Some years ago, my business partner, Matthew Sloane, and I had just come out of a sales call with a potential client and were asking ourselves a typical question: “Will they engage in a project with us or go with another brand & leadership development consultancy?”
We both felt great on the call, but now that it was over, I could feel some anxiety seeping in. In my conversation with Matt, I began talking faster, taking shorter breaths, and making arguments in my head as to why we were better than other firms who also focus in our niche. This went on for a while. Why? It was happening at a time when we were in between larger client engagements.
The Challenge of Being in Between Projects
My inner dialogue was saying, “We need to get this bigger project or else that’s it! No other possibilities out there. How will we pay our bills and keep the consultancy and our more independent lifestyles going?”
Know the feeling?
I mentioned to Matt that this was all happening inside my head.
He then asked me, “Remember what Steve Jobs said in the movie ‘Jobs’?” My ears perked up. “You don’t need to be better. Just be different.”
And in that moment, my overly-active mind stopped churning. I had one of those “ahhh, that’s right…” moments. The kind when someone has to remind you of that insight you already know, and even support people with, but just had a little brain freeze.
Knowing Your Value
In that instant, I took it in. I paused, took a deep breath, and remembered our unique approach and value in the marketplace. I remembered my own gifts, values, and deeper purpose. I remembered the impact we’ve had on our past clients, particularly, when we’re of genuine service to others and in the flow. I remembered my inherent value as a human being, just for being myself.
After a few minutes, I was back and more present again with myself. Relaxation seeped back into my mind and body. Anxiety went away.
Even if this client didn’t sign up with us, it was ok.
I trusted that the value we offered was going to attract more sales opportunities again. I knew that if we continued to make our value known in the marketplace and stayed connected to who we were, new opportunities would show up.
Now, the question I often get asked by other consultants, or freelancers, is, “How can I truly know my value and uniqueness in the marketplace?” To answer this I always go back to the basic building blocks of a professional, or even company, brand.
The Building Blocks of a Professional Brand (and a Company Brand)
Below are four key elements Matt and I have discovered along our careers that can lend some clarity around this question. Knowing and integrating all four of them into a cohesive whole is what makes up the uniqueness of our brand, whether it’s our professional brand, or an organizational brand. Ultimately, this deeper clarity can have a profound impact on how clearly, naturally, and confidently we can speak when introducing who we are and what we do.
I’ve included four key brand elements below, along with questions that you can use to help you discover them for yourself:
1) Know WHY you do what you do.
What do you believe in strongly and why is that important to you in your work and/or life overall? What are some compelling moments, or key learnings, in your career that led to those core beliefs/principles? What’s the deeper meaning for you behind your work?
For a great talk on the power and importance of knowing of your ‘why,’ in the context of your business, check out this article, which includes a TED talk by Simon Sinek. If you haven’t already seen it, it may reshape the way you think about your own professional brand. If you have seen it, I’d invite you to watch it again and see if it invokes anything new for your business practice.
2) Identify WHO your customers/clients are.
Who do you like working for? What kinds of companies? What kinds of teams? What kinds of projects? What circumstances and challenges are these clients generally in before they hire you, and which challenges do you gravitate towards most? What are their aspirations for their work, and their life, and which aspirations do you personally get inspired by?
3) Understand WHAT you offer and their benefits / impact.
What service, or services, do you offer and what are the benefits for your clients. Better yet, what’s the most common impact you have on their business, and on your clients personally, when you work with them? How has their life been renewed in some way? And to go a little deeper, what impact are they now having on the people they serve?
4) Know HOW you go about doing what you do.
What are the skills, talents, and approaches / processes that you bring into your work to get the job done? What’s it like for your clients and collaborators to work with you? What are the most common qualities you bring into your work and that people reflect back to you?
All four of these elements serve as the building blocks of your professional brand. It’s like having an architectural blueprint before you build a home. When you have one, it’s a whole lot easier to build your house.
Focusing Too Much on Others, Instead of Ourselves
Without the clarity of who we are and how we serve (aka: our brand), we can easily move into the land of “I’m better than that company or that person because <fill in the blank>.” Trying to be better can often lead to a lot of wasted energy in the end and just create more stress. I’ve certainly had my fair share of ‘comparison thoughts’ and ‘wasted energy’ over the years and still catch myself in these old patterns when life presents itself with little surprises.
Now, certainly, it’s true. Claiming we’re “better” than others in our marketing or sales efforts can help us sign up new clients in the short term, and, perhaps even, the long term. But, we may always feel a gnawing sensation in the back of our minds… “what if someone ‘better’ comes along and takes my job over?” Or, “what if someone wins that next account that I’m interested in?”
Moreover, we may end up competing with people who could be our potential partners and collaborators on future projects. We may even miss out on their support (and having them keep their eyes open for us) when we are in transition between projects.
On some level, Steve Jobs understood the challenge we get into when we’re too focused on trying to claim we’re better. Ultimately, people and companies end up in small feature wars and forget the bigger picture around what truly builds deeper trust and engagement with potential customers and clients.
Turning brand clarity into messaging
Brand clarity and messaging/copy (for your Linkedin profile, resume, or pitch presentations) may not come easily at first. It takes time and can sometimes require the support of colleagues, a mentor, and/or a brand or career coach to really get it to a place where it feels right for you.
Even if your brand elements (e.g. the why, who, how & what) look similar to others at first glance, there’s always something truly unique about you within those elements — your story/unique life experiences, a quality that makes working with you much different than others, and/or a combination of your talents and skills that create a unique experience for your clients.
Be different. Or, as I like to say, just be yourself.
Over time, and with practice, it’ll go a long way to meeting the kinds of clients you want to work with and doing the type of work that uses your skills and gifts for the benefit of everyone. Including yourself.
Learn more about the building blocks of a professional or company brand in our free ebook, “4 Key Elements to a Soulful Brand”…4 Key Elements >>