Everyone’s telling us to tell our story to build our personal brand, but nobody’s saying how far we should go. How much can we share without crossing an invisible line?

THIS week was World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s been years since I shied away from talking about my own past struggles with mental illness and wanting to check out, so I wasn’t afraid of turning the camera on myself and going live on Facebook.

At first, I shared the story on my personal feed only but, as it began to generate more and more comments and shares, I got it captioned and loaded it onto my business page and YouTube channel as well. I might even share it on LinkedIn… I haven’t decided yet.

I share videos like this not to grow additional feathers in my personal branding cap, or to garner additional support for my business ventures, but because I genuinely believe there’s too much stigma around mental health, and if I can use my following and position to get even one person talking about it, encourage one person to seek help, stop just one person taking that permanent step, it’s worth it.

There IS a line though.

It would be horribly crass to use something like suicide as a vehicle for business growth and fan seeking, BUT I do believe there’s room for far more vulnerability in the image we show to our audience.

It would be horribly crass to use something like suicide as a vehicle for business growth and fan seeking, BUT I do believe there’s room for far more vulnerability in the image we show to our audience.

The day I made my best, ever mistake

Three, maybe four, years ago, I recorded a video in response to something I saw on Facebook. It was before the days of livestreaming, so it was a static movie, shot on my smartphone, sitting in my car outside Sainsbury’s.

For the first time ever, I talked about the times I wanted to check out. I talked about the time I felt stuck in an abusive relationship, about wanting to die, about taking ridiculous risks in a veiled daily suicide attempt, and about breaking my back in the process.

I talked about how happy I was to have failed in my attempts — about how much I would have missed if I’d been successful and that I’d learned that hope always exists, even if we lose sight of it.

I hit send and, moments later, my phone was lighting up like a circus tent.

After a few minutes of confusion, I realised my folly.

I’d forgotten to select ‘friends only’. My video was there for all to see, and it was going viral.

At first, I panicked. I was terrified of being typecast. I thought about changing the privacy settings — maybe, even, deleting the post. But then, the first message arrived in my inbox…

At first, I panicked. I was terrified of being typecast. I thought about changing the privacy settings — maybe, even, deleting the post.

But then, the first message arrived in my inbox. It was a note from someone I’d never met, saying they’d just watched my video and they’d decided they wanted to live, after goodness knows how long wanting to escape from life.

I decided to let the video stay put.

I never expected what came next…

It was never intended to be anything to do with marketing. I was genuinely putting myself out there, heart and soul, in the hope that my story might help someone else.

It ended up helping hundreds of people — maybe more. It also resulted in coverage inHuffPost, BBC, Kindred Spirit, DIVA and a number of regional publications as well.

My following shot up. Business enquiries started to take an upwards trend as well. Something about displaying that level of vulnerability grew trust in me, in my personal brand, to a previously unknown level.

Off the back of that surge of interest came a new wave of confidence for me, too. From there, my business grew, my career grew, I grew. Book deals. TV appearances. Radio interviews. An international platform.

So much of my position now can be traced right back to that video… and I still get messages from strangers about it today.

Personal brand

Way back in the day, when I was still working with my wife on her business, Turquoise Tiger, we used to run social media training seminars for SMEs. I was talking about the importance of personal branding in those events before it had even become a buzz phrase.

I was telling business owners that people were interested in the personalities behind the brand. I was encouraging them to tell their stories.

thought I was leading by example but, in reality, I only really learned the true value of sharing an authentic story when I neglected to change those Facebook privacy settings.

Until then, I was talking about getting metaphorically naked and not even realising that I was barely taking my socks off!

Don’t cross the line!

Please, please, do remember that line. It would be horrible to attempt to use personal tragedy specifically to grow your business. That’s really not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m saying is that one of the best ways to build trust in the people BEHIND the business is to allow them a platform to share their truths.

If you’re running your own business, I really would encourage you to think about all you’ve been through and how that has contributed to creating the person you’ve become today. What are the life lessons, and experiences, you could safely share that might just benefit others.

It’s not about a big, cathartic spilling of guts — it’s about being able to flip your negatives and use some of your own experiences to positively support and encourage the people you serve.

IF your business gets more hits as a result, that’s a bonus, but it shouldn’t be your core driver.

From visible vulnerability comes confidence

Business growth aside, the biggest lesson I learned through this experience was that, actually, I didn’t need to hide my past.

I’d been so scared of being seen as ‘abuse woman’ or ‘that lady who wanted to check out early’ that I’d kept a big part of my truth nailed down tightly.

I’ve felt a huge dose of freedom since opening up, and the knowledge that my privacy settings faux pas has saved lives is worth more than all the tea in china.

So, that’s why I don’t shy away from talking about things today.

On exam results days, I record videos or put out messages of encouragement — my own exam results were piss poor, and I’ve still managed to be pretty successful, thanks very much. I think encouraging our young people is the very least business owners and entrepreneurs can do — especially if they, themselves, have built a business in spite of pants qualifications from their school days.

On Blue Monday, I put out a message of hope, encouraging people to keep going when they feel like quitting. I’ve been there, so if my story can help them, I feel a responsibility to share it — like an invisible, virtual arm, reaching out to hug whoever needs it.

And, on World Suicide Prevention Day, I put out the kinds of messages I wish I’d been able to tune into when I thought life had nothing left to offer me — or I it.

I don’t do it for my business — I do it to help as many people as I can. If my business benefits as a result, that’s a lovely bonus.

I don’t do it for my business — I do it to help as many people as I can. If my business benefits as a result, that’s a lovely bonus.

There’s room for far more vulnerability in business. Whether you choose to categorise it as ‘marketing’ is up to you. Just remember, though, your intention is to share a story that might help others — you’re not doing it to grow your bottom line — you’re doing it to grow confidence, trust and a world of people who WANT to say YES to life.

Until next time,

#UnleashYourAwesome,

Taz

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Taz Thornton is the author of Awesome Sauce — a free, weekly positive life and business round-up, with good news stories, positivity tips and visibility hacks for your brand. In a few minutes each week, you get a dose of optimism and some awesome advice to get seen and stay happy.

Taz is also a best-selling author, inspirational business speaker and consultant on confidence, personal brand and visibility, award-winning coach (UK’s Best Female Coach 2018 — Best Business Woman Awards), consultant and creator of the #UnleashYourAwesome and #BrandMasterypersonal and business development programmes, as well as #UNLEASHED — an affordable confidence, content and cashflow building programme for coaches, healers and therapists.

She has been featured on BBC, ITV, in HuffPost, Diva and countless other newspapers, magazines and podcasts. Taz is also a regular columnist for the America Out Loud talkshow network.

Find her on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Insta.