into more detail later but ultimately, I decided to rebrand. Only this time I was going to do it properly. So, I hired a mentor and attended workshops about branding. What I learned was so eye-opening. It changed everything and set me on my path to creating The Artisan Hound. It took months of hard work and soul-searching, deep conversations with my mentor and peers, hundreds of sticky notes and Word documents. But what I ended up with were the tools and motivation to create a brand that is so true to myself that I can now write, shoot and speak with complete confidence and freedom.
I finally had my own true ‘voice’.
So imagine how it felt when I started noticing my ‘voice’ on other people’s websites. A voice that I knew was mine, because it came from such a personal place in my heart. I put just as much thought and soul into my words as I do my art. I had put the hard work in and created something real that I’m immensely proud of. I wish that it had just taken minutes, or that I could’ve just copy/pasted it from elsewhere. But it didn’t. And to see it stolen and re-hashed into various forms across the internet is absolutely heart-breaking.
I’ve experienced copy theft in all shapes and sizes – from a choice sentence here and there, to full-blown copies of entire web pages.
I’ve been copied by photographers in the UK, and across the world. I’ve even seen one photographer steal copy from another photographer who originally copied it from me!
I’ve tried approaching these people to talk it through (although these days I’m so disheartened that I rarely bother). I’ve had my friends and peers approach these copycats on my behalf. I even had someone ‘confess’ to me that they’d copied me, without me even realising that they had!
Sometimes I get a heartfelt apology and the situation is rectified. Sometimes I get ignored completely. Most of the time I get some form of apology mixed with denial – ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’, ‘I don’t know how that happened’, or (my personal favourite) ‘my web designer must’ve done it’. No wonder I’m so exhausted and frustrated!
That’s the rant part over. So, why am I sharing this? There is a huge part of me that wants to highlight the pain that theft causes to artists and creators. But I think that’s already pretty obvious to most. What I really want to focus on is the importance of creating an authentic voice of your own, and how the benefits of putting in that hard work are genuinely so much more rewarding than a 10 min copy/paste job.
I want creators to read this and not only understand it’s importance, but feel encouraged and gifted with the confidence that they can do this, and it will feel amazing.
Most people copy others simply because they don’t know who they are (as a brand), not because they’re inherently dishonest or malicious. Without a strong sense of identity, it can be really difficult to find the right words to say what you want, or even know what to say. Trust me, I’ve been there. And it’s so much easier to take the easy route of taking what someone else has said and tweaking it to suit. But it’s actually pretty damaging for you in the long run.
Not only are their implications that may damage your SEO rankings (how highly you rank on Google), but you’re also stopping yourself from improving your relationship with potential clients.
If your voice is inconsistent with your actions, your audience is going to be left feeling confused, possibly even deceived!
So, what can you do? I realise that so far all I’ve done is moan about theft and talk about how much work it takes to be authentic. Not super inspiring, I know. Well, hopefully I can use my own experience to help you learn how to create your own voice – and highlight the awesome benefits that come with it!
No more ‘icky’ feelings of guilt, or hours of staring at a blank blog post with zero inspiration.
I’ll start by emphasising that I didn’t do this all on my own. I invested in education, mainly with the inspirational J. Nichole Smith (not an ad, I’m just compelled to credit the woman who made such a huge change to my business and my life). I could write a book on all the incredible things I learned, but luckily Nic has done a much better job already. What I will say is that I had to go right back to basics. I had to forget about everything I was already doing. I had to do lots of soul searching and self-reflection. In other words, I had to work pretty damn hard.
It wasn’t easy, and it took time, but the moments of clarity felt incredible. I finally realised exactly why I wanted to be a dog photographer. I was learning how to speak to an audience that would feel as passionately as I do. I created ‘brand pillars’ – a set of principles that underpin everything I do and who I am. Once I had these tools, I felt a surge of conviction and inspiration. Everything became so much easier – designing a logo, writing copy, refining my style – because I finally knew what I was all about. I was free to create, safe in the knowledge that it was mine, and that it came from me. That was a huge confidence-booster, and it feels amazing to be able to speak so authentically.
My audience noticed too. I started getting more enquiries, which turned into bookings because I was connecting with people in a way that I couldn’t before. I felt more comfortable out on shoots, and I got amazing feedback from clients who enjoyed their sessions as much as I did! In short, you’re more likely to attract an appreciative audience by being yourself.
Having an authentic brand has helped me in so many ways. It finally gave me a real voice. The months of work were so worth it.
I’m not saying that you can’t do this on your own. And I’m not saying that you have to spend a ton of money. If you’re feeling completely lost or don’t know where to start, I’d certainly consider investing in a mentor or a brand workshop. But all you really need is some time and commitment to doing a bit of self-reflection. Take a step back from Pinterest and mood boards and other people’s websites, and focus on you. If you see something that inspires you, ask yourself, why? Instead of copying it, think about why it resonates with you. Draw inspiration from your personal life and your own personality. For most of us (especially small businesses), our brand is an extension of ourselves, so it makes perfect sense to use our own lives and experiences as fuel for our brand.
Once you have a firm understanding of who you are, and why you do what you do, the rest will follow. You won’t need to constantly seek ideas from elsewhere, because you have everything you need inside you already. It may not be easy, but don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. It will be worth it. I promise. You can do it!