I was recently asked during my Scaling on Your Terms workshop, what went into my decision to take a step back from the spotlight.
(If you missed my live workshop, click here to register for the next one!)
For context, if you’re new, this fellow business owner was talking about how I used to speak on a lot of big stages, appear on popular big-name podcasts, and be very visible across all the social platforms.
Then after I had my first child, I knew I wanted to focus on the AccessAlly software business and that I would want to slow down all these appearances and associated travel.
Being Internet Famous
Back in the day, there were people who called themselves “Internet Famous” and I loved this inside joke.
We didn’t consider ourselves to be truly famous, because it was such a small subsection of the internet that knew who we were. And frankly, most of us were nerds, because we were early adopters of certain social media platforms.
I remember one t-shirt that a friend made that said “I’m a big deal on Twitter”.
It was funny because nobody knew what Twitter was back then.
This type of influencer career has taken on a whole new life and we were just early dabblers, learning how to deal with our small-scale fame.
Here’s an example.
For context, I grew up in a small town of 3,000 people in Quebec, Canada where everyone knew each other. Then I moved to the big city of Toronto, Ontario which is where I started my business and started becoming “internet famous”.
Then when my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, New York I used to take my dog for walks at Prospect Park.
One day I came back to my computer after my dog walk to find a tweet from someone saying they saw me at the park.
I felt chills down my spine.
This wasn’t someone I was “online friends” with, and we had never met in person before… her intention was just to say hi, but it still made me think twice.
I often went to the park wearing sweatpants and no bra, with my unwashed hair in a bun… and that in no way matched my “public image”.
I started to ask myself if I needed to primp before going for a walk with my dog, to maintain the personal brand I had built up.
Let’s rewind the fame train
Before we can tackle the connection between being in the spotlight and business success, let’s go back to the beginning.
Before there were influencers and personal brands, there were artists and celebrities.
They were the first ones to benefit from fame.
In fact, one of the first online programs I signed up for in my early business days was called “Creating Fame” by Laura Roeder.
She modeled her program on the techniques she had seen her friend, an actress, use to kickstart her career.
The concepts of building up fame for yourself around your business were fresh, and they definitely worked.
A lot of folks from that online program are still around, running businesses online and off, and still creating that fame.
The concept was simple: if you can make a name for yourself and be in the spotlight, then people will be more likely to buy your products or services.
It definitely works better than being the best-kept secret in your industry, right?
But as you can imagine, fame at the celebrity level comes with drawbacks.
The drawbacks of fame (business or otherwise)
It dehumanizes you and makes you into a 2-dimensional representation of yourself.
It can also cause weird issues like being put on a pedestal, and then the subsequent fall or shove off of it when you make a mistake or say something that upsets people.
These days we blame cancel culture, but as a society, we have always loved a rags-to-riches story and a fall from grace story. Bonus points if they happen to be the same person.
Plus there are the expectations we place on famous people.
They need to be available to us for our entertainment, to give us advice or encouragement, to look a certain way, and to meet behavioral standards.
In our materialist world in particular, we believe we have the right to be judgemental about famous people because they are “public goods.”
They have to look picture-perfect at all times, have meticulously kept homes, drive fancy cars or fly first class, and hang out with other famous people at all times.
There’s also the cost that fame exerts on those close to the person in the spotlight.
Like family members who are expected to be shown in photos and videos online, or have their stories woven into the celebrity’s brand.
There is a fine line between posting family pictures for friends and family on social media and posting these for public consumption.
It’s possible for the children of famous people to be held to a higher standard, and that can cause emotional and self-esteem issues at a very young age.
Then there are the extreme fans, like stalkers and people who get a little too excited that they can meet or discover things about a famous person.
If you consider the security aspect for family members, the whole thing gets even harder to stomach for parents.
But you get the picture: fame might come with perks like opportunities, money, and success… but the drawbacks are real.
Finding your own path to success, fame optional
So do I think it’s necessary to be a personal brand, to wield influence online, and to chase the spotlight to be successful?
Or share all of our life’s details on Instagram or TikTok daily?
My answer is no – depending on what your definition of success is.
If your definition of success includes fame, then yes obviously you will need to be in the spotlight and the two go hand in hand.
If you crave fame, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that desire. I would definitely recommend looking a little deeper at your motivations, though.
Sometimes we reach for outside validation when we feel like we’re not enough as is.
This was definitely the case for me.
I wanted to prove my worth by going after big goals and achieving them.
The fame made me feel appreciated and loved in a way that I didn’t get when I was a geeky teenager who had a hard time making friends and dealing with bullies.
But I also realized that it wasn’t satisfying in the same way as a true relationship with another person, and fame felt more transactional overall.
Still, if fame is calling your name, go for it.
Claiming quiet success
There’s also a type of quiet success – where you’re doing good work for people who appreciate it and getting rewarded well financially.
Let’s explore that a bit more: this is the type of business you can build that doesn’t depend on your personality to grow.
It doesn’t mean you can’t share your personality and your quirks, but it’s not as much about you as it is about the results you can provide when someone chooses to work with you, buy your product, or read your books.
This type of quietly successful business isn’t about being seen constantly, but it does require some visibility otherwise your potential customers won’t know you exist.
There are different ways to gain this visibility: it might be through content marketing, partnerships, or word of mouth.
The important thing here is that you don’t need a huge massive audience if your business model is focused on a niche and your ability to sell at a higher price point is there.
Often, it’s when you’re moving to courses, digital products, and recurring memberships that you want to grow a larger audience.
But with a recurring membership, you also don’t need the biggest audience, if you can keep people long-term – this means you don’t need to keep selling to new people all the time.
Fame waves or embracing the hiatus
Now there is another option, which I think is not talked about often.
I’ll call it the “now you see me, now you don’t” approach to fame.
There are some notable examples of musicians who do things this way.
First, there’s Sade Adu, one of the most successful British female artists in history.
She releases a new album and will go on a giant world tour to promote it and share it… and then she vanishes for an 8 to 10-year hiatus, while she works on her next release.
This type of hiatus has in no way stopped Sade’s career, she has won everything from a Grammy award and has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
This type of hiatus “cocoon time” is extremely beneficial. Artists can focus on their craft, creating, and just being.
Not having to perform or be someone publicly, but just live their life while getting ready for another publicity push in the future.
This kind of “fame wave” also feels natural for women, who may want to step out of the spotlight when they have children or want to spend more time with their families.
That was the case with singer Dido, who reached a peak in her career in the late 1990s, won awards, and sold lots of records. Then she took a break from the spotlight and returned in 2013.
She then went on her first tour in 15 years in 2019 and won more awards for her work.
When the timing is right and a new rush of creative energy or a big project is ready for the world, the stage will be there.
No matter what style of personal branding you feel called to – the constant spotlight, the quiet success, or the in-and-out… it’s helpful to understand how to work with your strengths around visibility.
Don’t force yourself into a model that doesn’t work for you personally or professionally… just because it worked for someone else, or you think you “need” to do it that way to be successful.
I hope this episode challenged the assumption that we need to be in the spotlight in order to grow a successful business.