I’m an adult with a job and responsibilities, yet I’m a Taylor Swift super fan. While some can’t see past her youth or twee blond looks, I see a seriously powerful businesswoman—one we should learn from, not underestimate. Her latest release, 1989, garnered three Grammy nominations, saw the best opening-week sales of her career, and became the “only instant-platinum release” of 2014. Impressive.
Last year was a critical turning point for Swift’s brand. As Rolling Stone points out, she had a bit of a coming-out party, debuting as a full-fledged pop star. Gone were the frilly white dresses and songs about waiting for Prince Charming. Instead, she debuted a new identity, one brimming with business prowess and brand awareness.
Want to rebrand yourself or your business? Take a page from T. Swift’s playbook.
Don’t underestimate your value
Music critics, teen fans, and grown-ups like me lost their minds over 1989. But it was a business decision that kept Swift on top the of news cycle: She removed her catalog from Spotify. Swift says Spotify does not compensate artists adequately, and as she boldly put it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Amen.
It’s a clear lesson in putting a value on your work, and as career coach Nina Cashman explains, the move “commanded a higher degree of loyalty from her fan base,” who went out and bought her album in droves (1989 sold a staggering 1.29 million records in its first week).
Swift’s decision addresses the question that plagues freelancers and creatives: Should I ever work for free?
Bonnie Marcus, president of Women’s Success Coaching, notes that “doing work for experience and exposure without compensation is sometimes a necessary strategic move, especially for those of us who don’t have the stature and power of Taylor Swift.”
But here’s the trick: “You should provide only a taste of your offering and not give it all away,” says career consultant Alyssa Gelbard. It’s especially critical not to make it a habit. If you’re at all established, you should command payment that reflects the value of your work.
Stay true to you
In Lucky magazine, Swift answered the apparently pressing question about why she doesn’t expose her belly button: She doesn’t want to. She continued to joke about it, but the message is clear: Her body is hers to display as she chooses.
As we’ve seen with Beyoncé, espousing personal values is a clear boon to personal brands. “People want to connect with people, not a persona,” says Danielle Miller, a personal brand strategist. Even when rebranding, Swift stuck to her guns and maintained her authenticity.