How Establishing an Online Persona Can Impact Your Business

Knowing how to position yourself is key to being successful. Those who get it right are great examples of what to do, and what not to do.

What would you do if you only had one shot at writing your social media bio — if you were limited to saying all that you wanted to about yourself in 140 characters or less.

Fortunately for us there’s an “edit” button that allows us to update the things we want to say about ourselves. It gives us the freedom to be “lots of things” and present them as we see fit.

In this 18-minute episode Allison Vesterfelt and I discuss:

  • Erin Loechner’s about page and how we relate to it
  • A concept called idea derailment
  • Being creatures of habit and maintaining personas
  • What the experts say about positioning yourself
  • Social media profiles and the “edit” button
  • Anna Kendrick’s tweet about “holding it together”
  • Brian the “person” vs. Brian the “entrepreneur”
  • The “Pole Position” effect and being consistent

The Show Notes

How Establishing an Online Persona Can Impact Your Business

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14 day trial at

Brian Gardner: Hey everyone, welcome to the No Sidebar podcast. I’m your host Brian Gardner, and I’m here to help you identify the things that stand in the way of building your online business.

Together, we’ll learn how to eliminate the unnecessary, increase conversion, design a better business, and build a more beautiful web.

Last week we talked with Joshua Becker, about how a minimalist design made an unexpected impact on his book sales.

Today I’m back with Allison Vesterfelt, and we’re going to share our thoughts on personas, why we have them, and how hard they are to handle online. But before we start, there’s something you should know.

No Sidebar is brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Dan Pink, Sally Hogshead, punk legend Henry Rollins, and many other incredible speakers … not to mention the secret sauce of it all: building real world relationships with other attendees. Get all the details right now at, and we look forward to seeing you in Denver Colorado this May. That’s

Erin Loechner’s About Page and How We Relate To It

Brian Gardner: Okay, so we’re back in the saddle with Allison Vesterfelt, and this should definitely be a fun show.

We have plans today to do our own thing. You, your thing, my thing.

This morning I came across an article by Erin Loechner, who is one of my favorite writers – no offense to you.

Not only do I love the design of her website, she also demonstrates vulnerability and authenticity in a way that you seldom see these days. You and I talk about that all the time, or huge proponents of it, and so for us, it makes sense that we’re fans of her.

Before I get to what she said, let’s talk about her about page. I think for her, that says it all.

“By day, I research trends and change diapers and design products and delete emails and speak at international events and say another prayer and brew another coffee and travel the world and read a chapter and kiss a skinned knee and battle imperfections and curate art and fry bacon and change my outfit and honor my husband and write essays and style lookbooks and sing lullabies and search for that ubiquitous missing sock yet again.

By night, I write it all (mostly) down here.”

By here, we’re talking about her blog, which is called Design for Mankind. In other words, she’s really no different than any of us. We all have busy lives. One could argue that in a way, we all relate. What do you think?

Allison Vesterfelt: Well, I know, I totally relate.

One of the things I love about the way that page is written is just how disjointed it feels, and I used that word in a really positive way.

I’m thinking, even as I sit here, it’s like, I’m in my workout clothes still because I haven’t quite gotten around to working out or showering or getting ready today, and just thinking about all the different things I do in a day, and how sometimes they can feel so disjointed, but they do all fall under this umbrella of who I am. So many times in this crazy entrepreneurial life I live, I’ve thought, “Someday, this is all going to make more sense. My life is going to feel more streamlined.”

I think there are even days when I think to myself, “Okay, I’m really going to try to focus my energies and focus my attentions and make my life – my schedules really clear, and I’m going to do exactly this thing, on this day, at this time, and only do this thing on these days at this time.” And even no matter how much I try to organize my life like that, it does feel like this mishmash of all these different roles and responsibilities I have. Sometimes they feel really disconnected but at the end of the day they’re all connected, because they’re connected by me, and by my ideas and passions and insights, and gifts, and strengths.

In the way she writes that about page, there’s a sort of freedom in it. To say, “I’m lots of different things.” From her perspective, “I’m a mom, and I’m a wife, and I’m a speaker, and I’m a cook”, and all these different things. “I’m the one who looks for the missing sock” and some of those roles might sound more glamorous than others, but they’re all just a part of who she is. I can totally, totally identify with that.

A Concept Called Idea Derailment

Brian Gardner: The funny thing here is that we are recording a podcast episode as a result of a point we were going to make in another podcast episode, which was, three distractions in our life, email, social media. And the third one was this hard to explain thing that we call idea derailment maybe. Where our heads are going one way, and we see something, and in this case, it was the blog post from Erin, that derailed my day.

I was going to record another podcast episode all by myself. We had talked a little bit on Skype this morning, and I came across her post, and all of a sudden, that was the thing to do today. Which was, take the post, talk to you about it, kind of write up a script around that, and all of a sudden, here we are recording a different podcast episode because of what we call, idea derailment.

Let’s get to what she said in her post today. If you head over to her blog, just look for a post called Avatar. Here’s the skinny on it.

“We know that labels are for jars, and we know that we are not jars. And yet, it is an easy trap, boxing ourselves into characters or avatars, for brevity’s sake, of course. We have 140 characters, 5 minutes in the elevator, 10 minutes at a dinner party to explain ourselves, to introduce the passion that beats within our soul. To announce to the world, or whoever is in front of us, yes, yes, this is who I am. This is how I will define myself.”

She goes on to say, “And yet, surely she does. Surely we all do, acting in ways that seem unfit for our characters. We are this and that, half something and half something else entirely, and I’ve often thought about the repercussions of defining ourselves so flippantly online.”

Totally agree with you there, Erin. In fact, I was so moved by her post that I decided to leave a comment. Here’s what I wrote. “I am a creature of habit and spend a lot of my time maintaining the persona that I created, rather than looking for new ways to reinvent it.”

What the Experts Say About Positioning Yourself

Brian Gardner: Ally, you and I have talked a lot about being unfiltered. In fact, we’ve talked it to death, and it’s something we seem to always come back to. Why do you think that is?

Allison Vesterfelt: I guess I think it’s because this is something that most of us, or at least you and I are, I’m assuming there are other people out there too, we’re wrestling with it on a daily basis. That’s what I love so much about this post from Erin is, I think especially in an age where we are forced to define ourselves on so many different occasions.

She talks about the 140 characters, 5 minutes in an elevator, 10 minutes at a dinner party, there are all these moments when we just have this brief second to define ourselves to somebody else, and to communicate to them what it is about us that is most important. How do you do that? Because there are so many different aspects of us that are all important, so how do I communicate to someone, “Am I a writer, am I a wife, am I a daughter, am I a sister, am I a friend, or am I all of those things?” If I only have 140 characters to communicate something like that, which of them do I say first, and which of them do I emphasize? I just think that can be really confusing.

For me, the confusion is heightened I think by a couple of things. Number one, that we’re all living in our personal brands, in an age where social media rules the world.

Number two, that I’m an entrepreneur, I have to make money from what I do for a living and that’s really also connected to my online presence or my social media presence. I think there are these things, money would be one of them, that influence how we communicate about ourselves to other people, and I know that’s something that I’ve really wrestled with. Like, “Am I really being honest about myself, or am I saying this about myself because I know it can make me money?”

For example, I have run online courses in the past and sold different products online as a part of my platform, and I’m a writing expert, and they all say, by they, I mean the marketing experts who I talk to, say to me, “If you want to sell your writing course, you’ve got to talk about it in this way. You’ve got to really pitch to people what an expert you are, and you have to help them understand the benefit they’re going to get from taking your course.”

I get all that, and I totally understand all of it, but at the end of the day, sometimes I feel a little bit like, I’m talking about myself in a way that is not totally unfiltered, because I’m leaving out all the bad stuff and only telling you the good stuff, which is never the whole story. It’s just complicated. I think it’s a great conversation to start, and to have, and to keep having, because I don’t think there’s ever a point where we say, “Yeah, I’ve got it totally figured out, now I can communicate myself in a 140 characters.”

Social Media Profiles and the “Edit” Button

Brian Gardner: One of my favorite words in the English language is the word “edit,” and by that I mean, social media profile bio’s. I know for a fact, on Twitter primarily, my bio has changed umpteen times over the last maybe two or three years. It’s always been a reflection of where I’m kind of at, and that’s just a demonstration of just the agile industry that we work in.

What would it be like if Twitter didn’t allow you to edit it. You had one shot. Kind of the same way of when you pick a Facebook URL. One shot, you can’t change it, what would you say?

Allison Vesterfelt: Even just the thought to me is totally paralyzing. I think there’s such freedom in knowing that we can edit how we communicate about ourselves online. At the end of the day, I think we all realize too, that this is where the pressure comes from. That even if I edit my bio, somebody’s going to make a decision in a split second about whether to follow me or not.

At the end of the day, whether they follow me or not, it doesn’t define what I’m worth, but it can feel like that.

When you look online, you think, “Oh, this person has 50,000 followers, well they must be very important. This person has 500, so they must not be as important.” That’s kind of how we are categorizing our world, and I think it makes that first impression feel all the more important. Even if we can edit what we say about ourselves, it doesn’t mean we can necessarily edit how people perceive us.

Brian Gardner: I totally agree with that, and I know that Twitter for me has always been how I want to represent the persona I have.

It’s amazing to me what people say or don’t say in their Twitter bio. Some are very strategically framed, as mine are.

Anna Kendrick’s Tweet About “Holding It Together”

Brian Gardner: Speaking of Twitter, I was on this morning and I was going back and forth with or mutual friend Carlee. She tweeted something that I thought was kind of funny, she says, “Peter is my favorite character in the Bible because he is such a mess.” To which I responded, “Also known as relatable, right? See Anna Kendrick’s tweet.” Which I linked and it reads, “It’s cute how I used to think that this, “barely-holding-it-together,” feeling was temporary.” Yes, I’m going to admit I have a Twitter crush on her. I mean, how could you not be attracted to someone who’s Twitter bio says, “Pale, awkward, and very, very small. Form an orderly queue, gents.”

Anyway, Carlee responds, “I worry how many of the same thoughts her, Anna Kendrick, and I share.” To which I agree and say back to her, “Because we’re all a mess. Consider it good company, right?”

The takeaway in all of this is that A) none of us get it right, B) we spend too much time trying to cover it up, and C), some of us admit this on social media.

Brian the “Person” vs. Brian the “Entrepreneur”

Brian Gardner: Here’s the bigger question, are we the exception or the rule? Now the colossal problem I have, and let me tell you, it’s recurring, is this: Brian the “person” versus Brian the “entrepreneur.” I swear these guys should duke it out in a UFC cage match until one of them submits because I’m dreadfully tired of trying to figure out which one I am.

For those of you who have followed me online over the years, you know exactly what I’m talking about. What I do online is like a bloody tennis match. My audience could sue me for whiplash for the amount of times I’ve gone back and forth with them. Personal site, business site, personal thoughts, business thoughts, rinse and repeat. I know you struggle with this too because I’ve been on the other line when you’ve talked about it and shared that struggle. So, spit it out. Air your dirty laundry for us all to hear, please.

Allison Vesterfelt: The difficulty with this is that the business side of me needs to make money, and the personal side of me wants to share what’s deep inside of me, and most important to me. I do feel a tension between these two things. Especially as a writer.

I think if I were going to sit down and write about whatever I wanted to write about, and not worry about whether it was marketable, or sellable, or packagable, or whether a reader was going to respond to it, or whether it was going to get clicks, or retweets, or likes, or favorites, then I think I would write something different, than if I were to sit down and think to myself, “Okay, what does a reader really need to hear? What do people want? What are people talking about online? What gets click-throughs? What gets shares? What gets read? What gets purchased? What are people willing to spend money for?”

We have talked, you and I, Brian, and also my husband Darryl, we’ve talked back and forth about this a hundred times. For me, I think I lean more toward the artist side of it. Left to my own devices, I would just write what I felt like writing, and not worry about who was going to buy it or pay for it. My husband is more on the marketing side, and so, he and I have these tug-of-war moments back and forth, back and forth. At the end of the day, I think you can’t really ignore either one.

Here’s how I think about it. I think about it like a relationship. That if I were going to meet a new person that I had never met before for coffee, let’s say we meet at a coffee shop, we sit down, and we start talking about life. I could sit down and not pay any attention to what that person cares about or needs or wants or feels, and just talk about whatever is important to me. I could ask no questions, and I could just talk their ear off. I might leave feeling very good about myself because I just pumped myself up to them and maybe have no idea how they feel leaving that circumstance.

Or, I could sit down to coffee with them and I can think really clearly about what I want, what I want to communicate, what I want them to know about me, and I can also think, “What do they need? What might they want to talk about? What might they want to share?” I can ask them questions that are applicable to that, and give them opportunities to share and to show up.

What I would rather have, than just walking away from the situation feeling like, “Well, I got to say everything I needed to say”, is to have that relationship with that person, and to feel like we both felt honored in that space, and something, I would call it sacred, something sort of sacred happened there.

I think something sacred can happen too, when we are authentic about ourselves. I want to write something that somebody’s going to pick up and it’s going to have a profound impact on their life personally. If I’m only writing what’s authentic to me, without a thought in the world about what other people care about, then I’m not going to write something that’s really going to resonate, or going to make an impact on somebody else’s life.

The danger in talking about authenticity is that you can swing the pendulum way to one side, where you’re like, “I’m just going to say whatever I think, and I don’t care about what anyone thinks about it. I’m just going to put it out there and if people are mad, if it hurts their feelings, they can go to Hell.” I don’t think that’s necessarily the answer, but I do think there is this tension, and it’s an important tension, of trying to figure out how can I communicate honestly of where I’m at, what I’m about, who I am, and also, care deeply about the people who I’m impacting.

The “Pole Position” Effect and Being Consistent

Brian Gardner: I call this the “pole position” situation, where those of you who are old like me, there was an arcade game called Pole Position, where you’d drive a race car, you’d hit a wall, and I would overcompensate when I hit a wall and I’d end up going and hitting the other wall, and I’d just go back and forth. Like a ping pong.

I have such a hard time of maintaining consistency and driving within the middle of the street, and as I mentioned earlier, I go back and forth, and I whiplash my audience. I go from pure business, marketing side Brian Gardner, to wanting to be unfiltered and talk about his passion for Sarah McLachlan music, Brian Gardner.

I honestly think of all, and there’s no research to back this up, but I can kind of just get the general feel, I think where things resonate the most with people, is when I’m down the middle. Not necessarily overly salesy, not overly sharing, but living my life and being the entrepreneur, and being the online guy who happens to have a life, but happens to have a job. I think even as I’m saying this, it’s really bringing some clarity to, how do we as online entrepreneurs position ourselves?

Obviously we have a little bit of difference in dynamic, you for instance are a freelance writer, so you are responsible for your own income, where as I am a partner of a bigger company, and so I have less at stake. In other words, my actions don’t directly result in my bank account. Really what it comes down to is that we’re all different, we all have the same sort of struggles, it just comes differently depending on our situations.

Something you said really resonated with me was when you were talking about, not so much what I can do and how I present myself to others, but more, how do I pull them in and make them feel important, and that’s where the relationship starts.

So in the spirit of keeping the episode short, maintaining that No Sidebar mentality, and my promise to give short digestible episodes, I’m going to go right to the cliff notes and recap what we talked about. Obviously we’ll talk further about this in the coming shows. Here’s the recap.

A) none of us get it right. B) we spend too much time trying to cover it up. C) some of us admit that on social media. D) I have a Twitter crush on Anna Kendrick, and E) Alli agrees to all of the above.

That about sums things up, and is probably a great place to end the show. If you like what you’re hearing on the No Sidebar podcast, the best way to support it is to leave a rating, and/or comment over on iTunes.

Allison Vesterfelt: Want more? Check out and sign up for our newsletter. Each week, Brian and I curate the very best and most interesting articles when it comes to designing a simple life. At work, at home, and in the soul.

Brian Gardner: Until next week, this has been Brian Gardner and Allison Vesterfelt. Thanks for listening.