One of the more difficult tasks as a solopreneur—or anyone who works in a corporate setting for that matter—is identifying the appropriate “voice” for your written communications and online interactions.
You may be tempted to try to keep your work life and private life separate when it comes to voice, but inevitably, especially thanks to social media’s proliferation, those outside of work comments and photos and activities become part of your professional brand—whether you like it or not.
On the one hand, you don’t want to try to maintain an artificially inflated version of yourself that won’t hold up under pressure but you also want to craft a polished, professional public persona that will help you meet your career goals.
So how do you balance it out?
I’ve definitely struggled with this balancing act throughout my portfolio career. The answer for me was to be transparent and consistent across my disparate activities.
For example, I was a regular arts and entertainment writer, covering all sorts of special events and concerts for a fairly hip and irreverent online publication, while working in communications for a large publicly traded corporation.
Rather than keeping my dual life a secret, I made sure to incorporate the cultural events journalist into my corporate persona. And I was always aware that anything I wrote in my off work time could possibly be read by my colleagues or even my boss. So I made sure not to step over any cultural lines, or make any comments that could be construed as not being supportive of my workplace.
How did that play out in real life? It meant I didn’t write copy that slammed big business, or that made fun of my industry, or that would be offensive to my company’s clients. That didn’t mean selling out or writing blandly either. It just meant keeping my copy positive and resisting the urge to snark. Which at the end of the day probably improved my writing—and my personal brand.
Finding Your Voice
The key to being able to do this, for me, was to think strategically about how to meld the publication for which I was writing’s style with the communication guidelines for my 9-to-5 job. A solid tool for doing that for yourself is to spend 15 minutes to develop your own voice chart.
Step 1: Brainstorm
Start off by writing down a free-form list of the words you’d like to hear others use to describe you and your work form a professional standpoint. You can even start with the common themes that turn up in your 360-degree feedback or performance reviews. If you don’t have that sort of feedback handy, reach out to a few close colleagues and ask them to give you the top 5 adjectives that come to mind when they think of you and your contributions at work.
Step 2: Consolidate
Now that you have a big list to work with, can you group some of them together under one word that can act as an umbrella? Your goal is to try to winnow the list down until you have the core voice characteristics you want to reinforce. The ones that would come across in your 2-minute elevator pitch.
Step 3: Define your voice characteristics
Next, you’ll want to concisely define what this characteristic means to you. In the example above, the Positive voice characteristic is summed up as “Be empowering in all interactions and messaging” That description is then further defined by a Do’s and Dont’s list of what kinds of actions or words are aligned with this characteristic. If you are having trouble with this step, I recommend starting with the Don’ts —it can often become easier to define what a characteristic looks like by envisioning its polar opposite and working back from it.
How many voice characteristics you want to map out is up to you. In my most recent position, we identified 5 key voice characteristics we write to. You want to come up with enough definition to guide your writing and interactions, but not so many that you inhibit yourself from communicating.
Now that you’ve got your voice chart defined, try it out. Keep it posted on the wall next to your computer or in a notebook you carry with you throughout the day. If you find you are struggling to write while keeping to the voice that you defined, revise the chart. It’s possible some of the characteristics you initially defined are too aspirational to put into action. Or they’re just not true to who you are. And that’s OK— the voice chart isn’t set in stone. You can keep on revising and iterating until it’s a good fit. And you’re likely to learn something about yourself in the process.
If you’ve found this voice chart to be helpful, I’d love to see some of your key voice characteristics in the comments.