Turning The Thing That Scares You Most Into A Branding Asset (Plus”My Thing”)

What’s the one thing you’re downplaying in order to appeal to your customers? Maybe it’s something you consider to be a weakness, or something that might dissuade people from hiring you… is it possible that this is the very thing that sets you apart and exactly what you need to “put out there” to get visible?

Turning The One Thing That Scares You Most Into A Branding Asset

All-too-often, creative professionals and consultants are the worst at following their own advice. Marketers without a marketing game plan, business strategists without a strategy, designers with crappy websites… it happens because we’re focused on clients and we’re too close to our own internal bullshit, but I’m not here to point fingers at anybody but myself.

One of the things I encourage my clients to do is to “own their superpowers” — to smash conformity, be themselves, hone in on what makes them different and be brave enough to put it out there. These are the things that help us get visible and break through all the noise-clutter out there.

And what do I do? Rather than being brave, I just do what I think is expected of me and I make assumptions about what people will accept about me and I downplay. I make it as invisible as possible.

The thing I’m most afraid of people knowing about me

I’m going to take my own medicine and put this out there, because I really can’t ask people to go through this exercise if I’m not willing to do it myself.

The one thing I downplay the most is the fact that I live in Croatia. It’s not that I hide it, or that I’m not proud of my new home (I am), it’s just that I don’t showcase it and shout it from the rooftops. It’s not a branding asset, it’s something I tuck away in the corner at the bottom of my bio, something I feel I’ll “explain if I have to and if it comes up.”

As an American, who is used to (mostly) American clients, it’s a gigantic insecurity to move overseas where wages and price expectations are lower. But what’s changed really? I’ve always been location-independent: I’ve worked with Brits, Canadians, and Californians from my office in Alaska; I’ve worked with Alaskan clients and New Yorkers during the time I lived in Paris; I’ve worked with clients from Australia, Germany, Washington D.C. and Ohio from my new home in Croatia.

It’s always been global, it’s never mattered. Nobody’s had a hangup about this but me, nobody ever expected me to lower my prices… it’s just a silly thing that goes on in my brain. Sometimes it’s hard to see these things when we’re so close to them, and our internal chatterbox can be such an asshole sometimes.

I’ve come to realize it’s an asset, it sets me apart

I realized that my experience living here and running a business has taught me a lot of lessons that are worth sharing. Things that people would probably benefit from knowing about. Like…

There are sometimes real limitations on how you market and conduct your business, and you have to make peace with that and find a workaround — no excuses. 

Living here has made me realize how spoiled I was living in America. In America, everything focuses around convenience and consumerism, and you sort of assume the whole world operates in the same way and at the same pace.

Since moving to Croatia nearly 3  years ago, things have changed.

Imagine not having access to the conveniences you depend on every day, or only being able to shop one day per month because you have to travel some distance to get to the stores… so every time you “need” something, you can’t just run out and get it, it goes on a “list.” And some of the stuff on the list you’ll never find and you’ll just have to be like…


Here’s a few examples to give you a glimpse into what that’s really like:

There’s no Apple store here. The products at the reseller shop have a HUGE markup (like, thousands more than what is already an expensive price tag) and the support is absolute shit. Like, if your mouse is broken it takes them over a week to send you a new one. There’s no money-back guarantee, no Applecare, no Genius Bar. And no I can’t order something from Apple.com because paying the customs tax would be even worse. Last year I bought an incredibly expensive iMac that can only really be used as a Netflix machine at best. I’ve had to make do with the equipment I have.

I’ve had to learn to work around productivity issues in creative ways and be zen about the whole thing so I can get shit done. No excuses. 

Office supplies! Have you ever needed a notebook and not been able to buy one? No, right? That’s my life right now. There’s no “Staples” or “Walmart” in my quiet little old-world village. There’s a few bits and bobs at the grocery store for young children to use at school but I’m a snob and I want a certain thing. The leather-bound journal I want is way out of the range of possibilities, I’ve tried ordering one from Amazon.co.uk (no customs taxed if shipped to the EU) but most items I put in my basket can’t be delivered here. At this point I’d settle for a 5-subject college-ruled spiral bound notebook, but I can’t get it without taking time off of work with my husband to drive into Zagreb.

I don’t let it hold me up, I make do with what I have. No excuses. 

Internet. Well, I need internet don’t I? I work 100% online. We have frequent outages and while it’s gotten better, the service has been less than reliable. Skype calls with clients is something I always worry about because calls get dropped a lot of the time and that’s embarrassing. I’ve abandoned my office and moved my working space to the living room so I can be right next to the router, signed up for Zoom and I’m able to make it work.

There’s almost always a workaround. No excuses. 

Convenience food. You don’t really think about how much this impacts your work life until you literally have to cook and prepare meals from whole food every single day, every single meal. There’s no Taco Bell here. Restaurants are within driving distance but not convenient at all. There’s no Fred Meyer, Whole Foods, Trader Joes… there’s no Amy’s Frozen meals or pre-packaged chopped veggies. If I want a salad, I have to chop every single veggie and make my own salad dressing. If I want a chicken pot pie, I have to make the pie crust from scratch and all the fillers too. Everything takes exponentially more time and I can no longer shove food right into my face from a bag or a tin or a jar. On the bright side, I am following the Whole30 plan easily because I eat that way anyway, I only eat whole food, I just needed to cut out a few things like sugar and dairy. Boop! More energy, clothes are fitting looser, and I use mealtimes to connect with my husband and take a real break from work. It’s annoying sometimes, but overall I’m so grateful to be forced to develop cooking and healthy-eating habits.

Sometimes limitations have a huge, bright, glimmering silver lining. 

I can’t network with people face-to-face unless I travel long distances, and I can’t meet face-to-face with clients either. This has hurt my business tremendously, I won’t lie. But, here’s the advantages: it’s forced me to market my business in a way that I never really had to before. I’ve had to learn how to do it and now I can help my clients all the more. I can only work with people who are comfortable working around time zone issues, working remotely, and meeting via Zoom. And it turns out there are plenty of people like that out there, they’re my people.

Some limitations are real. But sometimes the workaround leads you to a better place anyway. What excuses are you making? Not enough money? Not enough time? Not enough knowledge? Not enough skill? YOU CAN WORK AROUND ALL THESE THINGS if you make peace with them and find your workarounds. 

My lifestyle has become an asset

I live in a small, rural community on top of a hill just outside the main village. I am surrounded by beauty and peace and I have very little distraction other than the usual internet noise. My life is simple but it’s far from boring and I’m incredibly active and productive. I’ve learned to live without conveniences, and having limitations and an absence of choice  means I’m more focused on what matters. I take the time to walk in nature every day, I practice yoga, I read, I sleep well, I focus on work for long periods of time without any mental chatter. If I were only focused on the limitations, I wouldn’t have a chance to be grateful for all of the blessings those limitations have brought to my life.

Why am I “hiding” that under a bushel? Silly.

And what this all means is that I’m now in a unique position to talk about matters of overwhelm, productivity, focus, and the impact western society and technology has on all of us.  I can talk about how it is possible to keep a roof over your head even if you don’t have a way to network and meet with people face to face.

My brain is wired differently now. And with that, come some real strengths I should be talking about more. It sometimes takes awhile to really “own our super powers.”  Insecurity and false assumptions are the enemy!

Just take a peek at what I’ve been downplaying y’all…

This is my lovely little village… the view from my daily walks.

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This is my back yard. Our property neighbors a forest and a vineyard. Plenty of space to hike and run and play.

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This is a Dubrovnik (also known as Kings Landing and as seen in Star Wars) — one of THE MOST INCREDIBLE places on the face of the earth. I went there! 🙂

Weekend trips to places like Venice, Budapest, Prague… no big deal.

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For Croatia eye candy, you gotta check this out.

Now it’s your turn …

What are you downplaying that you can turn into an asset for your brand?

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