Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster of ups, downs, and pivots. Kendall Dunn, known through her brand as Kendall Mariah, is someone I admire for how she has embraced not being known for just one thing, and allowing God to guide her pursuits. Currently a content creator and brand strategist with over 500K followers across all her platforms, Kendall knows her stuff! She’s also one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, and I’m so grateful that I was able to chat with Kendall about building an authentic brand, having boundaries as an online leader, how becoming a mom has changed her life and business, staying grounded in roots and faith, and more. We covered a lot in this episode – it’s a good one!
Kendall and her husband Justin became the adoptive parents of their daughter Zadie Ann at the end of 2019. She shared candidly that becoming the momma of a newborn completely flipped the way that she does life and business. While being an entrepreneur often gives us more freedom make our own choices, she was now responsible for a child’s wants, needs, and desires.
When the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, it was a gift (even though she hates to use that word) that forced Kendall to slow down. She took time to re-evaluate and accept that life will never be how it was before. As a military spouse, her husband was deployed, and she was also learning to care for a newborn during a global pandemic. Between dealing with the events our country as a whole experienced that year and changes within her own family, she found herself shifting both outwardly and inwardly.
On the entrepreneur side of things, she ultimately decided to change how she did business and where she allowed her energy to go.
Kendall is someone who has always embraced her truth and shared openly in social media posts, even before it was “cool” to do so online. As an adult, she’s come to realize that as someone who is neurodivergent, she has a hard time “putting a mask on,” and won’t “put on a show” when engaging socially. She believes that the world is more interesting when we tell our stories. Her confidence comes from knowing that God made her the way she is for a reason, and having a deep understanding of who she is.
“If you’re always yourself, you never have to say, ‘well who was I to that person? Or ‘what was I trying to prove?'” Kendall explained. Not wasting energy pretending to be someone else gives her freedom and the capacity to do so much.
Kendall also shared that she attributes part of her success in pivoting her business over the years has been that she has a personal brand. The brand has always been about inviting people to connect with her as a person, and people who like her want to work with her – no matter what she is offering.
“If you like me as a person, then you might like me as your photographer. ‘Cause I can always work on the skill…or the delivery of something. But you can’t change who you are. So if you’re always branding yourself, you don’t have to worry about that, and that just takes a layer off.” Kendall shared.
Even though Kendall is a confident person who lives authentically, she says that she’s faced imposter syndrome, too. When she first charged $2K for a website as a 22 year old, she had those thoughts of “who am I to be doing this?” She still deals with imposter syndrome today, but thinks that as a young woman in your early 20’s, there’s more pressure to have a “professional filter.” Now at 29, it’s easier for her to show up as herself and accept that people will either like her for who she is, or not.
Often, one of the scariest parts of being an online entrepreneur and building a personal brand is worrying about what people will say. Kendall admits that she is fortunate to have not had to deal with this much until recently.
Kendall’s experiences have taught her that “you can have an authentic brand, and not have to share everything.” Some things need to be kept sacred or private.
It’s okay to decide that there are personal or family things that you won’t talk about online. Even as someone who shares vulnerably, Kendall explained that even if she only shares 70% of what’s going on in her life, her audience will feel like they are seeing 100%. So you don’t have to literally share it all to create relatable content.
Whenever you post something online, you are willingly subjecting yourself to criticism, Kendall reminds us. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of what you feel comfortable sharing.
Kendall asks herself, “What am I willing for people to be upset about? What am I willing for people to come after?”
Before sharing vulnerably, Kendall also says that it’s important to do the mental work. If you don’t feel secure or are feeling wounded when it comes to the topic you’re sharing about, posting and subjecting yourself to comments about it can deepen the wound.
“The work that people will never see, the work that people will never understand is far more important than any strategy I can teach you on branding yourself.” Kendall emphasized.
And someone who shares openly about mental health, Kendall also explained that she never shares about a difficult season while she’s going through it. If she wants, she’ll share in retrospect.
“A lot of times, we’ll speak out of turn when we speak out of season…what we were hoping would help heal, it can almost make things work for ourselves. If the whole point to being online is to help others, we can’t do that by completely pouring ourselves out to begin with.”
While you’re in the difficult seasons, Kendall recommends journaling and seeking therapy. Once you are on the other side of it and can helpfully and healthfully articulate your experience, then “turn that mess into a message.”
If you’ve made it this far in the interview, you can probably tell that Kendall is a person of faith. When I asked how she stayed centered on God with everything that she has going on, she shared that sometimes she has to take a step back. In 2021, she paused leading Bible study through Unapologetic Ministry, after 4 years. Kendall felt called to lead these Bible studies, and spoke on topics that are often taboo in church – like anxiety, depression, and infertility.
However, in 2020, when Kendall began sharing about how she was processing the cultural and social events going on in the world, she faced some backlash. As she dealt with accusations from people she had been pouring into, she felt exhausted. After talking with her husband, she decided to pause the Bible studies so that God could work within her and she could connect with Him privately without feeling the need to share.
Kendall also pointed out that as her audience grew, it was harder to keep up with messages and prayer requests. She felt shame for not being able to respond to every one, but had to give herself grace.
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