Renaissance Business Case Study: the Web Designer, Filmmaker, Entrepreneur, Activist

Renaissance Business Case Study: the Web Designer, Filmmaker, Entrepreneur, Activist

Written by Emilie

Topics: Renaissance Business

When I first met Brian Gerald, he had half a dozen different websites.

There was the site where he wrote about theology, activism and queer rights, the site where he offered his web development services, the lifestyle design blog, the self-promotional website, and a few others I can’t recall.

It was as if his scanner nature had taken over. I could see it: a new interest or business idea would arise and, seeing no way to combine that interest into an existing platform, Brian would create a new entity altogether.

The result was a number of scattered websites strewn across the internet. It probably meant splitting up his time more than necessary, which would have been stressful. I doubt prospective clients would even know where to go to find him!

Here’s what Brian had to say in reference to his activism site:

“Since I’d been writing about theology and queer liberation there, blogging about web design didn’t seem to fit so I added a blog to my business website and would write about web design and social media there, while continuing to write about activism on my personal website. My posting frequency suffered.”

Brian was Unwittingly Positioning Himself in Direct Competition with the Specialists

By creating a new web presence for each offering, Brian was positioning himself as just another web developer. Just another lifestyle designer. Just another activist with a blog. Brian’s web presence wasn’t doing him justice. He was more than how he’d been representing himself online, and it was time to bring that out.

How we Combined Brian’s Interests into One Business

Brian and I started working together back in February. The first order of business? Finding an overarching theme to bring his projects together in a way that made sense logically.

The first step in coming up with an overarching theme was getting all of Brian’s past and present interests out on paper. I asked him a few pointed questions– questions which later evolved into the exercises and worksheets in Renaissance Business.

Here’s an abridged version of Brian’s Master List of interests, including past and present activities:

  • Studied film and television production in college and was executive producer of weekly entertainment news show
  • Studied religion in college
  • Spent four months on Equality Ride, an LGBT activism project criss-crossing the United States visiting some of the most anti-queer colleges and universities in the United States to talk about the policies and theologies in place there and to seek reconciliation, for everyone, between our faiths, sexualities, and genders
  • Worked for a children’s television network
  • Web design, development and maintenance
  • Strategizing, marketing, communications, and development for non-profits
  • Editing a documentary
  • Taking a storytelling class
  • Creating a financial workbook for indie business owners

Yikes! Could all of these interests really be combined?

Creating Subgroups of Similar Interests

The first thing you need to do when looking for an overarching theme, is group similar interests together. I now use the worksheets I made for Renaissance Business to do that, but quickly lets just check out the results of the subgrouping exercise.

Brian’s interests fit roughly into four broad subgroups:

  1. Activism (social change, policy, non-profits)
  2. Film (writing, production, video editing. I also noticed from Brian’s videos that he had a great on-camera personality)
  3. Web 2.0 (new business models, marketing, entrepreneurship, location independence, productivity)
  4. Web development (design, maintenance)

Combining Two Broad Interests

In Thursday’s post, I wrote about the “common thread” approach to finding an overarching theme. Now lets talk about the second approach: fusing together two broad interests.

Sometimes two interests can be brought together to create an umbrella that encompasses many individual topics. These two categories can be related in some way, but often they have nothing in common. They might even be polar opposites. Take Steve Kamb’s website, Nerd Fitness for example. Nerds and athletics do not usually go together. That’s why it works.

Could Knowledge from One Subgroup Help Someone Involved in Another Subgroup?

Another question to ask yourself is whether knowledge from one of your subgroups could help a group of people involved in another subgroup. Could Brian’s knowledge of web 2.0 be useful for an activist or non-profit organization?

Um, yes.

Activists and Non-profits care deeply about spreading their message and impacting the world. However, many of them struggle and are largely ineffective because they’re not taking advantage of new web 2.0 tools. Most activists don’t know about building an email list or growing an online community. This is precisely what the web 2.0/online business world is great at!

Here’s Brian describing the vision behind his email course, Strategy + Action:

“Strategy + Action is a weekly email which teaches you how to leverage web & media to change the world which I realized was crucial because often non-profit leaders aren’t as plugged in to RSS and surfing blogs regularly. Giving them the option to receive tailored information directly to their inbox was crucial.”

Brian has the knowledge and experience to provide web 2.0 solutions to activists and non-profits because he’s intimately familiar with both worlds. Multipotentiality to the rescue!

What about Brian’s Remaining Interests: Film and Web Design?

Brian’s film production and web design skills could be integrated into his business by being the way in which he helps non-profits adopt a web 2.0 strategy to spread their message.

Instead of leading with “I’m a web designer” or “I’m a video editor,” like he’d done in the past, he could use these skills as part of the bigger vision he’s implementing for the organization. This approach is a hell of a lot more powerful than simply positioning himself as a “web designer.”

Brian’s Brand New Renaissance Business

The process I described here is how we arrived at Brian’s overarching theme: Web 2.0 strategies for activists and non-profits.

Within days of our first brainstorm session, Brian had launched Lessons in Movement Making and had collapsed all of his sites into it.

Instead of running half a dozen separate businesses, Brian now uses all of his interests and skills in synchronicity. Here’s Brian’s description of what he does:

“On Lessons In Movement Making I teach world changers how to build effective, sustainable movements utilizing the ever-evolving toolset of the future. I cover how to work with your employees to empower them to be more productive and I cover how to quit your day job. I cover management, fundraising, strategies for change, marketing, social media, video production, and a handful of other topics.”

Brian’s monthly visitors have increased every month since launching his Renaissance Business. He reached his first goal of 50 subscribers in less than 2 days after launching his first email course, Strategy + Action.

Best of all, Brian seems more emotionally fulfilled. He gets to do everything he loves for a cause he believes in. His multipotentiality is no longer an obstacle to income, but has become the driving force behind his work.

Your Turn

Do you have a particular angle to your business that’s at the intersection of two or more of your interests?


If you’d like to learn more about turning all of your interests into one business, check out Renaissance Business.


  1. Johan says:

    Hey Emilie, I’ve been lurking on this blog for a long time, mainly because I haven’t been in a position to start much of anything (just finished a 7 month contract working for a cruise ship) until now.

    Love this blog, because I’ve always wanted to have a blog like this! Needless to say, I’m a multipotentialite, or trying to be a renaissance man anyway. You’re doing something amazing here.

    Now, if I could just settle on a name for my blog, I could actually launch it…

  2. Emilie says:

    Hey Johan,

    First of all, thanks for the kind words. It’s funny you should bring up the topic of naming a business. I’m going to get into that a bit on Thursday’s post (it’s a whole section in my book too).

    My theory is that there are two steps to conceiving a business. The first is coming up with your theme and the second is communicating that theme to your people. A lot of people miss one of these steps or get them confused. But yeah, once you know what your site is about, you need a clever way of “clothing” that theme so that you attract people (some call this branding). That’s where your title comes in. Tagline and design are the two other important elements. But all three combined need to communicate your theme to the audience.

    (Check back on Thurs for a long discussion of this stuff. :)

  3. Johan says:

    Hello, again

    I do look forward to the next post, and your Renaissance Business.

    I get what you’re saying about branding, and it makes sense. I have a theme, although I could probably refine it further, I think. There are a few names to my blog, but I just can’t settle on one…yet.

    Can’t wait ’til Thursday….man, long wait…

  4. Laura says:

    Emilie! This is such a cool way to break down out interests. I was just like Brian with all the sites, etc. What a relief to see this formula. thanks so much.

    With Gratitude,

    Laura puttypeep

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Laura,

      Thanks! Yeah, I think people assume that I have some sort of magic creative power. But I really believe that this stuff can be taught. Once you know how to seek out those patterns, it’s more a matter of practice than anything. :)

      • Yes. I think it’s important to remember that you’ve got a teachable formula that works, and also it’s up to us to implement it. You didn’t come up with the name, or redesign my website, or plan my post calendar. You just helped me think through an alternative framework.

        At the end of the day, we still need to do the work (and it’s that much more rewarding because of it!).

  5. Cotton Candy says:

    Loved the sample chapter of Renaissance Business Emilie!
    And I loved this case study! Figuring out subgroups could make things soo much easier! You are brilliant & awesome. I am so glad I discovered Puttylike. ^_^

    • Emilie says:

      Right back atcha! :)


      • Cotton Candy says:

        Yep, subgroups is helping. :D I have possibly come up with an overarching theme! (I love examples, thank you so much for this post!) I’m excited for Thursday when you talk about using your title, tagline, & design to communicate a theme. And of course, for your book, which sounds like it’s amazing!
        You rock Emilie!

  6. Sopheap says:

    Great post. Emily you are magic !

    Brian’s website seems full of very good informations and It’s cool you make me discover it.

    Greetings from France to both of you !

  7. Ryan Hines says:

    This was a great post! I had the amazing opportunity of meeting Brian at the Wild Goose festival this past summer. Brian — you definitely do have a lot of interests and creative ideas. It was great to read how all of your skills and talents were brought to form one cohesive brand that aligns with all of this. Can’t wait to see you again!

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Ryan! And yeah, I must agree with you. This post basically wrote itself. Brian is such a talented and interesting guy in so many ways. The perfect case study. :)

  8. I gotta say, this guy Brian… seems like a pretty freakin RAD dude! And I have to say that I’m glad the world has great people like you, Em, that are working with guys like Brian, who are working to make the world a better place… 10 passions and 1 bundle of them at a time :) I mean, is that an awesome cycle, or what?! :)

    • Emilie says:

      Did you not know Brian before? That surprises me. But I always assume that my good blogger friends all know each other. Anyway, now you do. :)

      And thanks Laur. You’ve got quite a renaissance platform there yourself!

    • Brian Gerald says:

      Aw shucks, thanks! I see from your website you’re from good ole NJ. When I was in 5th grade, I got first picks on which state to choose for my state report and I chose New Jersey! I will forever defend the beaches of south Jersey where I spent my childhood summers.

  9. Denise says:

    I’m excited about this whole renaissance concept. I haven’t heard of any of this before I started reading your blog. It makes so much sense, though, and I’m really seeing the possibilities here to connect multiple interests.

    Since I’m new to your blog, I haven’t read all of your posts… have you ever mentioned anything about ADHD and the correlation with multipotentiality? Is there a link there or is this totally different?

    • Emilie says:

      Well yeah, I pretty much invented the concept. Lol. But it’s not like Renaissance Businesses didn’t exist before. I just gave them a name.

      I haven’t actually written anything about multipotentiality and ADD before. I’m pretty sure many multipotentialites either have ADD or ADD-like tendencies. Very similar to entrepreneurs (many of whom are scanners as well). And then the two concepts probably get confused a lot too, which definitely causes problems. As in “you don’t have many interests, you’ve just got ADD.” Argg!!

      This topic would certainly make for an interesting guest post, if you’re up for it…! :)

      • Denise says:

        I do have ADHD, and I’ve had people convince me it’s a curse/handicap of some sort, but I think it’s also the reason I’m a fast learner and a very quick worker.

        I learn something, find out I’m good at it, and then move on. This of course, aggravates people because of all the “unused potential” I’m wasting.

        I could go on and on with this topic, but if I can put something together for you, I’ll message you; thanks :)

  10. Layla says:

    Great post, Emilie and Brian!
    And YAY for the book coming out! :)

    As for ADD – Barbara Sher wrote in ‘Refuse to Choose’ that some/many ‘scanners’ (how she calls multipotentialites) may have ADD/ADHD, but not all – she herselfs says she has it, and that she personally can tell the difference between ‘ADD/ADHD’ and ‘scanner’ mode :)

    Denise, I can relate to what you write ‘learn and move on’ :) B.Sher even takes it into a ‘biz system’ (learn-teach-move on, or such:)

    Also beware, too much internet, certain foods and/or not enough movement etc can cause ADD-ish tendencies (or worse!:)
    (Yup, I researched it, lol! :)

    • Denise says:

      I think this is the first time I’ve seen ADHD and “not enough movement” in the same sentence…

      • Emilie says:

        Lol Denise…

        Thanks for sharing that Layla. Very interesting. I don’t think I have ADD/ADHD myself, but those ADD-ish tendencies you speak of? Definitely.

      • Layla says:

        Denise, check the book ‘Fidget to Focus’ and some ADD forums if you wish :)

        There are some websites about nutrition-movement-ADD connection too…

        The ‘mainstream’ movement in many ADD/ADHD places online seems to be ‘pills’ – personally I’ve been chemically sensitive since I was a little kid and don’t want to take medication unless absolutely necessary, so the ‘other’ options have been interesting for me :)

        Also, I read more than 5 hours computer time a day can cause depression, memory and concentration problems etc. (Also back/neck problems etc.) So ideally we’d be online less than that.

        Of course this is all easier in theory than in practice :)

  11. Ok, seriously – did you just peek into my soul for this post??? I remember running across this a couple of weeks ago and filing it away for when I had time to honor the writing. Seriously, this is the story of my life almost exactly! And I mean, literally – it’s REALLY similar.

    I’m going through this same exercise right now, and will definitely be reaching out to Brian to connect.

    Thanks for the great profile, Emilie! This is excellent! :)

    • Emilie says:

      Haha that is too cool! Brian and I also have a bizarre number of things in common. Film, policy/law, business… Plus we have this very strange Danish connection. Lol.

      Anyway, you’re most welcome, Brandon. I’m always happy to connect up rad multipotentialites up with other rad multipotentialites. :)

  12. Manal says:

    \this is awesome. \love love love this example.
    \i am really struggling with combining my 2 subgroups; emotional healing from trauma and entrepreneurship…anyone up for brainstorming?


    sorry smthg’s up with my keyboard

  13. Benson says:

    wow this information is hard to find, i just stumbled upon your this is great,awesome Emilie.keep doing what you are doing.

  14. Cruz Antoine says:

    Excellent article. This is a personal thanks for the genuine thought put not only into the work you do, but in the way you assemble the pieces in a way that people can relate to. Shout out to Brian also for sticking with the work when you know you have “IT”, but don’t know how to put it all together in a complimentary way–Despite what’s preached as doctrine . You both inspire others who realize they don’t have to conform and limit themselves…

Leave a Comment