Search Google for “web designer” and you’ll find more than 300 million results, all selling almost the exact same service and charging anywhere from $5 up to $50,000 or more. Standing out in such a crowded market ain’t easy, especially when 99% of the work you do is the same as your competition.
In truth, though, most people don’t really want to hire an interchangeable robot. They’re looking for someone with a particular attitude, style, and set of values - someone who views the world in the same way they do. And when they find the right person, the missing piece to their puzzle (read: you), they’ll know - and they’ll hire you in a heartbeat.
But how do you raise a flag to help them find you amongst the masses? Simple - just be honest. Authenticity is your secret weapon - your personality, style, opinions, and voice are what make your personal brand shine. But to do it in a meaningful way, you’ve got to do a bit of personal spelunking into who you are, the things you care about (and don’t care about), and the people you want to serve.
I tend not to trust online people that only share the positive things about themselves, or only show their best work. It’s deceptive, and it leads you to believe that success means hitting the bulls-eye every single time. My friend Femke wrote an awesome article on this when she re-branded her own blog, and it’s something I struggle with all the time.
Don’t pretend to be more than you are - people have great bullshit sensors, and they’ll see straight through it. We’re all human - we all make mistakes and have our own limitations. Embrace them - share the honest and vulnerable parts that help tell your story. I’m not saying you have to share everything - if you like to work in your underwear, I won’t judge - but the parts you do share will help cement your image as a real person, and help build trust with your audience.
As makers, we express who we are and what we stand for through our work. That’s why websites I design are simple and focused - because I believe that good design should always put function ahead of form. That’s why my writing is full of jokes and cursing - because that’s what I’m like in real life.
If you couldn’t care less about designing websites for dentists or writing about topics that make you cringe, then don’t do it. Instead, take a stand about what’s most important to you, and why you care about it. Get your message out there in your choice of medium, whether it’s an article, podcast, video, or something else entirely. Stay true to what you stand for, and you’ll draw the right people to you, and send the wrong people running in the opposite direction.
Jason Zook is an entrepreneur, teacher, and all-around inspiring guy. Last year, he did something unthinkable to most entrepreneurs - he deleted an email list of over 25,000 subscribers he’d been growing for over 5 years.
Why, you ask? He had built his list mainly using growth hacks and giveaways, attracting a huge audience of people that were only interested in the free stuff. Eventually, he realized it wasn’t the right audience for him or the business he was trying to run:
So I pulled the plug. I realized sending emails to that list was always doing more harm than good. Hitting delete on 25,000+ people was not easy, but I’ll never forget the immediate feeling of relief after I finally did it.
Take an honest look at the people you’re currently attracting, and whether they’re the kind of people you genuinely care about serving. Regardless of the work you do, keep your focus on building your audience the authentic way - through providing as much help and value as possible. And if the people in your audience couldn’t care less about you or your opinions on pants, don’t be afraid to change what you’re doing, or even to start over, like Jason.
One of the biggest perks of working for yourself is that you’re not a huge corporation - you aren’t bound by someone else’s rules and regulations. You can build your business the way you want - pants or no pants. You can also define success the way you want - whether it’s money, or happiness, or the freedom to work from anywhere.
It doesn’t do you, your clients, or your audience any good if you’re trying to be someone you’re not - and it certainly doesn’t make you any more or less likely to succeed. Instead, let your personality and authenticity guide the work you do and the people you serve, and I guarantee you’ll build a business that keeps your fire burning for years to come.
When all is said and done, no matter who your audience is or how you help them, 99% of what you do is the same as your competition. Merely hanging out your shingle and declaring yourself open for business is not enough to stand out from the crowd, and it’s certainly not enough to attract the kind of people you want to work with.
Instead, shine a light on the 1% that can’t be easily copied. That last 1% is your personal brand - your personality, style, values, opinions help you stand out from the crowd, build your tribe, and make your unique dent in the universe.
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