Conveying your personal brand…in front of the camera!

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As part of our personal branding, many of us have regular professional photos taken for our social media or websites. As not everyone is a natural in front of the camera, it can really be an ordeal for some. Perhaps that why so many people update them so irregularly. However, old, out of date pictures aren’t giving people an impression of the authentic you and it’s that authenticity that is so important for your personal brand.

Our guest blogger this month, photographer Yolande de Vries of, has worked with BBC News, London Fashion Week, and Look magazine, as well as shooting hundreds of professional photos, wedding shots and following her first love, photojournalism. All of which make her the perfect choice for me to turn to for some insider professional advice on how to better express your personal brand (and just look better!) in photos.

Photographer Yolande de Vries

Here’s what Yolande says…

Hair and make up

It is good to get this done, but do make sure that you ask for a more polished, groomed version of you. This isn’t the time to play around with a new style, colour or make up look that could go drastically wrong. Even if you are merely feeling uncomfortable and not yourself, it will show in your photos.


Have you head the term “Smizing” ? Basically, it’s making sure that your smile reaches your eyes to give a more natural, connected look.  Try to embrace the camera like a friend. The more natural your expression, the more you will draw people in.


If you have a business which has a brand colour, do wear that. You don’t have to come dressed head to toe in turquoise if that’s your brand colour, but make sure it’s there for us to see.

Also, think about the setting. If you are being photographed outside, you want to choose colours that will pop against the greenery, such a bright pink or red.

Your photographer

Listen to your photographer and their suggestions for how you should sit, stand and pose. At the same time, do tell them if you have a best side or would like them to try to hide or minimise something you don’t like. Most photographers know some tricks and techniques for this kind of thing.


Don’t drink alcohol the night before, get a good night’s sleep and load up on plenty of H20.


Think about your body clock and schedule a time of day when you feel your best. So, even if a
photographer is keen to get the early morning light and you know you don’t really get going until much later, tell them.


Choose clothes that you feel comfortable in. You need to feel yourself and at ease too. You certainly don’t want to be worrying about sucking your tummy in over the waistband!


Above images are by Yolande de Vries. To contact Yolanda, click here!



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A Year in Personal Branding, March Edition

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Welcome to the March edition of A Year of Personal Branding“, where I’ve broken down key branding concepts as part of a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand. I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate the whole arena of Personal Branding.

In earlier posts, I asked you to look at your own brand attributes, including some of the ways you differentiate yourself from everyone else. However, as your personal brand is best seen through eyes of others, it’s important to better understand how others perceive you. I am now going to challenge you to take a bold step this month by asking others for feedback. Without it, we may never truly know how others really perceive our personal brand.

In my personal branding assessment, I ask clients to conduct a 360 Degree interview specifically for personal branding. This allows others to offer anonymous input about a client’s attributes, skills, greatest strength and weakness, and which team role most suits them. But you don’t have to do a formal online survey to get a sense of how you are perceived. The easiest way to do this is to put out an email asking for feedback.

What to ask

You can always start the email with a very basic explanation. Perhaps something like:

“I’m going through a personal (or professional) development exercise which requires me to analyse how I am perceived by others.”

Some simple questions, tailored to what you’d like to assess (personal or professional), can reveal perceptions of your core personal branding attributes:

Brand attributes:
What three words would you use to describe me (professionally or personally)?

Strengths and Weaknesses:
What do you feel are my greatest strengths?
My greatest weaknesses?

What (skills) do you think sets me apart from others?

Team Role:
What team role do you think I would best play?

Can you offer any other feedback that might be helpful for my personal development?

Who to ask

Invite people who know you well enough to give meaningful (as well as honest!) feedback.

Depending on how brave you are feeling, you can invite colleagues and clients as well as friends and family. If this exercise proves to be a difficult task for you, perhaps start with close friends who you know will be supportive and widen your net further as you gain in confidence. The larger your sample size of course, the more meaningful and robust the data.

What to do with your feedback

First, digest the results.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you surprised by the results or are they pretty much what you expected?
  • If you feel yourself being triggered, ask yourself why. That’s valuable data as well!
  • Try to be honest with yourself about whether feedback sounds credible. Be wary of extreme outliers.

Look for congruence or discrepancy in the data.

  • What three words would you use to describe your ideal self (how you would like to be seen)? Do these come close to the three words others used to describe you,  or are they completely different? If there are discrepancies, it’s time to do some focused personal branding work!
  • Are you aware of your perceived strengths and weaknesses? How can you build on your strengths while making weaknesses irrelevant?
  • Are there strengths you have that others haven’t recognized, and if so, how can you showcase them?
  • Are you in a role (or have responsibilities) that others believe you would excel at?
  • How are you using your unique position (what differentiates you) to set yourself apart and get noticed?

This can also be a great exercise in handling criticism…and making it work for you! Paula Gardner of Scarlet Thinking conducted this exercise last year as part of an MSc course. Here’s what she had to say about it:

“I was incredibly resistant at first. To be honest, I was terrified of anything critical, but asking for positive feedback really boosts your confidence. You can see where you are getting it right and where you can improve. After the first reply, my anxieties dissolved and I realised that by holding myself back from finding out how people saw me, I was keeping myself stuck.”

This part of the personal branding process is typically not an easy one for most. But as Paula pointed out above, it’s well worth it as the results can be rich and rewarding.


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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

Lulu Guinness

Here’s why…
For the first time in her career, British designer Lulu Guinness, OBE presented a ready-to wear collection at London Fashion Week this month, giving not only press and buyers but also consumers the option to “buy off the runway”. But what caught my attention was her incredibly candid interview in the Sunday Times Style Magazine this month, which beautifully illustrated many facets of her strong personal brand.

Lulu Guinness in The Sunday Times Style Magazine this month

Here’s what I find most striking about her personal brand:

She’s not afraid to take risks

The luxury handbag and clothing designer lives by the motto of her hero, Surrealist artisan and fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli: “Dare to Be Different”. And that she does. Lulu Guinness, who’s  accessories are in the V&A’s permanent collection, is not afraid to make some risky co-brand moves, even with mundane household items such as toasters. “The PR told me I shouldn’t do it, but it’s one of my favourite things” she explained in a recent interview with The Sunday Times Style Magazine.  The toaster, a collaboration with Comet in 2009, featured Guinness’s trademark red-lip print. And it turns out to be symbolic of Guinness’s attitude towards the fashion industry.  She explained that she has never had a fashion ego and sees delight in commercial opportunities where other designers may not.

She also takes risk on the runway. Her “buy now” ready-to wear collection at London Fashion Week gave consumers the option to buy there and then. Sharing with Style, “What customer isn’t buy-now right for? It’s what we all want.”

Models pose during the Lulu Guinness Presentation at London Fashion Week 2018. Photo:

She personifies her brand

Since age 16, Guinness loved the glamour of lipstick and how it made her feel; so when she started designing accessories, red lips were the focus. Her obsession for a bold red lip became her signature, and it hasn’t waned. And you will never catch her without her trademark red lipstick.


Described as a “witty, pretty English eccentric”, she is the living, breathing personification of her brand. Guinness creates what she loves, and follows her gut when she creates. She also has a refreshing indifference to following trends. As she told Style, “I think it’s almost unfashionable to be on trend.”

What’s important to Guinness? She explains, “I want to entertain; I want to help you forget about your normal life for a bit.” This attitude is  reflected in her marketing savvy, which is also intuitive and values driven. Long before the age of social marketing, Guinness was connecting with her market and instinctively put herself at the forefront of her brand. And she understands her target audience. She told Style, “we are a tribe, and we know each other.”

She’s an impressively socially responsible brand

Reflective of her aforementioned brilliant co-branding, Lulu’s charity collaborations are a plenty and typically encapsulate the brand’s sense of humour and wit. These include tote bags in aid of Comic Relief and Friends of the Royal Marsden hospital, one-off auction items such as this clutch, and even a fab repurposed chair in aid of the Duchess of Cambridge’s charity, The Art Room.

Guinness with her three limited edition totes for Comic Relief. Photo:

An installation of chairs transformed by artists, designers and architects to raise money for The Art Room. Guess which one’s by Lulu Guinness? Photo: Artsy

Guinness for National Aids Trust, 2014. Photo: Kit Lee

Guinness also created limited edition Red Ribbon brooches to help increase awareness of HIV leading up to World AIDS Day in 2014. Designed by Guinness herself, the brooch is a modern twist on the traditional red ribbon, complete with her trademark lips.

She also celebrates philanthropic modern day icons on her website. Most recently, she applauds some of her favourite women’s world-changing initiatives, including Emma Watson’s He For She campaign, and Leoni Kibbey’s not-for-profit film festival.

She’s open and authentic…and a role model

Guinness is open about her bipolar disorder. In the Style interview, she disclosed, “I’m still learning, but I’ve managed it for years. Accepting that you need to be on medication for ever is a big one, I was always trying to come off them, and I caused total crisis — it was hard for the family, but I’d be so insistent. You feel so well, ‘I don’t need these’.” What also helps, she explained, is showing authentic vulnerability, to “talk about how difficult life is, rather than showing a persona”.  Guinness shared that it may not be very “English society”, however it’s becoming easier to open up. “It’s so exhausting being someone else, making out that everything’s perfect.”

Guinness further shared that she is keen to be a vocal mental-health role model. “The princes do amazing work, but it’s for men, isn’t it? Adwoa’s thing with Gurls Talk is brilliant, but it’s for young people. I’m a good example of an unlikely person because I’m an eternal optimist with an illness. People have such a narrow idea of depression, but my thing is to show people depression needn’t define you.”


Guinness in front of her signature “Pucker Up” clutches



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The secret to standing out as a blogger

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Blogging is probably one of the easiest ways to illustrate your personal brand, and yet it is also one of the areas where it is hardest to stand out. With thousands of bloggers out there, how do you get readers to notice you? How do you communicate who you really are in words and pictures?

Look at any successful blog and you will see that they are all uniquely personal, many times a window on the blogger’s own world. Of course, opening yourself up like this is a brave thing to do, not to mention all the other things that go with it – the eye for photos, the endless hours on social media and the conviction and confidence to keep going to gain traction with it. Fascinating!

I chatted to a number of bloggers to find out how they go about sharing their own personal brand through blogging and what their secret is to standing out online.

The Lifestyle Blogger

Laura Summer is a lifestyle blogger over at Laura’s Lovely Blog.

How do you build your personal brand through blogging?

“I think as a blogger, unless you have multiple contributors, your personality is the brand. Your audience follows you to find out what you think on certain subjects, your views, your life, your style and your honesty. Because of this your integrity is very important as is consistency. As a blogger I regularly work with brands, but whenever one approaches me I always consider if it is a brand that I would work with if I was out purchasing for myself anyway. If it’s not, more often than not I will politely turn them down. When I began to be commercially successfully, I spent time and money working with an illustrator to make sure my blog was a reflection of my personality, that the design was right and to create a Logo and branding like any company would. My blog is my brand and it is important that the look and feel as well as the content is right and this is reflected across all of the channels I am represented on. But the heart of a blogger’s personal brand is most definitely their voice.”

What is it that you do that attracts your audience? I.e., what is the X factor that makes you successful?

“The real buzz word in blogging at the moment is niche. There are thousands of blogs out there and it is hard to compete and make yourself different from the rest. There are some bloggers that come across their niche quite quickly and others that see what their readers respond to over time and reflect their content accordingly.

I have found that three years into professional blogging I am still learning about my content and adapting it. But at the same time it is important that this is in keeping with your personal brand otherwise your blog can lose its way. For me personally, I know now that people value my opinions and honesty and directly contact me on occasion before purchasing something I have reviewed. People know of my love of handbags and genuinely love items I have shared with them and have messaged me to say they have gone on to purchase bags I have put on my social media. Over the last year I have worked very hard at improving my photography and now have brands that specifically want to work with me for this reason.

But I do honestly believe that a successful blogger has to be adept and multiple skill sets. From writing, branding, social media and photography to building business relationships and contacts for work. As with branding the ‘X-factor’ is about consistently working hard and building on your content while learning and assessing it over time. As with any business success comes from hard work and you have to be prepared to put them time in.”

The Business Blogger

Judith Morgan of Judith Morgan: The Small Business Oracle is a business coach who has been blogging for over 12 years – even before WordPress started! She is the author of Your Biz Your Way, which you can find on her site.

How do you communicate your personal brand through your blog?

“I write in my own unique voice. I don’t follow any received wisdom about how blogging should be done, I just get on and do it my way. I want to showcase me, my work and my clients so that those considering working with me can get a really good sense of what it’s all about, who I am and how I work before we speak. I don’t worry about what people will think, although I believe I have a good personal filter and don’t share anything which I consider to be inappropriate, though others may disagree and that’s absolutely fine by me and one of the ways of connecting best with my ideal client.

I aim to achieve rapport by writing about topics which arise during my real work with other micro business owners, and which I know will be of value to other readers and potential clients just like them.”

What is it that you do that attracts your audience? What is the X factor that makes you successful?

“What you see is what you get. I communicate my brand values in word and deed and try to live up to those in everything I do, not just on my blog and website and social media but in the delivery of my services especially, and to get all of that to collide beautifully, honestly and truthfully and in a way which feels – and is – real.

I am razor sharp and blunt, there’s no point in pretending otherwise. I don’t do pretend. Yesterday a woman described me as having “got it right”, that to her I appear to be happy doing what I’m doing. That’s absolutely true, I am and that message is clearly getting through. That’s joyous for me, and that sort of feedback is very useful so I know what’s working and for whom.

Recently a writer I respect described me “funny, direct, straight to the point and always insightful.” Again, this is spot on. If I am communicating that and readers are getting it, I’m doing something right. My goal is to keep improving on that communication and connection, and making even more delicious Marmite-y matches.”

The Travel Blogger

Susan Schwartz is the founder of two travel blogs, Best Bits Worldwide and A Lush Life Manual.

How do you communicate your personal brand through your blog?

“Communicating who you are and what you stand for is easier than one might think. Since I write in the first person, every bite of food, every sip of champagne, every bed I sleep in and every experience I have is authentic. I am always aware of providing what is right for me and the Best Bits Worldwide and A Lush Life Manual brands. I write only about those experiences and choose them according to my personal brand, revealing who I am and what I stand for in the process. I was really one of the first Luxury travel bloggers in London. People love to dream about luxury so I have hit the sweet spot.”

What is it that you do that attracts your audience? What is the X factor that makes you successful?

“When I began blogging, I realized one important thing, Best Bits Worldwide and A Lush Life Manual had to be all about me and my personality. I had to make people fall in love with who I was, what I represented and the information I was providing. My About page and photo were the most important “Bits” of both blogs.  Writing in the first person was a must in order to connect with those who read my blogs. I am always aware of how my readers might see me. The authenticity of what I write and what I stand for is what I hope makes me successful.  I am one of the only people doing what I am doing in London. I think that’s why it is growing.”

The Parenting Blogger

Nicky Kentisbeer blogs about her family life, amongst other things over at Not Just The 3 Of Us

How do you build your personal brand through blogging?

“It takes time to build a personal brand through blogging.  Consistency, showing up and being authentic (although a slightly over used word of late) is key.  Readers have come to know what to expect from my blog, my style and my content and everything that I talk about will always link back to one of my key blogging themes.  My individual style and core values are reflected throughout all of my posts.  It is also important to remember that someone is actually reading a post and to engage with that person throughout.”

What is it that you do that attracts your audience? What is the X factor that makes you successful?

“Talking about matters that resonate and saying what others may be thinking.  Regular readers know what they are getting when they visit.  I always come from a perspective that if I am experiencing something at least one other person will be.  I always aim to bring value through my content, whether that be an experience or a situation. Any posts and reviews will always be true to my content and core values and are delivered honestly and thoroughly.  There is also a fine balance between providing a useful resource to the reader and allowing your blog to become a selling vehicle.  None of us like being sold to.  I also support business owners with their content creation and strategy and the business section of my blog is also used by these visitors as an information resource.”

And so lovely readers, the secret is revealed! You’ll probably notice that the three things that cropped up the most are authenticity, consistency and have a unique proposition, i.e. something that differentiates you from the other bloggers.  And of course all of these are core elements of successful personal branding for everyone, not just bloggers.




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A Year of Personal Branding, February Edition

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Welcome to the February edition of A Year of Personal Branding“, where I’ve broken down key branding concepts as part of a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand.

I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate the whole arena of Personal Branding. As you’ll notice, some of the monthly strategies have been chosen in accordance with a particular theme or natural points in the calendar; others were chosen to follow concepts from the previous month.

This is supposedly the “month of love and passion” so let’s talk about how to get more of what you love in your life.

Think of passion as the fuel that propels a successful brand. You can’t necessarily see it, but when there is passion — for an idea, cause or belief — your chances of attracting others increases exponentially. In personal branding, passion is magnetic.

Exploring your Passion

Take a look at what made you feel most passionate last year (in your work or personal life) and when you felt your “personal best”.

  • Can you tap into this passion this year?
  • What activities feel the most meaningful and fulfilling to you?
  • Can you invest in causes that move you by becoming more directly involved in them this year (e.g., volunteering for a charity, advocating in your organization, joining an association)?

Remember, passion can equally be things that make you light up and sparkle, as much as issues that make you angry. When you are connected to your passions, you will truly be in the flow of your personal brand, allowing people to connect with you more deeply and showing the true authentic you.

Connecting with your Passion

  • Each week this month, do something that incites your passion. This could be as simple as buying that magazine about moving to France or freeing up Sunday afternoon to do so some baking. Remember, you don’t have to sign up for a whole baking course, it’s all about fitting your passion in where you can.
  • Take a long hard work at what you are doing professionally. Does that fulfil your passion? It doesn’t have to. Many people indulge in their passions outside work, but if your life is lacking in passion and you’re doing a job that leaves you numb, something has to change, yes? What action steps can you identify, no matter how small?
  • Perhaps things have been more stimulating in the past, but it’s somehow lost its spark. What can you do to inject a little more passion into life? Volunteer for a project, arrange something social, or ask for extra training? We can’t always expect it to be easy and we have to take responsibility for fulfilling our own passions.
  • Finally, as I mentioned previously, passion also includes things which concern you or get you angry. Is this your time to stand up for something? Plenty of people include social responsibility as part of their personal brand, and this is something that is fulfilling on some many levels, far beyond the immediate. You will make connections with likeminded people and fight for tangible change, taping unto a strong sense of purpose and meaning. Take a look at my thoughts on being pro-social as part of your brand here.

You can also learn more about how to connect with your passion from brand icons like PrinceDavid Bowie, and Lady Gaga, but also from emerging creatives such as Claire Norwood and Cecilia Harvey on how passion has shaped their lives.

And one final reminder for this month…


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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

Oprah Winfrey

This month was a no-brainer for me. Most of you will know that earlier this month, Oprah Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes and delivered a moving speech that brought a star-studded audience to their feet and had #Oprah2020 trending on Twitter.

Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage

We know that Oprah has become quite a cultural phenomenon over the past 30-plus years. She has created a billionaire empire during which she has won numerous Emmys, has been nominated for an Oscar, and appeared on lists like Time’s 100 Most Influential People. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her immense generosity and philanthropic spirit are renowned. The list goes on.

But what exactly was it that made this month’s moment at the podium so powerful? We all know that Oprah is an immensely talented presenter, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

For one, Oprah utilized one of the most effective speaking strategies there is: storytelling.

As we know in personal branding, people buy into your story. And by all measures, Oprah masterfully used storytelling in her speech. As soon as she reached the podium, she launched into her story with the words, “In 1964…”. By simply starting with a date, Oprah conveyed to the audience that she was about to tell a story, grabbing their attention. And with two simple words, she guided our imagination to come along side her for a journey.

Oprah presented her personal journey as a model for overcoming adversity; one of a metamorphosis from poor little girl in rural Mississippi to the wealthiest black woman in the US.  It also captured a much larger narrative; she is living proof of attaining the quintessential American dream as we know it.

President Barack Obama presents Oprah with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Not only did Oprah’s story draw us into her as a person, but it also hit on something more personal to her audience.  Her story was shared as an inspiration to us; one to help us better understand our feelings, cope with adversity and take action to improve our lives. One to remind us that no one is invisible. She also sent a powerful message by including men as well as women in the fight against sexual harassment. In these highly divided times, particularly in the US, her message is one that is perhaps desperately needed right now: we are one.

This highlights her impeccable timing. Perhaps Matt McGarrity, a speech teacher at the University of Washington, put this best: “Ultimately, Winfrey’s speech was so powerful because it was a kairotic response. In ancient Greek, kairos was a sense of time. Chronos was the ticking of the clock; kairos was the “opportune moment.” That chance to say just the right thing, in just the right way, at just the right time. Modern presidential debate seems focused on finding and exploiting the “just right response.”

So Oprah’s speech was a pitch perfect, captivating and well timed story. But perhaps most importantly, this speech was delivered by someone with the foundation of a strong personal brand.

Oprah’s power to influence public opinion, especially consumer purchasing choices,
is known as “The Oprah Effect.” Source: CNBC

From a personal branding standpoint, Oprah is a “total package”. She combines her core attributes (passion, purpose, strengths and values) with her charisma, emotional intelligence and authenticity to create a magnetic force.

Oprah on Twitter

Oprah has often written about purpose and personal values: “I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.” As one fan observed, Oprah’s purpose seems to center around helping people “live their best life”: to love themselves, believe in themselves, and follow their dreams. And you just have to watch her in action to know that she exudes passion (and compassion). There’s no doubt that her speech at the Golden Globes captured her passion, purpose and personal values loud and clear.


Oprah at the Golden Globes. Photo: Paul Drinkwater/Getty

Above all, biggest branding asset is not how big her bank account or empire is, but how she shares exactly who she is, her personal “truth.” Oprah often speaks of the importance of authenticity: “There’s nothing more valuable than authenticity, so if you’re building your brand on a set of core principles, which are based on who you are and what you believe in, you can’t go wrong.” And this authenticity seems to extend to all facets of her personal brand. With Oprah, what you see has always been exactly what you get.

This brings me back to her impeccable timing. Perhaps an authentic, compassionate personal brand like Oprah’s is exactly what the world needs more of right now. And regardless of whether or not you’re on the #Oprah2020 bandwagon, there’s little denying that Oprah is one amazingly strong, inspirational personal brand.

Source: Youth Inc Magazine

In case you missed it, you can catch Oprah’s Golden Globes speech here:



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Spotlight on…Creatives

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Welcome to our “Spotlight On…” segment!

In this series of interviews, we shine a spotlight on creatives to uncover what makes their personal brand so strong and, well, creative.

Meet British lyric soprano Nadine Benjamin, a charismatic and versatile artist who is in increasing demand on both the operatic stage and the concert platform.  She is also developing great renown as an exponent of song, in particular Verdi, Strauss, Berg and contemporary American song.

Here, Nadine talks about her creative approach to performing and how it is reflected in her unique personal brand.

Photo credits: Devon Cass

Has performance always been a central part of your personal brand? If not, when did it start to become more prominent in your life?

Yes. Singing, acting, writing, poetry, composing, producing and dance have always been a central part of me as a person.  It was the only way I could find to safely express my feelings.

You started as a jazz singer, but ended up in opera. Could you share your story of how this happened? Would you say that opera is more your authentic personal brand?

Actually, I would have considered myself an overall pop singer – I sang garage, drum and bass, rock, jazz, soul, rare groove and commercial pop.  I just loved to sing.  Harmonies are my thing and I am a very skilled vocalist in that department. I used to record a lot in studios. However, every time I would sing the engineer or producer would say to me “could you try to make it sound less operatic?”.  I didn’t really understand what they meant at the time as this was just my natural voice.

When leaving secondary school my music teacher played me the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute ​by by Mozart and told me “You could sing like that one day”.  She wanted to get me a scholarship and so I ran home to my mum and told her the news.  However, this was not available to me at that time and my mum sent me to a YTS scheme and I started working in Corporate Finance.  It was quite a few years on, when I was now working in financial trading and was offered a fantastic salary, that my world changed.  My boss said “are you sure this is what you would like to do, because once you get this money you may never turn back.”  I told him that I had always wanted to know if my music teacher had been right and so he left my position open for me for two months to see if I could do it.  I never went back.  It seems I really was meant to fulfill my role in the world as an opera singer.

I know that you’re now putting on productions with your own creative spin, please tell us more…

I love producing traditional opera to tell the stories of what is going on in the world today.  Three years ago my company Everybody Can! Opera put on Otello by Verdi and based the whole thing around post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence.  It really allowed the audience to view Otello as a man who needed support and not someone like Iago twisting his mind (a man who was also suffering from the same thing).  To also see the violent way in which Desdemona was treated really showed a different viewpoint of the story and it was something that everyone in today’s world could relate to.

Our next production will be La Traviata.  This will be shown on Friday 19th October 2018 in St James’s Church, Piccadilly.  We will base this production on sexuality and gender and will use this story to explain the stress of what a family can bring when they do not accept the love of a same sex relationship and will show their struggle. We will also hopefully feature some transgender artists who have come through to the other side having stayed true to themselves, and are now living authentically and shining in the world of opera.  It will show their struggle and we will also hopefully feature some transgender artists who have come through the other side standing in their power having stayed true to themselves and are now living authentically and shining in the world of opera.

Does being creative generally come naturally, or do you have to coax it out?

Being creative does come naturally, however being excellent and creative takes practice, consistent action and hours of dedication.  It requires me to stay curious, open, flexible and always willing to learn.  I am always discovering new things about myself and I am always looking for new ways to improve my craft.

What would you say are some of your core values, and do you tend to turn to them in your creative work?

Some of my core values would be integrity, work ethic, honesty, honour, generous nature, kindness, inspiration and breaking the mould.  These qualities definitely run across everything I do.  This also means admitting when I am wrong, apologising when I have made a mistake and leaving my comfort zone to walk closer to my personal greatness.

What or who inspires you? 

I am inspired by people who honour who they are even when it feels like they are standing alone.  People who stand out for me are: Nelson Mandela, Florence Scovel Shinn, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Davina McCall, Frida Kahlo, Maria Callas, Marian Anderson and Tony Robbins.  There are many more!

Any particular operatic character you feel affinity with?

I have an affinity with every character that I play – I know the women in these operas because my early life story would be very much like an opera. I use my experience to bring these characters to life so I can really tell their stories as honestly and authentically as possible without allowing any of my own fears to get in the way.

What advice would you have for someone who would like to express more creativity as part of their personal brand? 

If you really want to be more creative, I believe you have to be willing to stay curious, open and willing to learn.  One has to give up the idea that they are done, or that they are past their time, or it is too late for them.  It is really important to listen to one’s heart for that is where our true desires stem from and it’s our brains that then puts them into action.  Do one small daily consistent action: whether that be writing for 30 minutes a day, meditating and visioning or allowing yourself to play (taking yourself to your favourite show, eating your favourite meal, taking yourself on an adventure).  All these inform the creative mind and give it a chance to be free of the daily stresses of daily life. If you make this process a part of your day, you will find that you will raise your energy level, self-esteem and confidence.

Any specific advice for those initiating a singing career?

For any singers out there  – warm your voice up everyday for at least 20 minutes. The vocal cords are a muscle and they need training just as much as any other muscle in your body.  Find a singing teacher or vocal technician to support you.  Perform every chance you get – open mic nights, enter competitions, join a choir, put on your own concerts in your local church.  Set yourself a small goal every three months and fulfil it.  Don’t be afraid to shine!  Every creative person brings joy into the life of another and when you allow yourself to do what you love you fill yourself up with that same joy which makes you unstoppable!

To learn more about Nadine Benjamin and for her latest performances,
check out her website at:


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Meet the “High Priestess of Interiors”: An interview with Abigail Ahern

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It’s not everyday that one gets an intimate glimpse into the world of one of their all time favourite designers and trendsetters in interiors. But after attending one of Abigail Ahern’s brilliant Master Classes recently, I had the opportunity to tour her stunning East London home, where I found myself soaking up inspiration at every breath-taking turn. Her dark, eclectic and quirky style has a certain magic about it, drawing guests into a wonderfully inviting rabbit hole of discoveries. What was immediately apparent was how brilliantly her spectacular home and inspiring workshop (not to mention her super cool London flagship store) seem to capture her personal brand.  Needless to say, I was delighted to interview the designer (known as the “high priestess of interiors”) about what makes her such a strong personal brand!

Photo credit: Graham Adkins-Hughes

Tell me a bit about the person behind the Abigail Ahern label. What is she most passionate about?

Interiors. I live, breath, think about them 24/7 and adore them. I am obsessed with creating spaces that make you want to plonk down, curl up with a book, snuggle by the fire. The crazier my life gets the more I want to drill into every little corner and create a sanctuary.


What three words would you use to describe your personal brand?

Glamourous, boho, mussed up.

Who were your biggest influences or personal inspirations in shaping your brand?

Travel pretty much is my biggest influence, particularly Asia and how they play with shape and colour.

I have to admit that you are one of my personal design heroes. Who are your design heroes and why?

Two American designers have inspired me Jonathan Adler & Kelly Wearstler. They decorate differently, think outside the box.

Your home is absolutely amazing. How does it reflect your personal brand? What do you love the most?

Thank you, I only buy and design what I love so my store looks like my house and my house looks like my store. Also I love everything in my pad…impossible to choose.


You host your design master classes at your home, which you personally run yourself. I recently attended one, and everything about the workshop seemed to have your personal touch, from making us tea to taking us on a personal tour of your home. It’s quite an intimate thing to open up your home and share a personal glimpse of your life with your consumers. Why do you do it?

I love teaching, happened upon it by accident by doing one masterclass a few years ago and I get so much enjoyment from seeing people literally change throughout the day from thinking they can’t do something to believing they can. It’s inspiring.

Are there any causes or charities you work with? 

They’re aren’t right now, we are the smallest team working a zillion hours a day and with so much going on that we haven’t really had the time to think outside of what we are doing. In the future its something I would like to give time to.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone trying to establish themselves as a strong personal brand in your industry?

Follow your own identity and stay strong. It’s not an easy industry to infiltrate and you need a lot of resilence.


What about your vision as a creative, what does the next chapter hold for you?

More books, international design classes, a curtain range, a carpet range and a column for a national newspaper. Pretty crazy in 2018!

Photo Credit: Mel Yates


To learn more about Abigail Ahern, check out her fab site,


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Introducing the “Year of Personal Branding”

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A New Year often brings the promise of change, perhaps even one of a “new, improved you”. When it comes to growing your personal brand, however, building this improved version of you is an ongoing process that lasts throughout the year…and well beyond!  So I’ve broken down key branding concepts into a month-by-month guide to help you with each step of growing (and implementing) your personal brand.

I invite you to use these monthly Year of Personal Branding posts as a map that will allow you to navigate the whole arena of Personal Branding, guiding you gently throughout the year. Some of the monthly strategies have been chosen in accordance with a particular theme or natural points in the calendar; others were chosen to follow concepts from the previous month. The result is a curated and guided overview of personal branding: how it can help you and how to implement it in 2018.

January – “working your core”

Let’s start off with a reminder of what all this personal branding business is about! Essentially, your personal brand is a combination of your personality, reputation, presence, credibility, values and personal style. A strong personal brand communicates what makes you unique, genuine and compelling. It can further enhance your recognition, establish reputation and credibility, advance your career, achieve your personal goals and build self-confidence.

The personal branding process, first and foremost, helps you to develop an enhanced self-awareness. This includes a better understanding of your vision, purpose, passions, strengths and values in life. During January, we start to explore some of these attributes so your personal brand reflects a true representation of who you are, a “core identity” which serves as the foundation upon which your personal brand is built.

So we begin the year with a Personal Brand Audit, which takes you through the process of looking at your own brand attributes, including some of the ways you differentiate yourself from everyone else.  It also includes some initial work around identifying your personal values, core branding work relevant to both your professional and personal life. Finally, we take a look not only at 2018 but the years beyond, and uncover what implications the results of this branding audit have for the future.

This can be thought-provoking and powerful stuff so my recommendation is to either carve out half a day that you commit to the process, or break it down and work on each stage for a few days. Do allocate a new notebook or document for this process and keep this handy as we will be looking back through the year to tweak and assess how we are doing.

Brand Attributes. 

As your personal brand is best seen through eyes of others, assessing how others perceive you is incredibly valuable for building a healthy brand.

  • Think about how others may have perceived you last year and come up with three words they might use to describe you. You can concentrate on work colleagues or expand this to include friends and family as well.
  • Next, what three words (these should be positive or neutral) would you yourself use to describe yourself last year?  Do you believe they are similar or consistent with the words the others might have used? If not, how can you make the perceptions of others more consistent with the perceptions you hold of yourself?
  • Now, what three words would you use to describe your ideal self (how you would like to be seen)?  What are some (realistic) goals or intentions that can help you achieve your ideal attributes and make them known to others?

If you can muster up the courage (it’s well worth it!), you can also conduct your own informal mini audit by directly asking others! One idea is to do it over email, which can be as simple as:

“I’m going through a personal (or professional) development exercise, which requires me to analyse how I am perceived by others. I would be grateful if I could send me three words which you feel best describe me personally (or professionally). It will only take a few moments of your time, but would be greatly appreciated.”


Your unique combination is what differentiates your personal brand from that of others. Think about the accomplishments that set you apart from others over the past year.

  • What personal traits helped you to achieve these accomplishments?
  • Which of your unique qualities or strengths did others rely on the most?
  • What did you do better than others (or what were you asked to do more often than others)?
  • If you are thinking of a working context, what did you bring to your position that differentiates you from your colleagues and competitors?


Your personal values are at the very core of your personal brand. Think of them as your personal operating system.

  • Take a look at the personal values that were the strongest last year. Are these the values that you want to stand for this coming year?
  • Do a “fresh” values assessment for the New Year – you might be surprised!
  • Assess whether you are living congruently with your values. If there are discrepancies between your behaviours and your values, what changes need to be made?


Personal goals can give our brands a clearly identified direction.

  • What destination would you like your personal brand to head towards this year? In two to three years? In five to seven years?
  • Do you have a “road map” of short, medium and long-term goals to get you there, even if just over the next year?
  • What would you like more of in your life this year? What would you like less of?

Be sure to check back in early February for next month’s guide, when we look at building on passion and purpose!


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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. This month, I decided to do things a little differently by collaborating with the fabulous Paula Gardner of Scarlet Thinking on a very unique piece!

My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

The First Ladies of Fizz

Here’s why…
This festive brand of the month is distributed amongst the women behind some of the biggest brands of Champagne. You may know the Champagne brands, but many people are completely unaware that the forces behind some of the biggest Champagne names – Bollinger, Laurent Perrier, Pommery and Clicquot – were all widows, propelled into strong personal brands for the sake of their livelihood.

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—-unless I’m thirsty.”

The words of dame Lily Bollinger illustrate some of my favourite attributes of showing off a personal brand: living it at all times, and having fun with it…and doesn’t she sound like fun?

Dame Lily was far from a passive participant in the family business, but after her husband Jacques died in 1941, during the occupation of France, she took control and got involved in every aspect of the brand, from tending the vines themselves to the marketing of the brand.

While it’s easy to assume that producing Champagne means a life of glamour and bubbles, the history of Bollinger proved quite different. During the occupation, Lily and her husband Jacques were forced out of their family home and estate and over 178,000 bottles of Champagne were seized by the Nazis. Eventually, the invaders demanded that they return to the estate and making wine, a demand which allowed Lily and Jacques to free many of the estate’s workers from prison camp to go back to working in the vineyards: Champagne is a life saver in more ways than one!

Lily, or “Madame Jacques”, was only 42 when her husband died, and she was thrust into running this famous brand. Known for her charm and grace, she enforced the high standards that have carried Bollinger through tough times and into being one of the best- known Champagne brands today. Her work afforded her joys of foreign travel and creativity (she created her own blend, Bollinger R.D. cuvee). Interestingly, she managed to impress her own high morals on the house, refusing to bow to popular demand and produce a Rosé as it is was associated with high-end brothels. The house honoured her wishes until 2007.

Lily Bollinger objected to producing a rosé because it was drunk in brothels.
Photo: Bollinger

It would have been easy for one’s identity to become consumed by running a successful business but Dame Lily still managed to retain a individual personal brand, also remembered for cycling through the countryside on a Peugot.

Dame Lily on her Peugot bicycle

Hailing from an entirely different century, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, or the Widow Cliquot, also became a widow at a young age. In her case it was 1805 and Barbe-Niciole was 27. There is some controversy over whether her husband Francois’ death was suicide over the bad state of the business, or typhoid, ironically treated with Champagne at that time. Whatever the cause of death, her widowhood gave a name to the business – Veuve is French for widow.

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, better known as the Widow Cliquot, by Léon Cogniet

The resilience behind Barbe-Nicole’s personal brand was likely shaped early in life. She had lived through the French Revolution and even had to be rescued from the Royal Convent where she was studying at the time.

The widow Clicquot was also quite business savvy; she narrowed down the House’s interests, dropping their other involvements and side-products and concentrating on Champagne production: a risky decision during an era where Champagne was out of fashion. It had previously been sought after as the preferred drink of the King’s mistress, Madame Pompador. However, she breathed new life into the brand, finding a new market in Russia and adding her distinctive touch: the bright yellow label.  She also came up with the VCP motto, “Only one quality: the finest”.

Widow Cliquot on the cork, fab personal branding!

Just like Dame Lily, the widow Clicquot became completely involved in the business. She not only became France’s first businesswoman, but one of the first women in modern history to take the helm of an internationally renowned commercial empire. She invented rosé Champagne and the modern bottle-shape still used today. She also invented the revolutionary process of Remuage, or “riddling” Champagne, turning and tipping each bottle by hand every day so that the sediment moves into the neck of the bottle for easy removal, thus preventing it from stagnating and clouding the drink. Even though the process is often automated today, her legacy still lives on.

Unlike Dame Lily, Madame Clicquot balanced building a business with motherhood, and the estate passed down to her great granddaughter on her death. Biographers point out that without her widowhood, Clicquot may have remained in the shadows, as women – single or married – were not accepted in business at that time. Only by your husband’s death were you liberated! The Veuve Clicqout Award, created in 1972, celebrates women managers and leaders and is a fitting legacy for such a figure.

A stone marker at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin vineyard in the village of Verzy

Madame Pommery
, or Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin, born in 1857, would no doubt have been inspired by the success of the widow Clicquot, and that must have played some part in her guiding Pommery to the success it is today.

Madame Pommery’s husband Alexandre Pommery died when her youngest child Louise was less than a year old. With a young family to bring up, Madame Pommery had no choice but to take her business seriously. Having gone to boarding school in England, she decided to use what she knew and aimed at the English market. She worked on formulating luxury brand by concentrating on marketing and building Pommery’s image. Her legacy to Champagne is  introducing the dry or sec Champagne in catering to the English market (she invented Brut champagne for Queen Victoria), and by doing so,  shaped the way we drink Champagne today.

Madame Pommery also embraced one of my favourite personal branding qualities: social responsibility. She treated her staff well and founded an orphanage and maternity programme.

Interestingly, she also ran the first house to open its doors to visitors to the Champagne Reims and as such launched Champagne tourism, a huge industry even now.

Laurent-Perrier is our other Champagne house with a history of strong women. The story begins in 1887, when Mathilde Emilie Perrier, widowed at the age of 35, took the helm of her husband’s Champagne business to keep it alive. She was known for making difficult business decisions and establishing the Laurent-Perrier brand to ensure the house’s survival. Fast forward to Marie-Louise Lanson de Nonancourt, who met her husband during WW1, when she was his nurse, but was widowed shortly after. She left her family Champagne house, Lanson Pere et Fils, to take over the almost dead-in-the-water Laurent Perrier in 1938. She poured her life savings into the business to build a future for herself and her two sons.

On one level Marie-Louise’s story is one of painstakingly building up the Laurent Perrier brand, on another it is a tragic story of a mother who had to see her son, Maurice, sent to a German concentration camp for being a member of the Resistance, and later hearing of his death there. Her other son, Bernardde Nonancourt, who died recently, took on the brand after the death of his brother and was recognised as being a much-loved and larger than life figure in the modern Champagne industry. Today, the house is back in the hands of women, Marie-Louise’s granddaughters, Alexandra and Stéphanie, both of whom are members of the management board. The women carry the house’s heritage of quality, expertise and elegance, and continue to write one of the greatest success stories of women and Champagne.

The tenacious women who held the Laurent-Perrier house together through considerable adversity, including two World Wars

Our Champagne widows were so successful that dozens of Champagnes added ‘Veuve’ to their names even in the absence of any widow running their house, just for added intrigue and commercial value. Now that’s some powerful personal branding!


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