No matter what you’ve endured, where you come from, or what you may think, your story is worth sharing with the world. If you’re a business professional, it’s even more important that you recognize its value in your work. Your story is your foundation. It’s the core of who you are, and why you do what you do. How are you going to share your story? In a world that tries to separate personal passion from professional drive, how will you demonstrate that your brand doesn’t just represent you, it is you?
In Forged by Fire, Brand Consultant Mila Grigg, takes you step-by-step through crafting a personal brand based on core values, discovered purpose, and the incomparable experience that separates you from everyone else. Mila’s own story is one of fortitude and redemption, of building an unshakable foundation amidst adversity and rising above it to live life to the fullest. She shares the painful and inspirational parts of her journey along with a proven framework for navigating hardship and utilizing it for personal and professional growth. This book is your brand Bible and ultimate resource for showing the world what you’re made of. Here’s my conversation with Mila.
Welcome into Author Hour, I’m your host Benji Block. Today I’m excited, because I’m joined by Mila Grigg, she’s just come out with a new book titled Forged by Fire: How to Develop an Unstoppable Personal Brand. Mila, welcome into the show.
Mila Grigg: Thank you so much for having me.
Benji Block: Yes. Okay. I want to first give some context for you and the work that you do. If a listener is new to your work, Forged by Fire leads you to believe something and then there’s also the personal brand side of this title. I love that there’s the both. Can you explain really quick for people, just give some context on how these things play together and made the genesis of this book?
The Genesis of Being Forged
Mila Grigg: Yeah, I know. That’s a great question. Forged by Fire, really came from my own story. I’m often asked about my story and what I went through in the fire that I walked through, and some will call it a trial of life, but it felt a fire to me, for sure. I felt I was on fire at times. There are days still where I feel like I’m still smoking a little bit, but I built my personal brand, through an immense trial and immense fire that was really hard. The two played together so beautifully; how to build a brand and how to get your story out to the world. Then most of the time, you actually find out who you are in a trial, right? We typically will find out what we’re made of when we’re being crushed.
Being forged in the fire, of the personal fire that I was having, and having to build a business through the fire, and be a mom through the fire, and how that all came to fruition, and then how the business grew incrementally, but so fast, even through that fire and then helping others to do the same thing. So the personal fire, being forged in that and almost birthed through that into just a new person, and then building my own brand. The book is really about how to build a brand. It’s really that brand book bible that share stories of clients over the last 20 or-so years. Also, my goal is hopefully to be inspirational in terms of if you’ve gone through something, been through something, done something your story is not over, and you can take the bad moments and be forged through them into a brand that is still has great purpose in life.
Benji Block: Yup. Okay, so let’s go a little bit more personal here. Tell us a little bit about the season you were in, as someone who was an entrepreneur and on the business side, you’re trying to get things rolling, but then also, the fire that you walked through really wasn’t brought on by you. It was actually your spouse. Talk through some of that and how those things were playing together.
Mila Grigg: Yeah, absolutely. In 2009, and this is all very pretty detailed in the book, but in ’09, he had a call come in and it was from, really the US Attorney in the state of Tennessee saying, “Hey, we want some more information on things that we’ve been told.” Fast forward nine months, he’s sentenced at that time to 10 years in federal prison for wire and mail fraud. I’ve only been married a couple of years, not even two full years at the time. When he got sentenced to wire and mail fraud, it was a talk about how they say a phone call can change your life. Unless you’ve experienced that for yourself, you don’t actually know what that means.
Talk about landing on your knees, the day the call came in, and then nine months later, being on your knees again, as I dropped him off at a federal prison in Atlanta. It’s not what you think when you think about your future as a young woman and you’re going, “Oh, here’s my future with this man that I love.” Then you just get thrown into the pit of fire and you’re like, you either have to walk through this, quit the marriage, or just forge through it. Because I have faith, and I know that no matter what the Lord is with me in it, I knew that I had made a covenant when I said “I do” with not only my husband, but with God, and had decided to forge through it, it was so unbelievably painful.
The happy news through that story is he changed and became a completely different person. We’re still broken people, as I think almost all of us are, in some ways, but he changed and of course, I grew through that experience, unlike I would have ever imagined. The few years later, he submitted an appeal, it ended up that the judge basically threw out our old sentence, and then re-sentenced him to what really worked out is time served. He served about half that sentence, so for me, it was an answered prayer. I always said he deserved to go, but time was really a bit long. At the end of it all, the judge agreed.
I’m a big person on accountability. So as mad as I was that he did what he did, and mad really isn’t the word, I don’t think there’s an adjective that can describe how, as a wife, you feel when something like this happens. It’s like a nightmare. I’m a big fan of accountability and consequence. If you do something wrong, you deserve the consequence of that. Through that as his consequence and my trial, I walked through it, it wasn’t my fault, but man, it was rough. I think the story of being forged in that and you have community who comes and helps you, you have some community that doesn’t, you have some people in the business community who stand by you. I call out some by name in the book, who are just insanely supportive, and then some who turn. You really learn who you are, and what you’re made of in moments where you just feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and simultaneously, the weight of the world is on your heart, it was really a tough time.
Benji Block: I can’t imagine. It is really well documented in the book. I think it gives us such a unique flavor to have that as this backdrop. Well, also then going into detail on the personal brand side of things. I wonder for you, why now? Why write this book now, because the personal brand side is a really good for you in your business, having a book and speaking to that, but also including these very personal parts. I wonder what culminated to make this the season to do that?
Mila Grigg: Yeah. That’s a great question. When you walk through something hard — and for anyone listening, who’s gone through a fire or going through one — The encouragement that I’ll give you now, looking back on mine is that people come to you afterward and tell you things that they probably wouldn’t tell someone else, because I mean, I imagine they assume you understand what they’re going through. It was so many years, and I didn’t want the story, in the beginning, to define me and also to be my life story. I wanted my purpose to be greater than a trial, for sure, in life. So I wanted to wait and really at the end of the day, I wrestled with this for so many years, because it was truly God’s story. It wasn’t my story.
What he did, what the Lord did through that trial for me, and what he did through and to my husband, and watching him change, and watching repentance in real-time, and watching everything you have in that moment from shame, to guilt, to sorrow that you can’t even put into words and then to watch that transformation. I mean, I just think I needed the time. I also am asked to talk about it often. I talked to financial institutions and banks and businesses and Fortune companies, and it’s often a topic, they’re like, “Hey, you talk a lot about integrity,” and I’m over here like yeah, man.
I talked about integrity because I know what happens when you have a crack of integrity and what happens as you continue to crack and there isn’t any accountability. Then it just turns into a disaster. As I’ve talked about the story of our lives over the years, and then how that equated to other people, and how they built their brand, through their own trials, or the trials of those close to them, it just felt the right time to put it on paper. I’ll tell you, even now, even though I’ve talked inside Fortune 500 companies about the story, it is daunting, and it is God. I mean, the word is just it’s slightly terrifying. You have to put yourself out there all over again. You always wonder what will the repercussions of this be, but I think this story is worth telling, because at the end of the day, I want everyone who reads it to be encouraged, to understand that even though we walk this is great moment in my life that I had.
I was actually giving birth to my first child, and it was in December, and he went to prison in September. I mean, it’s right next to Christmas, I’m having this baby. It’s a moment of joy filled with so much sorrow and a cloud. A nurse walked in, I hadn’t seen her ever. I hadn’t seen her since and she walked in, and she didn’t introduce herself and just said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” and all I could think was Lord, you have the wrong room. I’m not dying. But she said, “No, you need to hear this.” She said, “I want you to remember one word and the word is “through”. “Yea, though I walk through,” you’re going to walk through, you’re not stuck in this valley, you’re not going to be in it forever. The Lord is with you as you walk through it.”
I was like, “Oh, this is exactly what I needed to hear. This is it. The Lord is telling me I’m not stuck in it.” So I want every single person who reads this to not be afraid to be who they are, and build their brand, and know that they have great purpose, and know that they can make more money and all the earthly things, but that no matter what, no matter what comes in life, you’re never stuck, you’re always walking through it. Maybe after all these years — it’s been quite a few years —I finally garnered the courage to put it down into words and to see where God will take it.
Benji Block: I love that, because I think when we think of personal brands — and this is coming from someone that has spent time in marketing — I think of very shiny things often. The truth is that the personal brands that are super shiny are actually the ones that people tend to gravitate away from because they can’t relate. For a season, I feel like, especially on Instagram or social, you would get to these situations where you’re like, “Oh, this person’s life looks so perfect.” That’s their personal brand. That’s what they want to project. The vulnerability of this to go, “Hey, I’m building a personal brand, I’m doing all these things I have my “why” defined and all the things we’re about to get to, but also here’s my vulnerable piece of my story. I think it’s very fitting that people are asking you to come and share that part of your story because that is a key part to your brand is showing some of the really hard stuff you’ve walked through.
Thanks for setting the table with that. I think that’s really, really important. I want to jump to content from the book here a bit. We’re going to actually just go to the personal brand side. I think it would be smart for us to just go, let’s get some definitions for what a personal brand is and what it isn’t because we probably all have different images that come to mind. So what is a personal brand, Mila? What is it not?
Mila Grigg: Yeah, you’re spot on. That’s such a great question. It’s the how I start every session, because the definition like you said, is just night and day. I’ll steal from Jeff Bezos, when he says, “It’s who people say you are, when you’re not in the room.” It’s really how people define an individual and how they describe that person, regardless of the event or location that they are, whether it’s at work or at church, in the community as a parent on the side of a soccer field; that how are people describing you to other people. I often listen to how people describe me and look for and really intentional about listening to the words that they use. That’s what I tell everyone. Personal brand is how people describe you. You don’t own your brand. I wish you could, I wish I could.
If I get off this podcast and you’re like, “I hated talking with her.” Not that you would, but you own my brand. You own it. I don’t own it. I think that this book is about people understanding that you don’t own it. It’s time for you to be intentional about sharing who you are, because you have gifts and you have a purpose and you cannot allow little things to stop you from building an authentic brand and really just sharing who you authentically are with the world.
Benji Block: Okay, so if we know that we don’t own it, but we’re still trying to create it. I wonder what creates a good brand or some of those kinds of key characteristics?
Mila Grigg: What creates a good brand. I mean, I think a good brand is one that knows who they are. I always start off with — the book was written in order of how I would do a week-long session with a company. Even today, I didn’t do it that way intentionally, I just talked through it, and it came out that way. It was a blessing that it worked, honestly. But the first piece of it was, you have to have core values and a lot of people skip over that. They want to say, “Hey, I need to make more money, my boss needs to know, X or Y about me. How do I?
I’m like, “Hey, you can’t do [that]. You can’t skip ahead. You have to go in order and core values, are at the foundation, three to five keywords for an individual or a company that describe who you are in all situations. The word integrity I mentioned earlier, I use that not because it’s one of those keywords that is completely overused, especially at a bank, right? Integrity, to me means if you don’t have it, you can be the most talented, intelligent person in the world like my husband, but if you don’t have integrity at the foundation of everything that you do, eventually, you’re going to screw up big time, potentially.
Those core values are the most important exercise that you can do, the brand values. I call them brand values, as a marketer, you might as well. Any good brand has those, knows what they are, and then uses them with every single interaction that they have, whether online or in person, or on a Zoom or whatever it might be.
Benji Block: Okay, so I love that. I’m a huge proponent of values. Then you also talked about finding your “why”. So let’s talk about how those things play together for a minute here. You talk about clients wanting to skip to find the “why”. Even as someone who likes it, you know how daunting it can be to sit down one of those exercises, I understand why people put it off. What is that process like? When you’re working with a client, and you’re trying to figure out and dig into finding your “why”, what would you highlight as those really, maybe, important questions to ask yourself or ask of your company. Where do you dig in?
Figuring Your “Why”
Mila Grigg: Yeah. I mean, finding the why, the piece of this book that I wanted to do, I’m not the expert everywhere. So in the book, I call out people from Gary V. to Simon Sinek, which is the why, to John Maxwell—
Benji Block: He’s the “why” guy, right?
Mila Grigg: He’s the “why” guy. Third, most watched TED Talk, still, I believe ever, “Start with Why”, everybody needs to hear it. For me, it relates back to—there are days in life that are really hard. That you are not your best, and that you may not want to go to work that day in particular. You have to remember why you do what you do, why you get up every day. Then for those wanting to market themselves, you have to ask yourself, why does anybody care? Right? You got to share that story. When I meet a client that deserves a promotion, either vertically or laterally or financially, and deserves an opportunity to lead a division or group or whatever, and they’re not getting it, because they’re not doing certain things that are so easy, essentially, to fix, but they’re just not aware of, I hate it. I mean, it kills me.
I go into a company looking for the person that needs some help just with those little things, or big things like, EI or Emotional Intelligence, which I know we’ll get to, but my “why” is for an individual is to help them get to a place where people are seeing their gifting and they’re being given the opportunities that they, frankly, just deserve. When people don’t get those, I mean, it just grates on me. In the days where I’m tired, or on the days where I was like, I’ve got to go to Atlanta with a newborn and visit my husband in a federal prison, which is you can imagine is not the most fun experience.
I had to remember my “why”. This is why I do what I do. This is why I was created. This is why I started the business. This is why I’m working my tail off, because those people matter. I know that I can help them. The why is what can keep you going on your worst day.
Benji Block: I like that. I wonder, as you move from the “why” and the core values you had mentioned there, it grates on you when you see someone who’s not doing some of those small things. Is there some recurring themes of the things that people miss, that they aren’t doing?
Mila Grigg: Yeah, totally. I think a lot of people will take a communication course or a leadership course, these are pretty much the same, regardless of where you’re going. You can Google how to be a great leader and watch those things, listen to those things, and read, but the things that people miss [is] that you need to do all of those things at once. Each part in the book is one of those pieces. You can be an incredible communicator. You can speak really well but lack emotional intelligence. So you speak well, but people think that you’re aloof or whatever it might be. So really, the piece that people miss or you have to continue to grow, continue to read, continue to grow, continue to listen to podcasts to grow your mind.
Don’t just be stuck on what you’ve done in the past, but typically people lack storytelling skills.
You’ve got to tell a story, to remember 22 times more than facts, so those are pieces that you just can’t miss that in a brand. Image is really important. It’s changed so much, because of COVID, but image still matters. Non-verbal communication, I mean, those are the things that we’re not taught necessarily in school at any level. Being able to walk into a room or be on a Zoom and read the room or read emotion, being able to know what someone needs to hear from you, what part of me today do you need to hear? Then share that story so that you can bond, just doing your job well, isn’t good enough anymore.
People work with people that they like, so how do you bond? How, as a leader, do you pull the “why” out of the people that you are leading? Do you care enough to do that? There are leaders who are like, “Everybody follows me.” I’m like, “No, they don’t. They don’t even like you. You don’t care what their “why” is, and you have zero influence other than your title.” People miss pieces of the brand because they’re so good at one part, but they miss the rest.
Each chapter pulls in a different piece that can stop you if you don’t have it, and it makes you more aware. It depends on who the person is, but typically, the biggest thing is image. There are studies on image and how important it is. Then I think the other piece is just the communication and storytelling. How do you communicate? Why do you communicate? Then do you actually think about what people need to know about you to share that story. Those are the biggest ones.
Benji Block: I almost want to take things a little bit meta here for a second, because we could look at you writing this book, and even this podcast in the first 20 minutes of recording this, where we’re looking at you shared integrity matters a lot to you, you’ve shared your personal story, which is part of your brand, you’ve defined the fact that you are a Christian, that that matters a lot to you, that integrity matters a lot to you. So you’ve established core values. I’m looking at the brand that you’ve established, even within this podcast interview. I think it’s a really good showcase of what you written about, then obviously you’re going into detail helping others do the same, but what you’ve established and how that could play out in the story that you could tell.
Mila Grigg: You have nailed it. You have absolutely nailed it. I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I often will talk to her about brand. I will say to her, “Sofia, not everybody needs to know everything about you at one time. You have to be so aware of that story that you’re telling, even when you meet your teacher for the first time, [when] you talk to a new coach for the first time.” You’ve nailed it today. I know in transparencies, I know people are going to hit me. I’ll take a brand hit when they find the story out if they didn’t know it. That creates a sense of fear for me, not only for myself, but for my kids, right? What will people think if they find out and they go, “I didn’t know that about you”?
You’re right. I’ve come out 100% with full transparency more on the attack. This is who I am. I’m very direct. I love Jesus. I have a lot of grace, but beware. If you want to ask me a direct question, and if you want to find out about the story I’m in, but if you want to use that as a place to turn it, understand that that won’t go over well for you, if I find out, right? You’re exactly right. I’m really intentional about where I placed certain things. I think that’s where a lot of people get into brands are fake. They’re not real. They’re just created, and I’m over here like, “No, they’re not fake, they’re actually who you are. You just have to be more intentional about sharing specific pieces at the right time, versus allowing them to just fall into place. We have 8000 layers as humans. You just have to choose the right layer to share at the right time. So yeah, you totally nailed it.
Benji Block: I wonder if there’s anything that — obviously we’re talking to a broad audience, they’re going to meet people that are in different places, as they’ve thought of their personal brand story, but — anything that really helped you clarify your message over time, or define and refine that story? Because I think that can be super helpful.
Clarifying Your Message
Mila Grigg: Yeah. It’s funny I noticed what people were coming to me for.
Benji Block: Okay.
Mila Grigg: I would do branding, or I’d be marketing consulting, I’d be like, “Hey, here’s how to fix your LinkedIn,” or “Here’s how to teach your employees how to do LinkedIn, here’s a brand guide,” right? I’d go in for work and then people would start coming to me for things that weren’t work-related. I was like, “I get it. This is the gifting that you have.” This is the purpose that you have with every person that would come to me with a story, or with a block, or “I can’t manage how my boss feels about me,” or “I’ve been waiting for promotion forever. Can you help me?” Or “I’ve actually misappropriated funds.” I’m like, “Hello. I get it. I get that you’re coming to me, because I’ve lived a different life.” I was able to refine and define, really, who I was, and why God put me on this earth. It allowed me to define a story in a different way.
Listening to what people come to you for. We are all firefighters in certain ways. So you have to ask yourself, what fires can you put out and what are people coming to you for? Whether it’s advice about a hobby that you have, or a fire that you’ve been through, or an experience, a good one, that you’ve had try to listen to what people are coming to you for and what you’re naturally saying. It doesn’t always have to do with if you’re an accountant, the numbers that you have on the paper, it has much more to do with who you are and who you were created to be.
Benji Block: Yup, that’s so good. Man, there’s so much in this book. It’s packed again with the story, but also just a lot of tactical practical advice. There’s a section — I mean, I have questions on here about the brand mirror and social media, but I’m going to let readers really dive in and go there. I just want those that are listening to know that all of that is addressed here, when we’re talking about personal brand and Mila did a great job there.
Let’s start wrapping this up as we’re getting close to the end of our time, by just giving like, is there a main takeaway you hope someone walks away with this going, “Man, this is what I’m going to remember from this book”? Whether it’s an action item or a feeling, what’s the intended end feeling for people with this book?
Mila Grigg: One of the main takeaways is you are created for a purpose. I know when I say it, there are some that will roll their eyes and others that will say that’s cheesy and some that will say, “I don’t know if I was,” but you were created for a purpose and that purpose is sometimes thwarted by things that you just don’t know that you’re doing, so that back to the EI, back to the communication, back to telling a story, image, and really now focusing a lot on social media, and how do you share a story there, especially on LinkedIn. Don’t be thwarted by things that you can change. Reach your purpose. Get the money that you want. Get the clients that you want. Ensure that you have opportunities and that you’re able to get to those opportunities and bond with people. Don’t let fear get in the way, right?
These are pieces that you can look at and go. Okay, I need to probably work on my EI. I don’t have any, or I don’t think I have any. This, you’re created for purpose, building your brand is the thing that you have to do in a world that’s moving so fast where social media has taken over. You must be able to build brand. Don’t be afraid to do it. If I can do it, Lord knows, anybody can do it. So have faith and move forward in that
Benji Block: The book again is called Forged by Fire: How to Develop an Unstoppable Personal Brand. Mila, thank you for taking time and stopping by Author Hour. How can people connect with you further, you’ve mentioned LinkedIn, I’m assuming all the social channels, but then is there other ways that you want people to connect?
Mila Grigg: Yeah, I mean, if you can link in or go to the website, it’s modaimageconsulting.com. There’s a page on there that will take you to all of the different socials and connections and a Facebook group where I will be available to answer all the questions that anybody who buys the book has, so just excited to connect and hear all of the questions and success stories that you hopefully have after the book.
Benji Block: Amazing. Well again, go buy the book on Amazon. It’s going to be a great resource for so many. Mila, thank you for being with us today.
Mila Grigg: Oh, thank you for having me.