Before I started my freelance marketing and branding business, I knew I wanted to start something.
There was a period of time in high school when people would ask me, "what do you want to do with your life?" and I would answer with, "be a CEO." Their faces would light up and they would follow up with, "oh, how incredible! Of what company?"
I would shrug, "I don't know, I just want to be a boss."
Since then, I've come up with more business ideas than I can keep track of.
For each and every one of my many ideas, one thought always came to me: "What makes this idea so different from all the other companies out there doing exactly the same thing?"
I struggled the most with this with my latest idea for a marketing and branding agency. There are so many marketing agencies and branding agencies, what the hell would make mine so different?
For a long time, I didn't have the answer to that. I struggled for years with the idea, knowing I wanted to go for it but scared of being just another agency with nothing special to offer. I felt like shit, my self-doubt and comparison trap set in, and I went to a dark place.
I knew what I wanted to do, but being successful with it without an amazing, incredible, unique value proposition made me feel utterly stuck. So, I didn't do anything about it.
Then, I discovered the power of storytelling. After years of asking myself, "what makes me or my ideas so special?" I figured it out. It was so obvious!
What makes your business stand out is your story and the unique life experiences that you can bring to the table.
That's it. It's so simple, and yet so profound. Don't believe me? Let's break this down.
What's Your Purpose?
What's the purpose of life? Oh goodness, isn't that the age-old question we all wish we knew the answer to?
Don't worry - I'm not asking you to determine the purpose of life and turn into an existentialist who wanders the woods barefoot asking the trees why you're here. However, if you'd like to go do that, I'm all for it. You do you!
What I am asking you to do is sit down and really think about what you're being called to do. This does not have to be determined right now, tomorrow, or even next week. It just needs to start being considered.
I thought about this for a long time. For a while, I couldn't figure out what my purpose was. There have been a lot of tears cried over what I'm here for, what I'm meant to do, and how I'm meant to spend the rest of my life here on earth.
I found myself feeling as though I was locked in a dark room, not able to see the way out. I stumbled around, feeling my way past the thick walls of self-doubt, anxiety, and imposter syndrome until I found a door handle and twisted it open. I stepped through and it felt as though I had just opened my eyes.
For me, that was the process of discovering my purpose. It might look different for you - and you may already know exactly what it is. Write it down and keep it somewhere where you can reference it.
If you're still working towards it, keep pushing. Try new things. Open yourself to new experiences and new people. Write down your thoughts and pay attention to what gives you the most energy. Soon enough, you'll find the hints that will lead you down the right path.
What's Your Vision?
What change would you like to see in the world? What can you do to get that change to happen?
Let's be clear - the vision doesn't have to be as big and scary as "solve world hunger." While that's a great goal, it's likely not achievable by yourself or even, unfortunately, in your lifetime.
Come up with a vision that states exactly what your business and mission are here to accomplish. For example, this is my vision statement:
This vision speaks exactly to the kind of change that I want to see in the world and that I know I will have the ability to influence, even just a little.
What Are Your Values?
One of the reasons I believe people are so unhappy with their jobs is because they're working around someone else's values which may not match up with their own. That's why being your own boss is so magical - you have the freedom to work around your own core values.
Your values make up who you are and what you're working to achieve while you're on this planet. If they're not well-defined, it's impossible to find clarity.
Determining and understanding what your true values are will help you move in the right direction, no matter what life throws at you.
Discovering your values takes a lot of thought and time, but once they're set, they'll provide the framework for every decision you make from now on. In turn, they establish the core of what makes you stand out.
My values are as follows:
Independence – The only sure thing you can count on is yourself. Self-reliance gives you the control to make your own life and tell your own story; no one else’s.
Creativity – Without creativity, there would be nothing in this world. Everything has been created by someone, and everyone is inherently creative. Those who have made creativity their business must nurture and protect it.
Ambition – Leaders, by nature, are ambitious. Ambition is the root of all actions and is the primary source of energy that will get us from where we are to where we want to be in life.
Integrity – Businesses and brands who act without integrity will not last much longer throughout upcoming generations. Honest business practices and authentic interactions are key to building lasting relationships and a thriving community.
Meaning – This is our reason for getting up every morning, putting on our big girl pants, and doing what we do. Finding meaningful work will not only leave you feeling satisfied but will also leave a lasting impression on those affected by it.
Community – It’s the people around you who will provide the opportunities, connections, and collaboration to be successful. A thriving community will not only build you up, but also support you when you fall.
Now it's your turn. Download this free worksheet including many different values to choose from and use it to meditate on your own values. Write them down and explain what they mean to you.
What's Your Value Proposition?
The last thing we're going to consider as a major portion of your brand story is your value proposition. This is a literal statement of who you are, what you provide, and how you stand out.
Follow these steps to come up with your value proposition:
- Identify the ways your product/service benefits your customers
- Link these benefits to the product/service you provide
- Differentiate yourself by clarifying who your target customer is, what you offer to them, and why you're different
In 1-2 sentences, your value proposition should sum up everything your customer will get out of interacting with your product/service. No pressure, right?
As you come up with this value proposition, remember everything else we discussed here. Keep your values, vision, and purpose in mind. If you do that, this should be the easiest part.
So, now you have all the guidance you need to make your business stand out. But how do you put it all together?
I created a free worksheet you can use to discover your brand story and keep all your notes in one place. You can download it here, print it out, and begin brainstorming the key aspects that create your unique story that makes you stand out from the competition.