You’ve launched your creative business, you’ve grown it to six-figures and more… then you find that someone else has stolen it. That happened to dancer, choregographer and voiceover artist Jonathan Tilley. But it started him on a journey that’s led to an entirely different creative journey mentoring other creatives in how to get themselves known.
Jonathan is a classic highly creative person: his mind races non-stop, full of creative ideas, joining the dots, seeing possibilities. He does that for himself – he talks about how his businesses have evolved, and keep changing and developing. And he also does it for his clients, helping them find the stories behind their own personality and style.
Jonathan also has a brilliantly incisive and insightful mind. I love his way of combining the head and heart in business; ‘I do business from the heart, but the head comes along after’ he says.
- How he manages that balance between head and heart, and the role of instinct in what he does
- The role of curiosity and never-ending learning
- Lady Gaga
- When to invest in something
- Jonathan’s ‘uncomfortable bracelet’, and how it prompts him to stretch himself
- Where social media is going for creatives. Jonathan has great advice on the platform he thinks is going to overtake Facebook, and how he approaches any new social project
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Joanna PIeters: Hello, and welcome once more to the creative life show. My guest today is Jonathan Tilley. Jonathan’s one of these people. I look at his work and I think, that’s so cool. Jonathan first went on stage at the age of nine, became a dancer in big shows including Cats, and he’s been a director, choreographer, busy voiceover artist. His book Embrace the F word: Failure is a heartfelt exploration of how we turn failure into a positive experience and his Tedx talk on what creativity is trying to tell you, is a wonderful pick me up about the need to make your creative ideas real.
Jonathan is a personal brand strategist who helps creative, shine online and share their talent with the world, basically how creatives find themselves the right work and apart from being brilliant at it, he does it in a way that’s full of energy and fun. So most recently I’ve seen Jonathan all over Facebook videos in brilliant mock nineties, curly wig and leg warmers with hilariously fun and clever videos to promote his online course, League of List Builders. There’s lots of talk about in terms of being creative, how we get ourselves noticed and failure. Jonathan, it’s such a pleasure to have you here. So I normally ask my guests what it means to lead a creative life. But it sounds as though you probably can’t imagine a life that isn’t.
Jonathan Tilley: That’s very true. That’s very true.
Joanna PIeters: Do you find yourself overwhelmed by creative ideas? It strikes me that you have so many going on all the time.
Jonathan Tilley: That’s, that’s very true. Yeah. It’s this weird thing like I think the first time that I actually realized all these creative ideas happening, it’s not normal for everybody is when I saw this interview of Lady Gaga I think five or six years ago, and she was fully dressed in a bathtub without any water in it doing an interview. It was just hilariously absurd and wonderful. And then somebody asked her about her creative process and I was like, oh, I’d be interested to hear what she has to say. And she says, it doesn’t come when you want it to come. You just have to accept that all of these ideas that are coming are part of the process and it just comes out in this one big vomit.
Jonathan Tilley: And I go, oh, okay. And I thought that was it. And then she said, but once you have everything together, you have to respect the vomit and then organize it in a way that it actually makes sense to your followers on your following. Because if you’re just spewing out all these creative ideas, most people can’t follow you. So you have to organize that creative burst into something that actually makes sense, that people can follow. So that’s when I realized, I’m like, Oh wow, okay. That’s also how I work as well. You know, I have the best ideas at 3:00 in the morning or taking a walk with my dog or the the absolute best ideas come when I’m on vacation, I don’t have to worry about all the different things that I have to do in the office with my team and then I’m actually, you know, sitting down, I’m about to read my book, put my feet up, and then Bam, a genius idea happens and I’m like, Oh, I wish I could turn this off.
Joanna PIeters: That’s such a classic, highly creative brain. I’d love to come back to that in a bit, but first of all, I’m going to ask you the same as I do with all my guests here to share a time off particular creative challenge for you.
Jonathan Tilley: I wrote a book called The Voiceover Garden, which was all about my voiceover process and how I built my voiceover career from the ground up and I built a coaching company around it and it was pretty successful for about two years and then I got an email from someone who said, Hi Jonathan, I’ve been following you since day one and I want to reach out to you for a collaboration. I was like, great, fantastic. Tell me more about who you are and what you do and what do you want to collaborate on. ‘Well, yes, um, I to find your stuff fascinating and um, you know, I read your book, I was one of the first people that bought your book and have been taking all of your free webinars and watching your free videos and what I’ve done is that I’ve trademarked the name Voiceover Garden and I’m reselling your stuff and I’m turning your stuff into it.’
So basically he copyrighted and copycatted everything and he thought it was a smart idea that he would do it for me and then then we would have to collaborate together. I just go, okay, so number one, you stole from me and you copyrighted things. And I didn’t copyright the name of Voiceover Garden. He did. So I said, So you basically are forcing me to shut down. This is like a cease and desist and he was like, no, this is not at all what I mean, we should do a collaboration. I’m like, dude, uh, yeah, this is the wrong way of going about this. Like do you realize that, that you’ve, you’ve completely demolished two years of work, right?
Joanna PIeters: So you must have had the copyright anyway, but he trademarked…
Jonathan Tilley: Well, that’s the thing. I didn’t, I didn’t have the copyright, I didn’t have the trademark for Voiceover Garden. He went behind my back in and got it before me. And then once he has it, he can do whatever he wants with it. So the. So the main thing that I learned is copyright and trademark everything that you do and especially your first name, last name, so when nobody else can use it. And um, so basically I had to shut down everything and then reopen everything again under my own name, Jonathan Tilley. But actually it was a blessing in disguise because from there I’ve built this huge empire which is completely trademarked and copyrighted of that nobody can steal and yeah, that, that was a creative challenge to say the least. But I’ve learned how to lean into the vulnerability, learned from my failures and move on and build something even bigger and granted that I never could have imagined if I just stuck with Voiceover garden.
Joanna PIeters: How quickly did that process go, between you getting this email, this realization that somebody has taken your stuff, stolen your stuff and your ability to make a living from it to realizing that you had to completely change what you were doing.
Jonathan Tilley Yeah. I had a good six months of just wallowing and just scraping and trying to figure out everything and rebuilding. But what was good was that I had the experience of what to do and what not to do when I was building something and I learned from those mistakes. But yeah, like the income stream of the coaching company was just put on on ice until I could build it back up again. And then like telling people, no, this isn’t, this isn’t Voiceover garden that’s been taken over. And he tried to like keep on selling it and I was like that do not buy this thing that I’ve been plugging for the past two years. This is what’s going on. Come on over to JonathanTilley.com. So there was a lot of promotion to get people away from one thing and attracting to the new thing. Did you lose money or was it any time and effort? It was more. It was more time and effort. The coaching company was, I mean I was still coaching, I still do coaching now and I was still building online courses so it wasn’t like I had to change too many things. I just had to change and re frame everything that it was under the Jonathan Tilley brand instead of Voiceover Garden brand.
Joanna PIeters: What is the main emotion that you remember from that time?
Jonathan Tilley: Oh man, hate, right. Really strong regrets. Face palm in the sense of, man, I wish I had known to trademark my stuff, but just complete astonishment. Like why would somebody do this? Like this person got up in the morning and said, I’m going to do this. I that just boggled my mind and then it was just like, okay, maybe maybe there’s something bigger out there that’s waiting for me and I need to close this down in order to open up something, something grander that I could’ve ever imagined. So. So yeah.
Joanna PIeters: So Jonathan Tilley as a brand as you, it’s much bigger than voiceover coaching. Was that the turning point for you to say, well actually there’s a load of other stuff I can do.
Jonathan Tilley: Yeah, I mean you hit it right on the head. I was only coaching voiceover artists on how to read copy and how to deliver, you know, a good tagline and, and that was all fine and good, but I felt bad telling people, you know, geez, you have no talent or you know, telling people like you, you shouldn’t quit your day job because you need at least five years of acting training before you’ll even be considered for a job. And that’s, that’s what I didn’t like about it. But what I loved about it was always talking about the marketing and the branding aspect of things to voiceover actors. And I was like, yeah, okay. You nailed that read, but the big problem is you don’t have a website, people don’t know how to find you or you know, Oh, you had this amazing contact that you should totally get in touch with. Why don’t you reach out to them? And they’re like, yeah, I’m not ready yet, but let’s focus on on my, my reading ability on how it delivered copy, and I was like, yeah, I don’t want to talk about that anymore. So I realized that through this, this big old failure that not only did I want to reach out to and work with more than just voiceover actress, I wanted to work with creative people in general writers, actors, singers, dancers, photographers, graphic designers, but I didn’t want to teach people how to, how to do their craft because there’s thousands of people doing that. There’s hardly anyone teaching creative people how to market and brand themselves. And I love talking about that.
Joanna PIeters: It sounds so that realization arrived actually at the point you would just start to go, well, I’m going to create a personal brand for myself.
Jonathan Tilley: Yes, yes, exactly.
Joanna PIeters And what is it about that that fires you up so much? Because it’s not the, it’s not the classic creating. Is it as a dancer, a voiceover artist?
Jonathan Tilley: Yeah. It’s uh, it’s weird because I always thought everybody had it, you know, like I, I thought, you know, as a dancer, you’re, you’re learning the dance steps and you go to this one specific dance teacher or choreographer and they have a specific feel, a brand, so to say that really resonates with you or doesn’t resonate with you at all. And the people that you attract, that dance teacher that attracts their dancers, you know, there, there’s that vibe, there’s that brand, there’s that feeling. And I would go, look, you know, that like, you’re only attracting these types of people and not the typical ballerinas. You’re attracting more of the edgy hip hop funky street style scene and you should do a photo shoot that looks like that and put it on a website. And, and they’re like, really? I haven’t even thought about that. And I go, geez, that’s so obvious. Don’t you see it? And they’d go, yet, because it’s me, I can’t see myself from from the outside, and that’s when I started to realize it’s not just dancers, but voice actors and actresses and singers and photographers. You’re like a bottle of wine. You’re the only person that can’t see yourself from the outside. It’s my job as a personal brand strategist to look at you, put you in the perfect bottle, put the perfect label on you and put you in front of the right people who can’t wait to take a sip.
Joanna PIeters: So that’s where you’re at your best when you’re working with people individually and saying, let’s look at you. Let’s look at what this wine really is about.
Jonathan Tilley: Exactly.
Joanna PIeters: So you helping people deliver that kind of creative message, that voice. How does that fulfill your creative process? Is that because it’s actually, this is where you join the dots. This is you doing, the creativity joining up x, y, z. Oh Gosh, this is the output and it helps somebody else’s site to do somebody else’s image.
Jonathan Tilley: Yeah, I absolutely loved that. Like that from me. That’s my creative process. Like I love putting together a photo session, a photo shoot, and be like, okay, wear this, do this, you know, posts like this because this is, this is how your dream client or the people that are going to be hiring you are going to be looking for and this is what you already organically have, but nobody’s told you how to, how to pose this way. Nobody’s told you how to look this way, but if we just do a little bit, if you know coaching in this direction to pose in this photo, that way that’s going to tick the boxes and make your dream clients so excited to be like, yes, that’s the exact person that I’m looking for. Or when you have that imagery and we bring that onto the website, not only the imagery but what’s the. What’s the messaging? What’s your wording? What’s your vernacular? And it’s usually the way that you speak, but how often do we sit down and be like, okay, I’m going to write my about page and I feel confident about it. So I go about it, you know, one of two ways. Either I’ll sit with you and I just asked you questions and then I just type stuff out and I’m like, okay, great, I’m done. Or I give you a workbook where I say, okay, just answer all these questions and we’re gonna pull together a couple of random things and from all these different questions and that’s going to be your messaging and your branding. And most people go, Oh wow, did I say that? Or Wow, did I write that? And I was like, yes, but you did it in theu stream of consciousness flow that was not organized. But I looked at it and I said, Oh, let me organize this for you. Just like how lady Gaga. I said, you know, the creative process is like a vomit, but you have to respect the vomit and then organize it from there. So they’re doing this, this writing or speaking way of like Blah. And I’m the one that goes, okay, let’s piece all this together and that’s where I get excited. That’s where I go, Ooh, we’ve got your about page, we’ve got the colour scheme of your, of your website. And Oh, we can try this icon over here and put that over there, and then all of a sudden we launched the website and they go, yes, this is me. Like, how, how did you know? You know?
Joanna PIeters: And what really strikes me that it’s, you’re describing a process which is very exciting. What I see often in creatives is this, this fear of creating that personal brand. In theory It’s fine. I sort of have my head point of view that creating the brand is fine, is, oh yeah, I know I should do that because I know I should get some more clients, more clients, more money, and money’s good. But when it comes to bring yourself to life, it becomes much more sort of an emotional fear about vulnerability or putting yourself out. It that something you experience or actually it’s the way you’ve described about undermining that fear, if you like.
Jonathan Tilley: Oh, it’s totally vulnerable. It’s, it’s petrifying. It’s for some people, horrible. For some people you really get to see the hidden fears underneath everything. Because when, when you actually show up and allow yourself to be seen, it’s extremely vulnerable. So people would rather stay a little bit behind, stayed the wallflower, you know, stay in the second or third row instead of being in the first row and be like, I’m going for it, you know, because because you’re, it’s easier for you to be attacked. So to say that’s very dramatic, but it’s easier for you to be criticized and part of my job is holding my client’s hand and saying, you know, what you’re doing is amazing. You look great and this is sort of like what you were born to do. So let’s make this happen. You know? So it’s not just building a website, it’s not just telling somebody how to do instagram, it’s not just teaching somebody with via my online courses, you know how to reach out to people via direct email and get their messaging down. It’s about bringing out who they are from the inside out. And that’s vulnerable.
Joanna PIeters: Yeah. I find this fascinating. Because I think if we’ve come up through the creative disciplines, I came more from, music, dance very much about your skills isn’t it, you’re in class and dance and also group class. It’s, it’s not, of course it is individualized, but it’s very much like your skills are you good enough, have you mastered this particular skill? Are you good enough as a photographer or a dancer or a writer? Have you got the skills to do it? Whereas here it’s about saying, well actually you have a story, you are important, and I see lots of – when I’m working with creatives – lots of websites say ‘photographer’, whether actually the person is absent and what I’m hearing is that is that with your clients, they know the person has got to be there from the beginning.
Jonathan Tilley: Yeah, I mean it’s especially for photographers, I mean it’s so easy for photographers to get comfortable behind the camera and that their images speak for themselves and yes, I believe that, you know, as a photographer’s website, a good chunk of it needs to be of your work. You know, your best work of your portfolio and, and that’s what people are hiring you for. Good imagery, but people are also hiring you for. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, they’re hiring you for how you’re going to make them feel on their special day. They’re hiring you, they’re hiring how you can be a fly on the wall, not disrupt anybody but still take amazing images or also and also on top of that, being able to say, okay, I need two hours with the happy couple and the wedding party to go take amazing imagery. Everybody else needs to go away. I have everything organized. Let’s keep it fun and bubbly, but still we’ve got to get stuff done and that’s what we’re hiring. We’re not just hiring the amazing images that you shoot. We’re also hiring the person that’s going to organize when they need to organize and also stand back when they need to stand back and let the magic moments happen and most photographers love showing their work. They love staying behind the camera. They love the technicality of it and all the settings and stuff like that. But as a client, people don’t care about which settings you have. People don’t care about, you know, oh, well I have to. I have this setting and I have ended. It’s all numbers, right? All they care about is how you make them feel and that’s what they’re buying into.
Joanna PIeters: How do we go about as creatives finding that thing within ourselves that is interesting? How do we go about, you know, seeing outside the bottle of wine. I mean obviously working with someone like you is one way, but there’s lots of creatives who sort of go, oh, I know I need to be a bit more myself out there. How do you start that process?
Jonathan Tilley: Do you know, I think especially for the people that maybe aren’t ready for a website and a brand yet that are just just like, I’m just trying to figure it out, I think social media is an amazing tool to see what resonates with people. Especially instagram. Instagram is like the creative person’s portal and I think instagram gets a lot of bad rap because they think, you know, you have to be 19 years old, you have to have a six pack, you have to look like Kim Kardashian and you have to get a million likes and that’s it. And it’s like, well no, instagram is really… I think in the next couple of years it’s going to take over facebook. People are getting bored with Facebook, people are getting annoyed with Facebook and Instagram is like Facebook’s little sister that’s friendly, drama free, good vibes, only without too many ads and she’s just like, do you want to hang out?
Jonathan Tilley: And so I’ve noticed the past year and a half, you know, I’m, I’m doing tons of new content over on instagram that I’m not doing anywhere else and it’s so much fun. I’m having so much fun with it and there’s so much organic reach that you don’t have any more on, on Facebook and I think especially for creative people, if you don’t know what your brand is yet, if, if you’re just still trying to figure out who you are and what you do, play with Instagram. Posts something different daily on instagram and see what happens. See if it feels good to you at the end of every month. Look at your feed. Be like, you know what? When I posted that that, that felt really vulnerable, but that felt really empowering. Maybe that’s the direction I need to go in, or you look at your fees and you go, you know, I’ve been posting all these different things that I think I should be doing, but really it’s not fun. Maybe if I try and do something else and go into different directions that are really want to go in, instagram is a great place to play and stay curious and experiment.
Joanna PIeters: That’s a great practical tip there and I’m really curious that you framed that in very much emotional terms. How does it feel? Does it feels good? Does it feel bad? Something I’ve had you had you say one of your videos is that you run your business from the heart and the head comes along as well, but you’ve also say in The F Word that the difference in your businesses is that you have a strategy. You’re not just a heart person. How do you balance those two things?
Joanna PIeters: Such a good question of how do I balance those things between the creativity and the strategy? Like I said before, I thought everybody had this, you know, half part creative and half part analytical and strategy, but most creative people are like 100 percent creative and zero percent strategy or maybe five percent, you know, how do I balance it? It’s, it’s really weird. I, I, the only that I can, I can 100 percent say yes, this is how I do it, my intuition is my instinct. If I feel like we get to it, it’s, it’s very instinct. It’s instinct based, but it’s also not, it’s not based off of nothing. It’s based off of just me playing and staying curious. Like with instagram a couple of years ago, I’m like, ah, I’m feeling that Facebook might be on its way out. What other platforms out there that I can play with and, and, and experiment with and see, see what happens. And I spent a long time just trying things like Snapchat or Linkedin and all these different things and I just go, I think it’s Instagram, you know? So let’s build on that. We built on that and now we’re building an online course on how to leverage Instagram as the creative genius that you are to not only build your brand but also booking gigs. So just intuition, intuition has been my guiding force from the very beginning, but I’m hearing aligned with.
Joanna PIeters: You mentioned playing, but you experiment and you said you try the different platforms so it kind of active engagement with something. And you might say, so the strategy is not right. I have to do instagram but the strategy is like right, I need something else and I’m going to experiment and explore.
Jonathan Tilley: I think it’s the thing of I love learning and trying new things out where most people they love having to be told what to do and that ticks their boxes. Yes. I like being told what to do, but if I know it’s not working then I’m like, I want more. Like I’m insatiable when it comes to things like that. Like we just finished doing League of List Builders launch, which was super successful this time around, but the Facebook traction was not as great as it was last year where I go, okay, why? How can we change this? How could we make it better? How can we learn from, you know, what we’re doing to make it, to make it an even better launch and bring more value to more people versus where most people go, well, I’ve always done it this way so I’m going to keep doing it this way, even though the results are different from the past couple of times that I’ve done it.
Joanna PIeters: So you’re willing to risk things, and maybe that links with the whole failure thing. People like to stay with what they know.
Jonathan Tilley Oh yeah, we will.
Joanna PIeters: Because actually something else, the risks might be even worse.
Jonathan Tilley: Yeah, totally. Totally.
Joanna PIeters: So maybe it’s that. One of the things that underlying that, the way you can marry up those two things is actually you’re prepared to take a risk with something.
Jonathan Tilley: Oh yeah. I think, you know, most people are like, oh no, a risk. Like I’m, I’m so afraid to get out of my comfort zone. I’m like, Whoa, that’s the whole, that’s the whole thing. And each and each time, you know, it’s so funny. I have a friend and she’s, she’s gone through a big old divorce and she’s going through this huge thing and I, and I’m just noticing her, her resistance and her vulnerability and you know, not wanting to take a risk and not wanting to move forward. She’d rather stay miserable where she is. A couple of years ago, that was, I’m just looking for a couple of years ago now she’s resilient and on the, on the other side, but she was so hesitant to take a risk and to look for a new apartment and to start to build a life, you know, outside because she just didn’t know. She, she was just so used to being in a married life and I just go, but you gotta move out of the apartment, like you need a roof over your head, you know? And she’s like, yeah, but it’s risky and it’s, it’s like, well, you know, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Jonathan Tilley: I have a, I have a bracelet that I wear Monday through Friday and people go, oh, what a nice bracelet. And I’m like thanks until I tell them the story and the story is I wear this bracelet because it’s, I call it the uncomfortable bracelet. I put it on every morning before I go to work and I say I’m going to try to find as many uncomfortable situations as possible and work through them. So challenges, risks and if I’m not feeling uncomfortable like by the end of the week, after I take it off, like how can I observe the resistance that I’m having to not leaning into the vulnerability and getting uncomfortable and how can I change that for next week? And I don’t wear the bracelet during the weekend because that’s my time off to feel comfortable. But whenever I have that bracelet on, it’s like, okay, let’s take risks. Let’s try things out. Let’s get uncomfortable and let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Joanna PIeters: That’s fantastic. I love the idea that very physical and tactile reminder of that. I’m also getting the sense that you invest a lot of time, probably money, in personal development and learning, improving your skills and your thinking.
Jonathan Tilley: Most definitely I think. I think, I don’t know who I learned it from, but uh, but no, I do remember it was from a book that I read from Suze Orman. I think like first her first book, seven tips or the nine tips to financial freedom or something like that. And she said in her book, you know, when you’re saving money, don’t just save money for your retirement, save money for the, you know, if you’re 20 years old and you’re going to retire in your sixties, you know, that’s great, but pushing yourself forward within the next year or two, you know, save for an online course, save for going back to school, save for working with a mentor to continue to, to learn and grow from that because otherwise, what’s the point? You know, you’re just going to stay complacent. So every year I treat myself to, you know, a retreat where I’m working with other entrepreneurs and other creative people or I treat myself to an online course that had been pining for.
What’s funny is that the past couple of online courses that I’ve taken, I just go, oh, I already know that and now, now I’m not tooting my own horn here. Like please don’t take this as like, oh, I’m a genius or anything. That’s not what I mean, but this stuff that they’re relaying, I’m like, oh, like I’ve been through that or I, I know that feeling or Oh yes, I can relate to that. And I go, oh, okay. As a marker or as a benchmark. It’s like, oh, okay. I’m doing pretty well. Then, you know, keep, keep going and keep finding the other masterminds that maybe you didn’t learn. I didn’t learn something from. So perfect example, one of my online courses, League of list builders, we’re turning that into an a university course. So where people from at a university that are creative people like actors, singers, dancers, photographers, artists, they teach you how to win 100 percent, how to focus on your craft, but they don’t teach you how to market yourself as a creative person. So, and I wish I had that in, in college when I was graduating and I see, I saw all of my friends, you know, go out to New York City and then become leaders where I just go, but you’re super talented, like why aren’t you living your dream? And I go, ah, because we weren’t taught how to market ourselves. So I thought. So I built this online course called League of List builders teaching people how to market themselves as creatives. And then I thought, hey, what if we turned to this course, a six week course into a 15 week semester long lecture series for universities. So, you know, genius idea, like, yeah, let’s do it. And then I started to research it and there’s a lot of work involved and I felt completely thrown into cold water. I had no clue what to do. And I started asking around and I was like, I seriously don’t know the answer to this.
And then I go, Ooh, this is maybe something to use that extra money that have been saving for it to reach out to a mentor that’s done the same thing or ask around or go to different universities and offer this and see how they’d like to structure their course and what the syllabus is and fill in the blanks. So when, whenever I realized, Oh, I don’t know that, like I’m completely, I have no clue. I’m like, ah, that’s where I can learn something new. You know why? Well, most people go, oh, I don’t know that I’m not qualified so I’m not going to do it. Do it. Find out that’s what, what things are, are there for. And I mean, I don’t know what I did before you could before you could google stuff, you know, I mean, I’m constantly googling things, you know, just because I’m curious. So the majority of my students, they’re like, yeah, but how do I do this? I’m like, well, have you googled it? Oh no, that’s a good idea.
Joanna PIeters: Yes, yes, there are natural Googlers, and natural not! Jonathan, thank you so much. This has been full of just really great stuff, particularly on this, the mindset practicalities of building your own brand as a creative and taking it going forward, stretching yourself, pushing yourself, continuing to learn. You can find out more about Jonathan, at jonathantilley.com and Embracethefword.com.