Interviews

Finding Your Niche with Penny Lee

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Penny Lee is a niche brand specialist, operating under the name of The Brand Directoress®. Her niche? Working with kick-ass women in business and helping them transform their online and real-life presence. Her strap line is ‘F*ck it, I’m going niche™’ and she has used this mentality to empower and support her clients for over the past 5 years.

We sat down together to discuss how she combines her strategy and creative direction to lift and shape clients, transforming them into empowered self-aware individuals, whilst discovering their niche.

What is it that makes you feel empowered?

I have two answers to this.

The first one is obviously, kick-ass women in business. Whether it’s listening to them, watching them, learning from them, working with them, or even working for them. I had two clients yesterday who had such massive turn arounds, and for me that’s the biggest boost. To see someone growing from feeling small to feeling proud and owning their space, owning their niche. It gives mega joy and hope to see that happening.

The other answer is really good sunglasses. My latest is a pair of Gucci Blue Sunnies with a purple velvet case and lime green lining. I guess that ties into the idea of feeling good in yourself and in how you present yourself.

You founded The Brand Directoress® and have a lot of clients consisting of female-led businesses, offering them the ‘anti-alpha approach’. Can you define this approach?

I think it’s crucial to understand, whilst I am here for kick-ass women in business, it’s about questioning and standing up to the status quo. About changing business as usual and not just doing how it’s always been done. The alpha dominated business culture has no place for me or many others I encounter. I am working towards making that space for myself and others who want to work in a different way too. That alternative character traits and behaviours are recognised and valued. Empathy, listening, vulnerability and kindness being prime examples. These are powerful stuff and it’s their time to shine and do their thing to benefit all of us. The future of work and work culture is changing and I am working actively to be a part of that.

So how can we implement this anti-alpha approach in a masculine dominated industry?

We all have different personality types, this is really important to understand. Looking at your own behaviour and recognising what we would like to develop or improve is a great start. Leading by example with our own behaviour. Be the change we want to see. Also observing what you would like to see changed in the systems and processes around us. It is often so taken for granted, so systemic, we don’t see it. Get curious, question, listen to your gut. Remember small changes can lead to some really big changes. To work together with your team or organisation to start talking about this. To get some understanding. To begin to implement some of those small yet significant changes. Together.

How can we work on ourselves everyday, where would you suggest we start?

A really easy hack is to follow great people who what they do and say really resonates with you. And in a variety of areas. We’re always nipping to Instagram or Linkedin throughout the day. So find some good people, and let the information be brought to you ‘little and often’.

Then when you do have more time, be intentional about it, read the articles, attend talks and conferences, reach out to people. Get involved.

This is something I do all the time. For example, Cindy Gallop posted on Linkedin recommending a book called ‘Brandsplaining’ discussing how sexism still exists in marketing.

So I read the book and then implemented it into my work. Then through my female network, called ‘All Bright’, I saw that the authors were giving a speech so I signed up and tuned in. Next month, I have a conference with speakers doing empathy work, and the authors are speaking there again. It’s steps like this which really make the difference, being proactive and going the extra mile, that’s when you really witness results. And also share this info that you’ve learned!

Finding your niche

What is the importance of finding your niche?

The future is niche and we need to stand out. The more we go online, which has sped up even more due to the pandemic, the noisier it is becoming. If you don’t stand out and have a really clear message, knowing exactly who you’re helping and why, then your people don’t realise when they should come to you.

The whole thing with being niche is that you need to be super super specific. People come for your niche and then stay for the expertise.

It’s also super fun. Once you find your thing and grow to love it, then you can implement it throughout your work and personal life, everyday. Inevitably you get better and better. You can become even more of an expert because you have defined this focus for yourself. Focus and clarity in our own minds is the best feeling. It is what I know personally and what I hear most from people I work with.

How do we discover our niche and how do we bring it to life?

Really dig down into what it is you do. Listen to yourself and what you need. What skills you have. Talk to other people, and listen to what they need. How do you do something different that other people may need? If you do that initially and build a great foundation, you can be much clearer moving forward. Get super specific and be bold at letting some things go. We need to let go to let new things grow.

Doing this work alone is really hard. Working with someone else to get clarity on your niche makes the experience a whole lot more fun and powerful.

To sum up I would say it’s recognising what your special skills and powers are, what people need, then being brave enough to call it and own it.

What’s your approach to people negatively responding to your ‘niches’?

I believe that’s the point of finding your niche. If you want to be loved, you need to be ready to be hated, or disliked at least. If you want to make change then you’ll get some push back. I’d be way more offended if someone wasn't fussed at all about me. Keep a memory bank of all the positive messages and responses that remind you of why you are doing it.

Why do you believe empathy is so important in design?

Empathy is my biggest value, I believe it’s everything. It’s how we understand one another. When it comes to design, this is crucial. I mean you’re designing for people, to improve lives, to make things look better, work better, so if you can’t understand people or know who you’re doing it for then you’re a little stuck. That’s where a lot of systematic things come up. The systems which have been created are only listening to a certain person and a certain narrative, and that’s where we lose empathy.

How do you see the future of working culture within design agencies?

The loss of the mono-alpha culture is the way to go. To work with and attract the best teams and clients, you reap what you sow. It’s important to listen to the new generations that are coming through, and understand what’s important to them. From a creative perspective, if you aren't offering a kind or empathetic environment, this can have a really negative effect. Creativity thrives in an environment where we feel safe and happy, otherwise you block. So many ideas are lost or never materialise in a place where everyone gets shut down.

Workplace culture in general, not just design, needs a kinder world. I believe there’s more companies doing it, and this is continuing to impact and grow. In thirty years, we will look back and be shocked at the lack of empathy in work culture, the lack of flexibility for family life that technology now allows us and how we pushed our staff to burn out.

What are your top recommendations? Where should we go to be empowered or inspired?

At the moment, I’m obsessed with the Masterclass app. There are some great ones on there: Amy Tan is a beautiful writer who does a great one on how to improve writing skills, Roxanne Gay is an amazing activist writer, Anna Wintour of course, discusses how to be a high-level boss and make decisions. The whole production is really beautifully produced.

Bookwise, ‘Playing Big’ by Tara Mohr is a great read about how we often keep ourselves small, and how to play bigger if we want to. Another is Seth Godin's ‘The Practice.’ Always love Seth’s writing and his latest book inspires us to keep doing the work our way. Quote: ‘To inspire artists, writers, and entrepreneurs to stretch and commit to putting their best work out into the world. Creative work doesn't come with a guarantee. But there is a pattern to who succeeds and who doesn't. And engaging in the consistent practice of its pursuit is the best way forward.’

Other than that, continue to seek a good network, or make a network and surround yourself with inspiring, empowering people. Books plus real people creates the perfect inspiration (in my book).

Special thank you to Penny.

Check out Penny's site here

And contact her here.