Three ways you can stand out in a saturated market
You can’t throw an orphaned USB charger without hitting three life coaches, a brand designer, and a boutique greeting card company.
That’s how it feels in the online space anyway.
I don’t say that to discourage you though. Not at all! In fact I think this is one of the absolute coolest times to be alive and entrepreneurial. Especially as women, at least in developed countries. We’ve never had so many opportunities to build our own empire right at our fingertips.
You can literally start a six figure business from your couch, on the least expensive laptop they make, in your sweatpants if you want. Do you think your grandmother had that option? I can almost guarantee you she did not.
The catch to all this wonderfulness is that it comes with a much stronger need to stand out from the crowd than we had in the past. The crowd is crazy big now. And sometimes very loud.
By the way, notice I didn’t use the word competition. Competition separates us and makes us feel as though there isn’t enough to go around, and that’s just not true. This world is huge guys. There’s room for all of us. There are people who need exactly what you have to offer.
A word I will use is noise. There’s a lot of noise out there, coming at us from all sides, and if you want to build a brand that survives (and thrives) you need to stand out in the midst of it. Your ideal client needs to see your brand and feel as though it’s just you and them on the dance floor, rom-com style.
That’s not super helpful though, is it? It’s like saying “Hey, you just need to find the one thing that’ll make you cooler, smarter, and more efficient, then you’re set.” Right. Thanks. I’ll get right on that Ashley.
And in a way, it can be one of the hardest parts of building a brand. I wish I could tell you it was easy, or that there’s a surefire trick to find that thing that sets you apart, but that’s not always the case.
The truth is it takes time and experience to really hone in on the unique value you’re bring to the table.
Think of it like an onion... you just keep going deeper, layer by layer, as you and your brand evolve.
But once you've been in business at least a year or two and have some of that experience under your belt, where do you start looking for your special sauce? Does it just magically appear? Sometimes, but not always. Here are three big places you might try...
Your Products & Services
Are you offering something others aren’t? This is where learning about and playing to your strengths can be a game changer. You can pull from your particular combination of skills to create an offering that is unique to you and what you do best.
For example, in my brand + website design packages I offer a combination of strategy, design, and development because I have a background in software programming, years of design experience, and a personality type that can't help but see the big picture and break it down. I’m playing to my unique strengths, it’s not something you see a lot of people do in my market, and my clients enjoy not having to hire three or four people to pull all the parts of their project together.
The key here is to think outside the box. Look at your life as a whole, not just your business. What skills and strengths can you pull from other areas of your life to make your offering unique to you?
Some questions to ask yourself to help you along.
What do you love to do?
What are you really good at doing?
What do people regularly ask for your help with?
Is there a pain point your clients have that you can solve if you think outside the box?
Is how you work with clients somehow unique or not widely done? Is it solving a problem for an underserved group of people? This is a great way to set yourself apart in a market where the services or products are pretty standard.
I see people do this a lot in my industry. One designer that I know of has built her business around her two week brand + website creation process. Another holds one day workshops where women fly in and build their whole brand in a cool group setting with her help. The end result of both of those is probably pretty similar, but the process is much different.
To brainstorm this one, try thinking about what’s standard in your industry first. Then mull over these questions.
How long do projects normally take?
Are there any parts of the standard process that are generally a pain in the butt for your clients?
How would you like to do business?
Do you have an uncommon stance on something? A strong opinion? What about a deeper story around why you do what you do, or what led you here? You can use that to set yourself apart. People want to buy from brands they can get behind and feel connected to.
Kimra Luna is a great example of this. Her Freedom Hackers brand was built around rebelling against some of the old school online business advice - especially that you have to be a certain type of person to succeed. Another good example would be Ash Ambirge with The Middle Finger Project - for obvious reasons.
Your brand doesn’t have to be in your face to differentiate yourself like this by the way… those are easy examples to pull from. Maybe you just approach things from a slightly different perspective than others. Don’t discount your differences because you feel like they aren’t strengths or they don’t seem impressive enough. Sometimes it takes hearing a message one certain way for it to suddenly stick and change someone's life or business.
To brainstorm this, try these on for size.
Are there common beliefs in your industry you find yourself disagreeing with regularly?
Do you have a strong underlying story or "why" that would resonate with people?
What do you find yourself getting passionate about when talking with clients?
These are just three of the big areas you can look at when you’re trying to find that special something that makes you stand out. There are plenty of other ways, including getting super specific on the types of clients you work with.
Just remember, the goal isn’t to be different just for the sake of it. It’s to be authentically you, using the skills and strengths your unique life has equipped you with. No one can do what you're capable of doing, in quite the same way you can do it. Find that, and own it.