Stephanie Zhong is a brand strategist, story coach, and writer who helps mission-driven entrepreneurs define their irresistible brand stories so they can attract dream clients and grow their influence.
She’s the creator of Own Your Message, the first program of its kind that teaches students how to go from best-kept secret to undeniable authority by mining the hidden gems of their personal and professional experiences.
With over 20 years of experience in digital media, Stephanie has helped clients large and small grow their business with storytelling including Planned Parenthood, Teach For America, education startups, entrepreneurs, and consultants.
Stephanie’s expertise has been featured in Reuters, Washington Post Express, Balance The Grind, VoyageLA, and the You Should Write a Book About That podcast.
Stephanie is a M.A. in Comparative Literature from UCLA, a B.A. in English and African American Studies from Indiana University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and is “Steph-Mom” to two almost-adult sons.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Personal branding
- Content marketing
- Storytelling for influence and impact
- How much of your personal story should you share as part of your brand
- How to determine what parts of your personal story are important to your brand
- Recommendations to integrate parts of one’s identity into their personal brand for people who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+
- Suggestions for coaches struggling to bring their authentic voice to sales calls
- One thing you can do to clarify your personal brand story today
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Speaker1: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the business radio studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for coach the coach radio brought to you by the business radio embassador program, the no cost business development strategy for coaches who want to spend more time serving local business clients and less time selling them. Go to barracks ambassador dot com to learn more. Now here’s your host.
Speaker2: [00:00:33] We can’t hear here another episode of Koch, the Koch radio, and this is going to be a good one today. We have with us Stephanie Tsong, creator of the Own Your Message program. Welcome, Stephanie.
Speaker3: [00:00:45] Hey, Lee, it’s good to be here.
Speaker2: [00:00:47] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about your practice.
Speaker3: [00:00:52] Absolutely. So I am a brand story coach for and I help entrepreneurs and coaches and difference makers find and own their unique brand story so that they can eliminate competition and just own their unique lane of influence and grow their business and impact naturally with their story and the own. Your Message program is one that I created as the first student myself when I was in the middle of a career change and thinking about how to make a pivot in a powerful way as somebody who’s normally afraid of selling. So the people who tend to come to me are people who have amazing vision. Their clients love what they do and they’re brilliant, but they tend to hide out. And so story when we can connect to our authentic story, it allows us to compel rather than sell people. And it makes the process of sharing and connecting with our dream clients really easy.
Speaker2: [00:01:54] So now what’s your back story? How did you get into coaching in this space?
Speaker3: [00:01:59] So I got into coaching from my background is I’ve been passionate, I mean, passionate, addicted to storytelling since I was a kid. And I had been doing all different realms of storytelling along the way, not realizing I could turn it into a career. So early on, I was I had been a writing teacher and then I was in the early days of radio as a pod, as a producer for a public radio station. I had been a marketing director and I had been a blogger. And secretly there was something in me that always felt that one thing that was really missing is our own agency to connect some of the most brilliant parts of ourselves. Never come to the table like. So when we’re applying for jobs or when we are pitching ourselves, we tend to lead with education and accomplishments and degrees and certifications. And there’s so much underneath us in terms of our identity, our personal experience, our life experience and our business experience that crosscuts everything that I felt like I like. I used to hide out a lot, but what I when I looked back at my earlier career, what I didn’t realize I was doing was that often times I was a wild card in my in my job search and that I had been using storytelling intuitively to get jobs that I wasn’t the obvious person for. And so as a result, like I had been able to pivot across those different careers because I was able to translate different parts of me that people didn’t expect would be a value into the next the next thing.
Speaker3: [00:03:48] And it was mainly because I knew that on paper people wouldn’t think I would be the one that they wanted. So I was always doing this kind of soul searching and crafting a narrative to say, hey, I might not be the person on paper you were looking for with this degree or that credential. But here is what I can bring that is of unique value. And then I would get the job, you know, so that turned into something for me as I had become a storytelling, as a mark, storytelling brought it into marketing. I started thinking about it when I was in my own business, how to be able to bring all these pieces together. And then I realized I really wanted to help so many people I was meeting who are brilliant, but they just hide out and they remain the best kept secret, especially coaches. Right. Coaches are so passionate about transformational change and it’s so hard to talk about change. That’s inner work. Right. And so I felt like I really wanted to just like I needed to empower myself to show up fully, like bring all the dimensions of me that are valuable to the table in my brand. Suddenly talking to people became fun. And instead of hiding out like I started to shine and I wanted to do that for others.
Speaker2: [00:05:10] Now you’re using the word brand and branding in it, and specifically personal branding. I’ve been involved in marketing and advertising for many years, and I think branding is kind of neglected because it for some people don’t see the ROIC associated with it. It seems like kind of a fluffy thing that is is difficult to kind of explain or show. But I believe that it’s one of those things that even if you don’t think you’re putting energy towards branding, your branding the the consumer the. Immer, The prospect is coming up with a brand for you, whether you’re trying or not, so you might as well put some intentionality behind it so that you’re communicating what it is you want to communicate. It sounds like you were able to kind of identify what your secret sources and you were able to get folks who might not see that, or maybe they made some assumptions about you that you were able to kind of either get in the door with those people and have a conversation to explain that you do have what they’re looking for. Can you share, like, a specific example of how that played out? Like what’s an example of somebody who might have put you in one box and you were able to kind of get in there and communicate? Well, it might look like I’m this, but really you’re I believe you’re trying to solve this problem and I can help you do that.
Speaker3: [00:06:38] Absolutely. So the first time this happened to me, I was a senior in college and I was an English and African-American studies double major, which are probably the two least marketable majors you could find in college. And I had a business minor when I got out of school. We were in a major recession where even I remember seeing on the news that they went to Harvard and interviewed all of these business majors who had wallpapered their apartments with rejection letters. And I remember thinking, my gosh, if they can’t get jobs, how in the world can I get a job? Right. So I had to do really I sat down and did the entire work and I thought and I had to translate what would an English degree and an African-American studies degree offer to the business world. And then it’s the way I saw storytelling. Again, this was intuitive, but I do it much more strategically today when I coach people through it. And I by the way, since people can’t see me, I’m also Asian-American, so I might as well have worn a unicorn costume to these interviews. Right. So what it is, is you’re not going to be everything to everybody, like you’re not going to be everyone’s favorite cup of coffee, but you’re going to be somebody’s favorite chai latte. And so I when I realized at that time that those the cultural competency that I was building in terms of being Asian and and studying African-American studies and then also the communications piece and some of the aspects of my English courses, like covered issues of ethics and things like that, that in business you need.
Speaker3: [00:08:30] So when I went out and thought about looked at businesses, I noticed that G.E. had been this was really early on before diversity, equity, inclusiveness was even the thing, by the way. So I was kind of mining that value in my own work. And then The Wall Street Journal put out a put out an article saying that GE was the first Fortune 500 company to then invest millions of dollars into a diversity initiative. So when I applied, I wrote my double down on my difference. Basically in the cover letter, I had done the research about what they were doing, why they were doing it. And then I directly tied my experience to that piece and landed an interview there. And then when I landed the interview and I went on site, there was a manager who brought me in and he had redlined my entire cover letter. And he had said, Did you write this letter yourself? I said, yes, I did. He goes, well, in this paragraph you say, you know, you claim this degree. He was just grilling me so hard about what in the world is an English degree have to do with finance. And this was an aerospace industry. And I talked about one of the classes I had taken around ethics and pieces. And so he started throwing these ethical questions that he has to deal with on the daily at me and how I would handle those things.
Speaker3: [00:09:56] And so at the end of the interview, actually, he was grilling me so hard and I thought, oh, my gosh, this guy doesn’t doesn’t want me here. But I felt like this responsibility to all humanities people to demonstrate what kind of critical thinking skills I had and about how cultural competency you’re going to need that if you’re going to spend millions of dollars recruiting diverse people. But if you realize that culturally people giving them examples of how people view time differently, how are you going to get the best productivity out of people? So at the end of the interview, he said, you know, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I’m going to highly recommend you for this. And I hope you come to work with me. And when I got out of the interview, the person who was leading me said, Are you OK? And I said, Yeah. Why is that? Because he’s known to make his own people cry. And you were in there an extra 30 minutes. And so we got into, I think, deeper conversations about business, like I can learn the numbers, right. But fundamentally, if you’re going to have a return, you need to understand how to bring out the best in your people. And so helping him to see another lens of that led him to want to hire me. And so I got the job.
Speaker2: [00:11:15] Now, what do you think was the reason that he pulled your resume out of the pile of all these resumes? Because without him doing that, you wouldn’t have had the conversation that led to the job, that the conversation is what closed the job, maybe. But what was happening a step before that got you in front of the decision maker that enabled you to shine and get the job right.
Speaker3: [00:11:46] So this is what what I believe about brand storytelling to write is that. It’s not a magic bullet, so in the terms of what I’m translating, I got I got interviews with companies who were recognizing the value of cultural competency early on before anybody else did. So if I were to have sent my cover letter and I did tailor all of my cover letters right to every single company, so I, I would find one or two things, whether it was my leadership skills and my act in my college career or my degree, it’s always about pulling out those personal pieces that align to the company. So I didn’t I didn’t you know, if I had applied to like 50 different businesses, there’s a good chance that a lot of them wouldn’t have even taken my interview. Right. But because GE had nationally announced this campaign and then I did the research, I built a bridge story. So it’s not just me pitching myself and saying, oh, I’ve got all these things right. And this is what I think fundamentally brand storytelling and marketing is about is understanding who you are, what aspects of you could bring unique value and help bring impact to the organization.
Speaker3: [00:13:09] What do they care about? And then you create the story that is the bridge between the two. So I’m assuming the recruiting manager then had made some of those connections. Right. And that this person, the person that he was one of the decision makers, there were three final managers that were on site managers, and he was someone who was a very difficult to please person. I’m sure it was a mixture of both the conversation we were having and exhibiting some thought leadership and engaging and some really rich discussion with each other, even if we didn’t agree on everything. But that some of those things like offering a new angle, the second piece is mindset’s. So one of the things in my program I talk about with storytelling is mindset. Plus message equals building your movement so you can have the perfect words. But if you don’t own your words the way you do. Right, rightly, I mean, you probably have experienced this. It’s like if we don’t own our message, it’s going to fall flat anyway.
Speaker2: [00:14:19] Right. You have to have that kind of gravitas and to kind of be able to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk, you have to be able to demonstrate that what you say is congruent with what you said you would say.
Speaker3: [00:14:34] Yeah, exactly. And that piece is really important. And because I had a strong I can only control my side of the conversation right by my side of the conversation was feeling really centered in, wow, this is a company that’s ahead Ahead of the Curve. This was in the early 90s. So really ahead of the curve in terms of the vision and that we share, we’re aligned to the same vision. And I had a business minor so I can articulate. So again, this is where I really believe it’s the combination. It’s not about just pulling one thing out and say, oh, I’m marketable because I majored in these subjects. It’s the whole combination of having a cultural competency business minor. I’ve taken those accounting classes. I’ve taken some finance classes and then leadership in terms of where I had demonstrated leadership, both at the level of in the different organizations that I had run, as you know, in college, too, so that my cover letter was about demonstrating, you know, you know, holistic, sort of a sense of here’s a whole picture of the different things I can I can bring to you. I could be a significant contributor to you. Right.
Speaker3: [00:15:55] And then that shifts the conversation for what we talk about. And so ever since then, then, you know, in terms of resume writing, then a lot of that. And I’ve helped many other people who might have been either a jack jack of all trades, someone who has disparate experiences, is like a scientist and an actor. And you’re like, how do I bring that together? You know, you’re a coach. I have a coach who I worked with, a coach who was a stand up comedian, and she worked with major companies like Amazon, Costco, all these senior leaders there. And she never taught. She never brought the comedy. Right. So in the your message, I’m like she was passionate about that. And she felt like businesses needed the comedy to actually innovate more. So I was like, well, why not bring these things together? And she did that in her bio. And then she got she landed a keynote speech. She wanted to be a keynote speaker, too. So she landed a keynote speaking gig with an international sportswear brand. And they said, we chose you in part because of the comedy. Now you’ve been leading it off the table, right?
Speaker2: [00:17:06] Because you she didn’t think it was important. But to you, this is like a again, a flashing red light where it’s like, dude, how are you missing this? This is like, yeah, this is separating you from everybody else. So instead of hiding it and being like everybody else, lean into it and separate yourself from everybody else.
Speaker3: [00:17:24] Totally. Right. Like, I see that is what I what I see as branding and something I wanted to bring back and kind of live together. It was something you said earlier about how brands are, how people really under underestimate the power of a brand. And that what I heard you say is that, you know, whether you define the brand or not, it’s going to be defined for you. It’ll be defined by your clients. It’ll be defined by your consumers, like whoever they like. The brand is ultimately going to be the experience as well as the product. And so this piece about mining are the gems of our story. Like, I’m really passionate about helping coaches and other difference makers, mine, all those hidden gems that you might have thought to yourself and. I don’t know that that’s really important. It sounds like a nice to have, but guess what? That’s stuff that people are, you know, in some of the best stuff. And when you bring it together, you bring more energy right to the conversation because these are things you’re passionate about
Speaker2: [00:18:24] And it’s more authentic. This is the it’s more it’s closer to the truth. Are you rather than this you that you’re trying to show to other people that it is exactly what you think they want?
Speaker3: [00:18:34] Yeah. Yeah. Which is like that’s where I and I’m really curious for people in the audience too, if they’ve ever had that moment right. When you’re like, I’ve got to pinch myself and suddenly you’ve just disassociate from all the from the brilliance naturally, because now you’re in a mode of what do they need to hear? What do I need to tell them? And I’ve had those moments, which is why I needed this program for myself and why I created it. And recognizing that if you’re actually speaking from that that place of knowing, oh, my gosh, like this these gems are really that’s really unique to me. That’s that brings something really fresh that actually brings something relevant in an unexpected way. And you can’t wait to tell people once you’ve made those connections conscious for yourself and you can put it into words, then suddenly you’re like instead of thinking, I got to sell, I got to let people know. I have to impress them. It’s more about, you know, like with my client, the coach who is the comedian. She’s now speaking out all over the place about the importance of levity and laughter to build team morale to actually especially in the time of the pandemic. She’s actually made it more relevant and it’s more fun for her. And she can’t wait to tell everybody. Right.
Speaker2: [00:19:54] Yeah, I’m with you 100 percent. I think that a mistake that a lot of folks make is that they try to be like everybody else. I think that you have to I mean, you have to have the core competencies. I don’t want to say that you can be totally kind of out there because that to me becomes counterproductive. But you have to be competent and show that you can do whatever it is they’re trying to do. But all those differences, all those unique kind of elements of yourself, that’s what’s separating you from everybody else. And I think that most people would be better served by doing more of that and shining the light on all that with the understanding I can do the the basics, foundational work of whatever my specialty is. I mean, that’s a I would come not kind of lean on that part of my resume. I would lean on that to me is of course, I do that. What what makes me different are the A, B and C here. This is what separates me from everybody else. And in my mind, it’s better to not be selling, but I’m vetting you to see if you’re the right fit for me, because this is my this is how I do things and this is who I want to work with and this is who I best work with. So if I can be clear on that element, then I’m not selling anymore. I’m choosing and I don’t like to be in the position of I’m hoping to be picked. I’d rather be in the position of I’m picking and I’m choosing you to see if you’re the right fit for me. And this is what I bring. I know what I can do. I don’t know if I’m going to be the right fit for you or you’re the right fit for me.
Speaker3: [00:21:31] Yes, and, you know, you’re bringing up a really excellent point and something that I, I learned through trial and error and then in the program we talk about a lot is there’s I believe there’s no such thing as rejection. It’s just about alignment and fit, like you said. Right. So it becomes a two way, a two way process of I’m going to share I’m going to share what I can offer and you are going to share with me what you need. And then we’re sharing those pieces of our humanness, especially in coaching. Right. You have to feel like this person gets you. You have to feel like they offer a unique perspective or the way that they go about coaching connects with you in order for you to have an impact. They could be the most brilliant person on the planet. But if you’re not connected to them, it’s not going to happen. Right. So that connection piece is really, I think, where story comes. So I used to be terrified. I was used to be terrified of selling even as a young girl. I was an amazing Girl Scout who couldn’t sell Girl Scout cookies to my neighbors, and I was terrified of it. And so for me now, what it looks like is if I I like you said, if I understand the places where I will naturally bring out my best and that certain types of clients. Fire me up, give me goose bumps, and then I bring my best, that’s alignment. And if the person doesn’t really vibe with what I have, they’re meant to work with somebody else. Right. That’s we don’t have alignment there, but there’s somebody else there that they can have that that make that magic with.
Speaker2: [00:23:13] Right. And it and it doesn’t have to I might know the person. And that’s the thing again, of the reframing of the selling is like, I know what I bring to the table. I know what my superpowers are. The clearer you can get on knowing your superpowers and what you bring to the table, all the elements of that, then you can determine, is this person the right fit? And if you think they are the right fit, they may not know it yet. But like you’ve been able to do throughout your career is when you felt that they were the right fit. You’ve been able to articulate and demonstrate that, hey, if you partner with me, good things are going to happen. And it’s almost kind of like your moral duty to try to help those people as best they can. They may choose not to work with you, but if you think it’s the right fit, you should be going after them. And with kind of this sense of responsibility, if I got something that’s going to help you and I would and I feel compelled to tell you about this, it’s not something you should be hesitant about or kind of kind of sheepishly go after it. This is something you almost have to do if you’re being authentic to yourself.
Speaker3: [00:24:17] I love that when you said moral duty and that you have to do it to be authentic yourself, you know, I just I could happy dance listening to you say that it is so true. And that’s something I didn’t realize either. And because in that moment when I talked about the story, I felt this moral duty because after I had done all of this work, I started out by believing, what do I have to offer right in the business world to, oh, my gosh, there’s some stuff that’s missing in the business world that they need. And I’m not the only one, but I may be the only person they’ve ever met who has this type of background. And this could open the door for lots of other people and we could have companies where people are really activating each other. So to your point, I think the you know, it’s it is our I think it is our moral duty if you’re meant to change the world with your coaching. Then playing small is not going to help the world and sharing your your superpowers and your zone of genius is not bragging, but it’s giving somebody an opportunity. You know, like you said, it’s about being of service. And this is where for anyone who struggles with selling, which I know a lot of listeners to this show, do having your genuine, authentic story gives you power that’s not braggy. And it becomes something that, like you said, it becomes this moral obligation to if you’re meant to help more people and people need to know about you, you’re just announcing it and you’re sharing it. And then those who feel really inclined to you, it’s like they get inspired to say, how do I work with you?
Speaker2: [00:26:02] Right. And they want to because there’s something in it for them because you’re aligned with them
Speaker3: [00:26:07] And you are dying to work with that. Right. It’s just such a win win. Right. It’s ultimately a win win.
Speaker2: [00:26:12] And that’s where you both can do your best work. I mean, that’s the key. It’s when there’s a misalignment is where the problems are. Those aren’t clients for life for you and those aren’t happy customers. Those are people that like, oh, well, I thought I was getting this, but I got this. So that’s you know, now I’m frustrated and maybe coaching isn’t for me. And then all those kind of negative excuses start popping up. But if it’s aligned, then everything’s easy and everything builds. And that’s where most people want to be.
Speaker3: [00:26:42] Yeah. And then you can actually when we own that. Right. And one of the things I think for I’ve noticed with working a lot with a lot of coaches in my program is that, you know, so visionary. Right. And then a lot of the transfer and they bring their brilliance without realizing it. It’s like unconscious. It’s like their zone of genius. They’re just delivering it to clients. But if you don’t know how to talk about it, you start to believe you don’t have. And unique, you know, unique super powers, and that’s where tying together, like being able to take this unconscious brilliance and and the hidden gems within you and articulate it into language becomes like the Lego brick click moment.
Speaker2: [00:27:29] Right. But that’s where you need kind of the fresh eyes and you need a coach. And this is where a lot of folks, I think, are not kind of getting the coaching they need in order to bring this element to life within themselves. They need the fresh eyes. They need this kind of unbiased, independent thinking person to look at them and say, here’s kind of what I see and you may not see it and you might have this all this kind of baggage that you’re bringing along, but you’re not elevating this stuff and you might be embarrassed by it. There might be shame around it. But this is all good stuff here. And, you know, in the right hands, I can help you kind of take all these elements, separate yourself from everybody else and really kind of lean into the superpowers and that you have so that you can kind of maximize your talents.
Speaker3: [00:28:19] Yeah, absolutely, that’s something I, I really. I really feel passionate about coaches being able to bring that out, I feel like coaches have immense power to change the world because, you know, everybody’s a transformation maker. You know, I’m a coach as well, too. And I realize that we if we can serve more people, there’s tremendous possibility, right, for communities, for teams, for individuals to to walk their walk differently. And that’s what really excites me. And I think in a in a field where it can be very easy as a coach to say, oh, my gosh, so many coaches like, look, you know, how am I going to going to stand out? And with the person that I mentioned who is the comedian and the leadership coach, she came to me with about 35 credentials. You know, she said is every possible certification. And what she said to me was she said, you know, Stephanie, my vision of success is that, you know, people come in through her certification for Bernie Brown’s courage to lead program. And she says, you know, in my heart, I don’t really want to lead that. I really want to coach people to activate this humor piece.
Speaker3: [00:29:37] And so I said, why not, why don’t why don’t you share your message around that and like, let’s cultivate that. And we had to mind backwards different clients that she had had in different certified programs that she had led and where she had actually unconsciously and naturally brought the hammer to the table. Right. That was her secret sauce. She was just like peppering over everything and being able to pull that out so she could have her own lane of thought leadership in there. Her coaching space like this is what she does. And this is what I mean by eliminating competition. It’s like whatever your passions are and what you said about experiences, we’ve even maybe had shame around. I think about, you know, one of the things about Jem’s is diamonds are are actually made under intense heat and pressure. So the things you have walked through, you have triumphed over like that is just all premium value on top of the certification you have, especially if you want to lead people through certain changes you’ve walked through, then, oh, my gosh, bring that out.
Speaker2: [00:30:43] Right. Well, that’s where I think that your value is. And with that specific client of yours, you gave her permission to do that. She probably knew in the back of her head that that was a good thing. But you kind of validated it and said, you know what, it’s a it’s the move to make. She obviously had the skills to do it. She’s been doing that work separately. And she didn’t think that it was worthy of being elevated into her coaching. And you gave her permission and that gift had a real impact. And that’s the value of a coach. And it’s a value of you specifically of helping your clients kind of, you know, kind of lean into these superpowers they have at their disposal. They have them. They’re you’re just giving them that kind of permission and you’re letting them know that these things exist. And they may not think they’re important, but if you can cobble together these three superpowers, all of a sudden you’re different than everybody else and you bring a lot to the table now.
Speaker3: [00:31:43] Yeah. And as you mentioned earlier, it becomes effortless because those are your zones of genius. Right. And you just you give them without thinking about it. And so when you’re able to articulate, articulate that in words with the energy that you usually have, when you’re exercising this brilliance, it’s you become unstoppable. Right. You become a magnet for exactly your dream clients. And if you’re doing it right, you’re repelling the people that are not your dream clients.
Speaker2: [00:32:13] Right. And you’re happier, less stress, everything becomes easier. And that’s how life really can be if you’re aligned. Right. And that’s right. Well, good stuff. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today. If somebody wants to learn more about what you’re up to, can you share the website? They can get more information or connect with you.
Speaker3: [00:32:30] Yeah, absolutely. So if you’re interested. And so you’re for everyone’s welcome to go to Stephanie Tsong dot com. Stephanie and Tsong is spelled Zella’s and Xebra H, O and G. Stefanie’s on dotcom. And if you’re interested in doing a free concert call, you can book a clarity call with me if you are ready to put your crystalise your message together. And I also have a newsletter you can sign up for where I share biweekly different tips and examples of how people have found and articulated their special story and how they’ve activated it to be able to grow their business.
Speaker2: [00:33:13] Good stuff. Well, Stephanie, thank you again for the work you’re doing. It’s important and we appreciate you.
Speaker3: [00:33:20] Thanks for having me. It’s been a real joy to talk with you.
Speaker2: [00:33:23] All right. This is Lee Kanta Rules Wilson next time on coach the coach radio.