I remember coming home from school one day distraught. Still in my grade school uniform, I told my mother that I had been teased (yet again) for being different—maybe it was kids making fun of my name, or my hair…It didn’t matter. My takeaway was: I was not like everyone else. And that was bad.
My mother’s response shaped my life tremendously. She said, “Don’t you know that that’s what makes you special? That there is no other YOU?” It took a moment for her words to sink in. But I recall the shift in me from feeling lousy and unworthy to realizing that maybe she had a point. That maybe, just maybe, if I turned ‘different’ into a plus rather than a minus, I’d be O.K.
Decades into a successful career built off of my personal brand, I can say she was very right.
Today, more than ever, what makes you different and special is what is going to set you apart in the marketplace—it can determine your success and the value of your business. We are each our own personal brand. This is both a burden, in some ways, and an asset. There are those who build empires on their personal brands alone (Kardashians), while others—most of us—need their personal brands to act as ambassadors for their business (services or manufacturing). Brand-building is not necessarily easy, but it’s one aspect of business-building that can pay off, literally.
Essential to the process of building your brand and knowing your worth is a deep understanding of who you are and why you should get the work and not the other guy, gal, or business.
Don’t get lost in the mix. Here’s how to stand out:
1) Ask and answer: Who are you?
Write down everything from your age to your gender, your status as a parent or not, your affinity groups, association memberships, alum, etc. First in brand building comes your essential identity as a person, as well as the community you surround yourself with. It may seem unbusinesslike to peer inside yourself personally, but it is a large component of who you are in the marketplace. These attributes are not only facts about yourself, but also internalized feelings and associations after years of people reacting and interacting with you. Add some adjectives next to the items on this list. Do you think being older is a bad thing? Or, like my mother did, can you make that a “special” trait and a good thing, an asset? There’s opportunity for discovery here—opportunity to build and identify your niche market or markets.
2) ‘How’ are you?
This is another bit of inventory. But, this time, it’s even more personal. Give yourself a frank assessment of your personality preferences. Are you open to working all hours and managing as long as there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, or, do you crave more limits on working time? How do you deal with stress? Are you good with being social either online or in person or both? This inventory can show you your weak spots and strong spots—knowledge of both can help lean you toward clients and business practices that are more in alignment with who you are as a person and how you tend to work.
This addresses two important wastes of valuable time (time is money) and energy: One, the square-peg-round-hole situation where you try to fit yourself into a business or business model that doesn’t suit how you like to work. The result: Resentment, which leads to a decline in quality and quantity of output. Two, the need to not waste time trying to do something you’re not good at. Yes, it costs money to pay someone to create a presentation for you but if it’s not something you’re a professional at, you’ll lose more money trying to do it yourself.
3) ‘Where’ and ‘what’ are you?
Here’s where questions 1 and 2 come together and collide with the world in a productive way and, where you’ll have to flex some muscle.
Where does all your ‘who’ and ‘how’ fit into the marketplace where you want to be? For example, as a multi-cultural, female, I have a perspective that is more rare and in demand for businesses in particular fields due to market demand.
Where and what is your niche? The demand in what you do that’s particular to you? Essentially, how can who you are match up with the needs of your space? It could be as simple as being an honest, straightforward, no-frills person who cuts through the clutter and communicates that with a clean, simple, approachable website. Or, your demeanor in person or in videos which makes people feel calm and builds trust. Build that into your business—your identity of ‘who’ and ‘how’ creating your ‘where’.
As for the value of your brand and your worth, assess your experience, your degrees, your network and the quality of your work with a ruthless eye. Maybe you have more degrees and less experience; maybe you have a killer network but little experience; maybe, you have built a fantastic reputation as someone who not only does great work but, delivers on time or ahead of time. That is worth a premium! Build on what makes you one of the best at what you do and see your worth rise.
Keep in mind that as we evolve and grow as people, your brand may need to grow and change as well. Leave room for that, particularly as the world around you changes. But knowing who you are and how you’re special is key to setting yourself apart and standing out in the crowd. Do it early and often and you’ll set yourself apart and be different.
There’s an old saying: When who you are and what you do are one and the same, peace and prosperity are yours. Now, that’s special.
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