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In today’s episode, we continue our insightful discussion with Cheryl Lau from Cheryllau.com. This is the second half of a two-part interview with Cheryl on how to identify and establish a business that aligns with your research and your life.
Cheryl’s first online business, the Quarter-Life Project, was dedicated to coaching other early-stage entrepreneurs.
She worked with those who wanted to develop an online business around their personal brand. Cheryl helped them with their branding, social media, and marketing. Something, however, was missing for her.
“Even though I thoroughly enjoyed my business journey, something inside me told me that I wanted to work with an even more specific audience who I could relate to better,” she recalled. Consequently, she took a couple of months off to work on graduate school applications and identify the next steps in her business journey.
Cheryl closed down her business by wrapping up sessions with current clients.
She also let the website expire. After taking a close and honest look at what she wanted to do for the foreseeable future, she started a new business, this one dedicated to helping early-stage researchers build their personal brands, feel comfortable showing up online, create value-packed content for their audiences, and even have an advantage when applying for grad school if that is their ultimate goal.
Cheryl recalled that there was a gap of four or five months between closing the Quarter Life Project and starting Cheryllau.com. She applied to a graduate school program and, to her excitement, was accepted. Although she hasn’t yet decided whether or not to pursue it, she thinks that the answer will be yes.
“I’m excited to be pursuing my PhD in social work. I think that has been a long time coming, because throughout my undergraduate years, I was doing a number of research assistant positions in a number of disciplines. So, that includes psychology, social work, and even health care/medical disciplines.”
It was at this point that the pivot from helping early-stage entrepreneurs to helping early-stage researchers came about.
Cheryl realized that she wanted to be a researcher in the academic space.
She pointed out that emerging researchers don’t tend to follow the traditional and rigid academic model. They are more open to using social media to disseminate their work, discuss their research, and even learn about other disciplines out there. This trend is creating a shift in what academic research, and research in general, looks like.
“It’s definitely an opportunity for early-stage researchers to capitalize on because, after all, these tools and technologies are free to use,” she explained. “Even people who are more established in their fields risk getting left behind if they don’t take advantage of these tools and put themselves out there, sharing their work, and networking on and offline.”
Cheryl recently posted a Twitter poll to gauge what the academic audience on that platform thought about personal branding. The question, which was “What do academics, or researchers, or graduate students think of personal branding?” accumulated almost 1,500 votes and was a hard 50-50 split. 50% said, “Yes, personal branding is relevant and it’s important to me in my career” while the other 50% said, “Personal branding is tacky and self-promotional.”
“Personal branding is not about faking your way to success or lying about your credentials or experiences, and it’s definitely not about making others think that you’re more successful than you are,” Cheryl said. “What I’ve observed is that if you just focus on just giving the best value you can through your work, or content, or message, then the integrity piece is in place and someone out there is going to benefit from your work.”
She advised anyone who wants to become a thought leader or influencer to not simply leverage their qualifications. People need to know, like, and trust you in order to understand the value that you bring through your work.
Don’t be afraid of expressing your opinion, even if it is a polarizing one.
“That’s a very common marketing principle that we hear time and time again in the online entrepreneur marketing space: be polarizing. When we apply that concept to the academic space, it’s important to remember that if you have an opinion, share that in accordance with your personality, language, and your style. Try not to (deliberately) offend anyone, but if you have an opinion, share it, because that’s what will draw an audience to you.”
Cheryl said that her biggest takeaways involved mindset. The strategies for running different types of online businesses are essentially the same:
- Create content that helps people, educates, or gives value.
- Build relationships and nurture those relationships so that when you have something to offer them, whether it’s a product or a service, people are excited to buy from you, because you’ve already established that sense of know, like, and trust.
“What is even more important than the business strategies or the marketing strategies is the mindset that goes behind executing those strategies. One of the key things that helped me back then, and what’s going to help me moving forward is, “Can I stay in my own lane?” She defined staying in your own lane as not being concerned about what other people are doing.
Focus on what you can do now to give value and push your business forward.
“When we go online, it’s so easy to be bombarded with other people’s achievements, or their work and their projects. It’s easy to feel insecure and start comparing our work and progress with other people’s work.”
Cheryl also recommended taking what she called “fast and messy action.” She pointed out that people who just get things done and start getting results for themselves and for others are the ones who are more likely to see success faster.
“We all start from stage zero. We start with zero engagements, zero followers, and zero impact. That’s why it’s important to just put in the work and start taking fast, messy action to start getting results as quickly as possible. You can’t get good at your craft if you aren’t doing anything about it.”
Cheryl quoted Gary Vaynerchuk, who often tells younger audiences, “You are still young, and you have many more years to go.”
“It’s important to remember that we still have a lot of time left in our journey. If we want to continue this for many years, that’s fine. But if you realize that you don’t want to continue the same thing for the next however many years, then it may be the right time to consider a pivot in your business, your career, or whatever life journey you’re on.”
If you have any questions about how to successfully align your business with your research and your life, you can contact Cheryl at Cheryl Theory on Twitter and Cheryl Theory on Instagram or visit cheryllau.com.
For questions about GradBlogger, you can reach out to Dr. Chris Cloney via email or leave a comment below.
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