Running a business is tough. Marketing it takes guts. You’re putting yourself out there and don’t know how the world will react. Some people will love you; others won’t. There will always be negativity to contend with, a comment here, a troll there. It’s to be expected. But when that negativity, criticism, or simple lack of understanding comes from a family member, it can be incredibly hurtful. When your family don’t support your business it can be heartbreaking. Worse, it can get in your head and make you second guess yourself. You start to hold yourself back. You hide your light and filter your opinions. You diminish yourself to keep your family happy. To live up to their expectations of who you are and what is appropriate, professional, or capable of making money.
And the second you start doing that, you sacrifice some of your authenticity. You begin to play a role in your content creation rather than simply being yourself.
This is hugely problematic. For starters, it’s exhausting having to constantly check yourself and make sure what you’re writing or saying isn’t going to offend anyone. Worse, it robs your content of its power.
People buy from people – a cliche, but for a good reason. Check out your favourite TikTok accounts and the people with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. They’re just themselves, often in a very raw and completely unfiltered way.
That’s why they’re so popular. They’re real.
So, how do you manage your family when they butt in and try to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your content creation? How do you cope when your family don’t support your business and marketing efforts? The succinct answer is to learn not to give a fuck what they think.
That, of course, is easier said than done. Here’s how I managed it…
The Problem With Parents…
I have a problematic relationship with both my parents for differing reasons. My mother and I have always clashed over certain things. She’s very religious (a Methodist minister), while I never shared her beliefs and (for various reasons) I grew very angry with the church.
I have never shared her faith.
This and many other things make us very different people.
There’s nothing wrong with that; everyone is unique. But it can cause problems relating to each other and has often led to her saying and doing things I found incredibly hurtful, and vice versa. Growing up I struggled. I always felt different, unwanted, and outcast, largely, I suspect, because I knew from a very young age that I was bisexual but didn’t even know that was a ‘thing’ until I was in my early teens. There wasn’t the same LGBTQ representation and understanding around back then, and having a closetted gay father who constantly drilled it into me that nobody could discover the truth about him led to a deep-seated sense that there was something wrong with the real me.
Something shameful that should be hidden.
That feeling was only exacerbated by my mother and sister struggling to relate to me. Undiagnosed bipolar caused a lot of inexplicable behaviour, so I can understand their confusion now that I have the benefit of hindsight. But still, it took many years and a lot of therapy for me to reach a point where I understood something critical:
Just because they didn’t understand me, or share my worldview and opinions on certain things, didn’t mean I was wrong to think and feel that way.
Pushing Past Your Blocks To Create Content
All of these issues resurfaced when I started sharing content again after a four-year stint as an agency’s head of marketing. During that time I’d created a ton of content, but always for others. Clients, or the agency itself, which was not my personal brand and so didn’t require essence of H.
There were a few things I wanted to focus on when I left the company and refocused on my own goals. Setting up Rebel Wolf and releasing Diving Blogging was a major one. The other big one was building a platform for myself as a fiction author.
I had a lot of blocks surrounding my fiction. So, so, many blocks. Many of them stem from my family and their lack of understanding when I first told them I wanted to be an author. Their dismissal of it as a career choice. Their dislike of what I actually wrote. My mother has always had a distaste for the genres I enjoy – Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Gothic, and anything dark and twisty. Not a single member of my family has managed to read any of my books.
Mum managed a short story once, and I nearly died of shock.
While they have always been supportive of my writing fitting in principle, they have no interest. No understanding.
They may disagree with that perception, but it is how I’ve always experienced it. So when I finally managed to find the time to start vlogging for my fiction platform, overcame all the blocks, and got it all out there and posted, I was gutted to find my YouTube had been deleted.
My brand new, shiny channel that only had one video on it.
Why? Well, YouTube has guidelines and policies that need to be adhered to, and they enforce them mostly using an automated system that doesn’t always get it right. I vented my frustration on Facebook, and a couple of days later, they’d had time to review it, found I’d done nothing wrong, and reinstated the channel and video.
The problem was, during lockdown, my brother set my mother up with a Facebook account so she could speak to my Pop (her father, my grandfather) through his Facebook portal. Against my better judgement, I’d become friends with her on Facebook so she could speak to me via messenger. I was assured she had no interest in Facebook itself, and it was only for using messenger. Yet she has never actually used messenger to speak to me, and periodically calls me up because something I’ve posted offended her.
The Incident With House Of The Dragon
She got a standard update email from Facebook showing her recent posts she might have missed, saw what happened with YouTube, and immediately panicked that I was doing something wrong, and was going to get myself in trouble. She clicked through, trying to figure out what it was about and managed to watch my outtakes of that first vlog.
Two clips of me getting tongue-tied and frustrated. She took issue with this video. And I got a phone call demanding to know what was going on and warning me that I shouldn’t be careful “how I portray myself online”.
The argument that followed was very upsetting, but essentially she was pissed off that I’d “started every sentence with ‘Jesus’” – I said it once. Meanwhile, I was furious she had watched a video of me giving my own opinion on an episode of House of the Dragon, and didn’t like the person she saw. To the extent that she decided I was pretending to be that person because it’s “not really you”.
Of course, the opposite is true. It was entirely me, being my own very comfortable self. If you speak to my friends, they’ll tell you that’s exactly who I am, exactly what I’m like, how I speak, etc.
And this is something many people face, even without a traumatic childhood. The person they become as an adult is separate from (or at least an evolved, matured version of) the person their family watched grow up. We watch our Ps and Qs around our elders, we try not to swear, we don’t talk about sex. There are so many ways that so many of us filter ourselves when we are around our family so they will accept us, so they aren’t offended, because they’re from a different generation and can’t relate to certain elements of our lives, or simply because it makes life easier.
It’s not the case for everyone – my boyfriend has a very close relationship with all of his family, they all live on the same road, go to the same pub, and are part of the same pool and fishing leagues. Some families are very close. Others aren’t.
But for those of us who, for whatever reason, act a bit differently around family, our family are bound to find it difficult to see us being purely authentic in our content creation.
This disconnect between family views of you and the realist of you as an entrepreneur and business owner is doubly true if you already have a business that they don’t understand or don’t respect as a viable business.
So often, a family can be dismissive of entrepreneurs as they’re trying to get things off the ground. They don’t believe what your doing has the potential to make any money, or they think you’re running something that sounds a bit like a scam.
Try explaining affiliate marketing and the ability to earn money from website traffic to a ninety-year-old who still believes women working is a bit of an indulgence. Something we do for fun, not as a profession or for profit.
A lack of understanding from your family does not mean they don’t love you, support you, or wish to see you succeed. It’s just a difference of perspective and they may struggle to reconcile the version of you they know, with the totality of your potential.
You’re also transitioning.
As you learn how to create content and market a business using it, you become something more than you have been before. There’s something highly personal about the creation of authentic content that showcases a business you’ve poured your heart, soul, hopes and dreams into.
It’s incredibly powerful. You take an idea, a desire for something more, and you forge it into a reality using nothing but yourself. Your passions, your knowledge, your drive, ambition, your vision.
This is something your family have never seen before, or at least, never seen forged into a coherent force before. My family knew I could write, but never imagined I’d be able to turn that seemingly simple talent into a six-figure business.
They certainly never grasped (and still don’t) that I could do that by making videos of myself.
How can you expect them to have opinions about your content that align with your own, when they have no comprehension of the underlying purpose of it? Content marketing is a tough concept to truly grasp. Once you ‘get it’, it seems so simple. If you’ve seen it in action first-hand, and watched businesses grow from nothing to six-figure months and seven or eight-figure years, using nothing but content it’s obvious.
For most friends and family, though, it’s a bit weird. Maybe even a little embarrassing. You’re plastering yourself all over the internet, saying things, doing things, often titting about for the sake of TikTok or a Reel. You’re getting personal brand shoots done and flooding Instagram with photos of you.
And they don’t get it.
Because to them, you’re something very different that what you are (or will become) to your audience.
Find A Definition They Can Understand
The way to avoid this is to give them a definition of what you do that makes sense to them. That might not mean explaining in intricate detail what content marketing is, or walking them through every step of your business model.
It can be as simple as figuring out which brands they like, and why.
They don’t even need to be brands they follow online. What’s their favourite clothing brand? Favourite food? Favourite supermarket?
Find the content that convinced them that brand was worth buying from, that has reminded them for years to keep buying form them.
Supermarket ads are an easy one for people to grasp. Where do your family shop? If you’re in England then odds are the phrases “Every little helps!”, “That’s Asda price!” and “Big on quality, Lidl on price!” are familiar.
Familiarity is the key. Your family have favourite brands that are familiar and comfortable to them.
They became familiar and comfortable because they were persentently shown content from those brands. TV ads, radio ads, print media, and yes maybe digital marketing too.
You are making yourself a familiar and comfortable presence in the lives of your ideal clients.
They need a new supermarket and you’re telling them your catchphrase.
If they still don’t get it, ask them if they need what you offer. If you’d ever be interested in buying it. When they say no (and they will, because if they understood the purpose of your business you wouldn’t be having this conversation), point out that you’re not talking to them.
They’re not your ideal client. They aren’t supposed to find your catchphrase (by which I mean content) appealing.
It’s not for them. That’s why they don’t understand it. And that’s perfectly fine.
They Don’t Have To Watch, Read, Or Listen
Here’s the thing, nobody is forcing your family to read your blog, watch your videos, or listen to your Podcast. This is something you are doing for yourself. It’s not about them. It’s not for them – at least, not in the sense that you are creating your content for them. You may well be running your business to support them, but that doesn’t give them the right to comment.
Not if it will derail your business efforts, undermine your confidence, or cause you to feel self-conscious about what you’re doing.
If you encounter troubles from your family concerning your content, just politely point out that they have a choice; they don’t have to look at it.
You may want to pre-empt this if you expect there will be problems by blocking them on your business social platforms. You don’t even need to tell them you’ve done it; simply ensure they never see your content.
If you’re sharing your business content on a personal profile, this isn’t always possible, but if you confine your content marketing to business profiles, you can easily block family and friends you don’t want to see it.
After that conversation with my mother about my House of the Dragon reviews, I defriended her. I told her I was doing it, and explained why: seeing my posts did nothing but upset her, and since she couldn’t regulate herself and ignore them, I took control and prevented her from seeing more.
It’s your content.
If you don’t want people to see it, they don’t see it. And if they choose to look at it despite you asking them not to, it’s their own responsibility if it offends them.
They do not have the right to put that responsibility on you.
So, if they have issues with your content and refuse to choose to avoid it, you may choose to ignore their criticisms. That doesn’t mean ignoring them, or being rude, or arguing. You can simply remove yourself from the discussion. When they bring it up, delicately change the subject. If they resist that change, simply remind them that arguing about it serves no purpose. If they persist, just leave the conversation. Physically, digitally, whatever is needed, remove yourself from the discussion.
Your content is your space. You choose who has a voice in it.
Give Them The Benefit Of The Doubt
I’ve been talking about how family and friends cause issues due to your content. They upset you, cause arguments, make unreasonable comments, and maybe even demand you change what you’re doing or stop what you’re dining.
None of this is acceptable behaviour, and you’re allowed to enforce boundaries around it.
That being said, before you get to that point, give your family the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes they will offend you simply by asking questions. They’re not being adversarial and don’t have an issue; they’re simply trying to understand what you’re working on. They don’t mean to be belittling, condescending, patronising, and generally irritating; they’re simply showing interest.
When someone doesn’t understand something, they tend to ask dumb questions, the answers to which are painfully obviious to you, which makes the question seem pointed. Barbed. Irritating.
As if they’re questioning your competence, your abilities.
I still have this issue with my fella. I used to work for him; he hired me for my marketing expertise. I know how much he values my skills – I can literally put a price on how much he’s paid me for them – yet since I returned to working for myself, I struggle with his questions.
Because he sounds so damn patronising when he asks them.
He’s just interested, but that’s not how it sounds from my end of the conversation.
The other day I told him I’d hired Tim – the illustrator who worked on my book – to do more illustrations for the website. I’d already discussed the project and ongoing illustration work to continue building the digital assets for my brand with Tim. It was all arranged. Decision made. I was excited about it as I love Tim’s work and couldn’t wait to see Rebel Wolf’s branding come together as I’d envisioned it.
“Why are you having Tim do it?” Simon asked. “Why not just use stock photos.”
I had to bite my tongue. Because in my head, I heard, “That’s a waste of money. What’s the point? Stock would be just as good.”
Practice teaches me to take a beat before I answer him when he asks questions about my business. He’s a business owner himself, and he’s naturally curious. He’s also not a marketer – he learned pretty much everything he knows about marketing from me. So he asks questions. Not to question my decisions or judgement, but to learn.
What is the benefit of spending more money on original illustrations over stock images? Why did I outsource my illustrations to someone else when I can draw?
Sometimes family are a pain in the arse. Sometimes they’re genuinely interested. Make sure you know what is happening before you respond.
The upshot is that when you’re serious about content marketing and acting as the face of that content marketing, you need to own it. If it’s your name on your blog posts, your face in your videos, your voice on your Podcasts, the space you are creating and holding for your ideal clients is around you.
You own it.
So take it. Step into that power. Hold that space. Decide on your boundaries for that space and enforce them. You don’t need to be a bitch about it. You can do it gently, kindly, without others even being aware of what you’ve done. But you must own your own space.
Nature abhors a vacuum; if you’re not the alpha in control of your content and the space it creates, someone else will step into the void.
Stand in your power. Claim it, own it. You earned it.