How do you stand out in your local marketplace? How do you become a go-to person, freelancer, etc., in the city or town you live in?
Finally, can you do it on a shoestring budget?
Everything seems more competitive every day, doesn’t it? Go to any place in the world where business is being conducted and you’ll find quite a few people providing online business services similar (or somewhat similar) to yours.
I have to admit, I thought everything was super-competitive twenty years ago. I’ll probably be thinking the exact same thing twenty years from now.
There will always be competition, so commit to getting past any self-imposed limitations that may be connected with that.
It’s easy to get noticed in a group of six. It’s harder to get noticed in a group of six hundred… and even harder yet than in a group of six thousand.
I hate to say there’s a formula that can get the job done, but there kind-of, sort-of, is.
If consistency and persistence can be considered steps in a formula, then yes – there’s a formula. I’ll get back to that later.
Trying to Get Noticed
First, let’s quickly call out what some people might refer to as the elephant in the room. Many people would agree that there’s something off-putting when we see people trying to get noticed or trying to get attention. Think about how children are taught or educated in our society. Blending in or not calling undue attention to oneself would be considered the social norm or etiquette. Maybe it’s less so today than it was in the past, but it’s still there.
Attention seekers are generally frowned upon in social settings.
The challenge comes, however, when we throw business and the need for business growth into the mix. In the business world, blending in is a kiss of death – especially in a crowded, competitive market.
You must stand out in what can sometimes feel like a sea of competition if you want to succeed.
This creates a real conundrum for some of us. It did for me.
It goes against our grain.
We don’t feel comfortable climbing to the highest elevation and calling out to the crowd, “Look at me and listen!”
It’s not difficult to imagine a voice hollering back from the crowd, “Shut up and sit-down you loser!” It’s funny and it’s not, all at the same time.
People STILL Dislike Being Sold to
There’s an old saying, “People like buying but they hate being sold to.” Most people would agree with that. You can couple that with the fact that most freelancers aren’t exactly enthusiastic when it comes to tackling sales or marketing.
They’d rather be focusing their time and energy into doing the actual work they’re getting paid to do. Most freelancers see themselves as creators, not salespeople.
Sure, every freelance business person sells or markets their services – even if it’s just sharing a link or two with people who express some interest… but it’s not something many of them really enjoy doing. I’m talking about the selling part.
They’re not into high-pressure or aggressive sales tactics. They don’t appreciate being pressured into clicking a buy button before they’ve had a chance to really think about it.
And honestly, a lot of them truly resent being pushed into buying upsells.
I’ll get to sales funnels in a second, but do you see the underlying issue here? I’ll spell it out for you, but first, let’s get to sales funnels.
Sales Funnel “Victims”
So, let’s say you buy product #1. Product one is a software program that helps you reach people on LinkedIn (for example). After you buy the software, you get redirected to a page that offers you a better version of the basic product you’ve just purchased.
This version is for people who are really serious about reaching people on LinkedIn. So, you go ahead and buy the upsell. Then, you get directed to another page where they offer you the “ultimate version” of the software that comes with all kinds of extras. The sales page says this is for people who are really, really serious about reaching people on LinkedIn.
We’ve all been through sales funnels like these. Once you’ve made your initial purchase, it’s tempting to buy the upsells because it appears that the first purchase was for an incomplete or inferior product.
Now, please understand that I’m not here to knock sales funnels, making money, or anything like that.
What I’m focusing on is the user’s experience at the end of the process. If he or she is left with a bad taste in their mouth because a few weeks from now because they feel they were manipulated into spending more then they wanted to, what happens as a result?
It’s quite possible the seller has “lost a customer for life” instead of gaining one.
The Underlying Issue
Now, let’s get back to the underlying issue that has affected the majority of the people who work in what we might call the “creative community” or the “creative class.”
Today, the path to success seems to inadvertently lead through the valley of marketing, sales, and in-your-face commercialism. I’m talking about aggressive, advertising-driven, hands-in-your-wallet approach that’s become the norm of today.
There’s an invisible line. You can sense it, deep down on the inside. On one side, you stay true to yourself and possible, to a mission that’s bigger than you.
On the other side of the line, you sell out. It’s not about the people anymore. It’s just about you and yours. Survival of the fittest.
Can you navigate the valley and come up on the other side with your soul intact?
Okay, maybe I’m dramatizing this a bit? Or, maybe not?
What I’m saying is, if you inwardly feel like you’re crossing some kind of line, you hesitate. If you keep crossing the line, eventually the line disappears… but at what cost?
Thankfully, there’s are alternatives to “dirty marketing” practices. In other words, there are alternate routes that will get you to where you want to be.
A Different Approach with Personal Branding
So far, we’ve seen plenty of negatives around the topics of standing out in a crowd and marketing. Thankfully, there are other ways to been seen and heard without being loud, obnoxious, or manipulative.
You can actually become a welcome presence in a crowded, hype-filled marketplace. The approach I’m talking about would fit into the category of “personal branding.”
With this approach, you can be yourself, talk about things that are meaningful, and be a breath of fresh air to those who no longer respond to all the marketing noise that’s out there.
Here’s how the process worked for me.
Years ago, I secured my very first clients through one-on-one conversations. I was in the right place at the right time and was able to talk directly with the people in need of my services.
It worked out great because I was able to answer their questions and concerns in real-time. I was excited about their projects and they were excited to be talking to me. It was a win-win situation for both parties.
A simple introduction started the entire process.
After the job was over, I stayed in regular contact with the business owners. Over the course of the months that followed, I went from being a new sub-contractor to a trusted adviser.
From Unknown to Known
Over the course of the first five years of my business, a pattern emerged. Every time I tried a new marketing idea, the results fell far short of my hopeful expectations. Every time I was able to talk with someone, however, something good things seemed to happen.
No, I didn’t always land a new contract. What I mean is, at the very least, the person was always thankful for my time and felt better off for having talked with me.
I also discovered that I’d get the same result talking to a group of people as I did with them one-on-one.
At the time, I didn’t call this personal branding. I just looked at it as getting my name out there in my community.
Guess what? I worked!
Clarity Beats Persuasion
I stopped focusing on persuading people to buy from me. Instead, I focused on giving them clarity as to what they really needed and why. After years of experimentation, clarity seemed to beat persuasion each and every time. People are naturally skeptical. They sense when others are trying to persuade them and are resistant to that approach.
Clarity, on the other hand, removes the mystery as to what they need and why. In my experience, clarity sells better than persuasion.
I’m not exaggerating when I say there is more confusion out there today than I’ve ever seen in the past. Every day there are new tools, new ideas, new platforms, new products, etc., appearing on the horizon.
Clarity, you might say, is at an all-time low.
This is why I believe CLARITY outperforms persuasion. It leaves people feeling good about doing business with you. On the flip side, persuasion techniques often leave people with the feeling (especially in hindsight) that they were manipulated by the seller.
So, the question is, what type of experience do you want people to have? It’s up to you.
The Hurdles You MUST Overcome to Build a Personal Brand
I know they say the hardest part is getting started. That wasn’t the case for me. For me, the hardest part was what came next.
I created content for my audience. By content I mean – audios, videos, emails, etc.
Getting started was easy, but what happens when people aren’t tripping over themselves to tell you how good you are? What if people aren’t opening your emails or watching your videos? What if your site isn’t getting very much traffic?
Most people throw in the towel and quit.
They feel like they’re a tortoise in a hare’s race.
You must be different. Before you even get started, know that your mission is to create a body of work. You must commit to it as soon as possible, even if your message isn’t 100% on target for your business yet. You must get started and you must keep going – with or without traffic.
You can work on a project for over a year, putting your heart and soul into it, and get very little feedback. You have to be ready, right from the start, to keep going.
That’s the “road to authority.” I’ve tried the shortcuts and guess what? They don’t work! It takes time to build a blog, build a video channel, build a podcast audience. Then, when you “get discovered,” you have volumes of work that make YOU look the part.
You can’t just say, “I’m an expert, I’m the best and I have a great team behind me,” and expect people to believe it.” You have to show them over and over and over again.
That’s what I’m talking about when I use the term, “personal branding.”
When I started my podcast, I was expecting to give the best I had on each show. That said, I wasn’t expecting to move the needle with it for AT LEAST one year.
That was the mindset I went in with. I wasn’t expecting a quick win. I was expecting to run a marathon. I prepared myself mentally at the starting line to face one opportunity to quit after another.
At that point, the main hurdle becomes ME – not my competitors.
Finding Your Message and Mission
Looking back over my own journey, I can identify a few things that acted as a type of “glue” that was a factor in bringing all the pieces together.
Having a mission was one of those things. Having a mission, message, or greater purpose changes the game entirely.
If creativity drives you, and not money, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If making a difference in the lives of the people around you is a driving factor for you, again – you know exactly what I mean when I use the words – mission, message, and purpose.
Plug all of this into the “personal brand” methods I’ve talked about in this article and what would you have? It’s exciting when you think about the possibilities.
You Can Figure it Out
I hope I’ve given you a lot to think about. Of course, there are questions… but there will always be questions. When you start, you’ll have questions. If you’re still doing this, years from now, there will be new things to figure out.
If you’re afraid to get started because you’re really not too sure about this or that, you’ll never get started.
You have to DO, not just think. The doing part can be scary. Wait, I forgot… men don’t get scared, we get troubled by things.
Let me rephrase it.
You have to take action even if you’re troubled or scared by whatever type of adversity you’re confronted with.
So, where does advertising fit in with this topic? Feel free to experiment with paid advertisements at any point during the process. Or, you can leave paid advertising off completely.
Building a personal brand can be used as an alternative to paid ads or it can be used along with it.
Personal branding and reputation building go hand-in-hand.
Okay, let’s call that a wrap. Thanks for reading and feel free to share your own thoughts on this topic.