Whether you’re a small business trying to gain market share and clientele, a freelancer fighting the good battle for your next creative gig, or a job seeker putting yourself out there to snag that next job, one of the challenges remains: “How do I stand out from my competition?”
There’s a lot of competition out there in my industry as a small business and career consultant. The ones who seem to do the best and have a revolving door of clientele are those who have built a unique brand image that really resonates with who they are, the customers they cater to, and effectively communicates the value of what they have to offer. “Why would you want to work with me?” is the question that the best brands answer loudly and clearly in their messaging, and no doubt that message is positively received and then acted upon by their audience.
I also see a lot of people trying to be overly creative and cheeky, and simply approaching branding all wrong.
I see job seekers presenting professional copywriting portfolios chock full of work sprinkled with curse words in an attempt to be “edgy”. I see consultants projecting their website and marketing copy in the same tone and manner to which they probably speak to their friends after 2 or 3 cocktails, in an attempt to sound more “personable, and cheeky”. And just as bad are those whose personal and business brands lack any creativity or distinction at all. These are the small businesses who focus on pricing and features more than personal benefits, or the job seekers who treat their resume as little more than a chronological listing of events. That’s not a professional branding tool, that’s a TV Guide. And even that’s antiquated at this point.
So whether you’re a small business, an independent freelancer, or a job seeker, allow me to share 4 steps you can, and should, take in your marketing approach to ensure that you not only stand out above the crowd, but make a positive and lasting impression.
Stand Out Above the Rest: Create a Killer Brand with a Big Voice
It’s not enough to simply create your “personal brand” – who you are, what you do, what you’re looking for, what your skills are, etc. You can have a stellar brand that puts any and every professional in your field to shame, but it won’t do jack for you if the messaging behind that brand isn’t coming through in your communication. That goes for your resume, your website, your marketing materials, and anything else that has to do with marketing you or your business on a professional level.
Whenever I’ve worked with a client on their resume for instance, I wrap up our consultation with what I think is one of the most important questions they can answer: “What do you want prospective employers to know about you as a candidate?” And this is really where your brand takes shape. If someone attempts to answer this question with some hum-drum response along the lines of “I want them to know I’m a hard worker, I get things done…” I quickly reroute them back to an understanding of what creating a brand is all about: the unique qualities that differentiate you from others in your field with similar backgrounds or service offerings. Let’s try this again:
“What would you like prospective employers to know about you?”
“I’d like them to know that while my hands-on experience is on the production end, I’m constantly pulling from my experience as a fine artist, bringing creative ideas and concepts to the table, which helps me establish a great dynamic with any creative team I work with.”
“What would you like prospective customers to know about you?”
“Customer service and retention is of utmost importance to me. I value my customers above all else, and will always work with them to ensure that their shopping experience with me is positive and rewarding, and that they’re receiving value and quality every time.”
BAM! Sign me up to your newsletter, STAT!
Stand Out Above the Rest: Avoid Trying to Be Overly Creative
While constructing an avant grade resume chock full of flashy imagery, puns and oh yea, it’s written on post-it notes, might seem like a good way to get yourself noticed, it’s not necessarily a good way to get a job. “Creative” does not translate to “better”, and not everyone will appreciate your alternative approach, especially the HR folks who want to know in plain writing what you’ve done in your career to justify them passing your resume along to the head honcho for review.
Businesses have a little bit more flexibility when it comes to being creative with your branding, but it’s still important to keep the creative efforts in line with your brand’s image and personality. If you sell software solutions to Fortune 500s, don’t take your design cues from your favorite indie band’s branding.
And when it comes to job searching or seeking out contract work, use your creativity sparingly and appropriately. No matter what industry you’re in, some of the standards of professional job searching still apply. If you’re going to create an interesting personal branding package to help you stand out from the crowd, balance out the essentials (resume, portfolio, cover letter) with pieces that your target audience will actually find relevant and interesting (a white paper you wrote, links to guest blogs you wrote on industry topics, press mentions, etc.). Try to learn as much as you can about the culture of the organization, and then appeal to that in your marketing approach.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Be sure to check out the sequel tomorrow, 4 Ways to [Definitely] Stand Out in Your Job Search (Part 2), for more tips on creating your brand to rise above your job search competition.
About the Author: Dana Leavy founded Aspyre Solutions, focusing on small business development and career consulting. Her mission is to support creative and socially-conscious small businesses, through career transition coaching and business consulting for creative professionals and entrepreneurs.
Dana has helped hundreds of professionals in advertising, marketing, design and other industries execute effective career plans to find and DO the work they are passionate about. She has presented seminars on navigating careers, transition and work-life balance to several colleges and universities, and her advice has been featured on MSN Careers, Fox Business News, NewsDay, CareerBuilder.com, GlassDoor and About.com. Follow Dana on Twitter!