I heard the above quote from a Tai Lopez podcast sometime in 2015, and it stuck in my mind ever since. It even made it to the little pile of post-its I keep on my desk covered with odd notes and scribbles. It reminded of me something I heard Marc Ecko say back in 2012 – that the phrase ‘Artists and Instigators’ was a more apt way to describe what startups and entrepreneurs do. We get stuck sometimes on the nuts and bolts of creating businesses and launching brands, managing teams, balancing books, developing markets, we miss the essence of what these activities are, or what they should be. Which is making something we believe should exist to communicating an opinion, a point of view.
That is the true allure of being a designer for me. It is the chance to make something, the ability to offer my take / perspective on an idea, a product, a service, a business that wakes me up in the morning eager to get started.
I watched a talk by Sasha Strauss on ‘branding in the normal’ last week, and he so elegantly distilled the essence of what a brand is. As a matter of fact, the idea he put forward is the founding conceptual framework behind all the great institutions of our time – religions, nations, and so. The core of brand is this – there is the idea, and there is the belief around that idea. Religion has the idea that there exists a god or gods. The belief system in relation to this idea, i.e. how we interact with and behave because of this god or gods is what makes different religions appeal to different people. The Virgin Group takes on multiple markets and products but the core ideas are business, products, and services. Their belief is that business should be fun and that customer service is the most important thing a great company can have.
I don’t know what your motives are for getting into business if you are an entrepreneur, but the best businesses and the most creative works of art succeed because they have a point of view. There is something they believe in, and they stop at nothing to birth a world that expresses that. It might be in the way they treat the customer, it might be in the way they do business, but they believe something.
That goes double for the freelancer, the creative, the solopreneur. You got into this because deep down, you want to create a specific kind of life; you want to do something remarkable. You became an entrepreneur, to make something specific happen. There are a multitude of people doing the same thing you do – designing, writing, photography, coaching, etc. What will separate you from everyone else is the same thing that makes you unique. It is your DNA, it is your opinion, its your point of view, it is what you truly believe. Don’t hide away from it; don’t dumb it down to fit in. Embrace that and recreate the world in your image.
In my post Surviving the Future I mentioned the idea of living from your personal genius. Discovering your passions, your talents, exploiting that and intersecting that with what people want. The greatest tool in this quest is your personal brand.
What is a brand? It is the prevailing idea, or feeling associated with a product, company or in this case a person. Branding differentiates you from everyone else in the market. It articulates what you are all about and how that would be of value to other people.
You need to ask the following questions in determining and articulating your personal brand.
1. What is the prevailing major idea of your life?
This is the basis of your brand, the core idea. What you are all about. Steve Pavlina defines his brand as providing personal development for smart people, specifically exploring and distilling knowledge on various parts of life into core principles and ideas. Chris Guillebeau explores unconventional ways of living and solving problems while travelling the world. Jay Z’s personal brand has evolved from street hustler/ganster to hiphop maturity and global business man. Steve Jobs centres around innovation, creativity and coolness. My personal brand? Well my core idea is the intersection of youth and popular culture, design communication and life paradigm shifts. I hope to create things that speak in the language of popular culture effectively changing the way people think and live, creating a better world for humanity.
Your brand can be highly specific or it can be loosely broad. But if it is broad, connect the pieces together under a theme.
2. What channels will you communicate your brand through?
How will you get your message across to your audience? Will you be centred around the internet and cyberspace. Or will your brand expression be predominantly in tangible products, goods and services. This is entirely up to you. We have seen a great proliferation of bloggers who communicate their ideas via the internet – websites, blogs, social networking media, and with the creation of intangible assets like ebooks, seminars, and so on. Others create organisations that provide a service or seek to change the world in some way. Some people design, dance, create music, write poetry, etc. Others build businesses.
3. Who is your audience?
Who will listen to you? What is your target market. Which group of people will receive the most value from what you have to offer. Focus on these people. Do not try to cater to everyone, it is one of the fastest ways to failure in any endeavour. Focus on your right people. Those who are attracted and interested in what you have to offer. Analyse them, interact with them, figure out their needs and fulfil them. For instance, Chris Guillebeau writes for people, artists, creatives, travellers who want to live an unconventional life, profiles them and provides resources and ideas for them. Mark McGuinness speaks to creatives and helps them make a living from their craft.
4. Why should your audience listen to you?
What sets you apart from everyone else, what value do you bring to the table. Why should your audience listen to yo? Why should they come back time and time again?
5. Nurture your audience
Now that you have your audience, and have determined why they should listen to you in the first place, take care of them. Nurture your audience, keep on creating value for them. Provide only those services that will actually be of value to your clan, your tribe, your band of merry men. Give them a reason to be loyal to you.
6. Grow your network
No dream worth pursuing is ever pursued alone. You will need to interact with many other people, within your field and outside of it. Ideas are transferable across niches and categories. We need various skill sets and personalities to create whole functioning systems and products. Connect with people, especially the best in the fields. Get mentors, collaborate, partner with people and learn from one another. With the internet these days, it is easier to connect and work with people from all over the globe.
7. Put the time in
Create the product. You have to put the time in to write the articles, make the art, write the poem, build the organisation. Whatever it is that you bring to the table, you have to create it. Ideas are no substitute for action and tangible products.
We have all said it before, and I’ll say it again, this is not your grandfather’s world. From the many technological advancements, to the incredible upheavals in business practices and realities to paradigm shifts in the meaning of life and how to live it. Life is very different from the way they used to be. Gone are the days of company loyalty for 30 to 40 years, climbing up a corporate ladder for a gold watch and a handsome retirement. Chances are, you will shift through at least five different careers over your lifespan. So, since external circumstances are always shifting, we must look beyond them to internal principles, skills and mindsets that will ensure we thrive no matter what is happening out there in the world.
Let’s look at the big picture for a second, and rediscover the amazing fact that each of us has been born with a specific set of personality traits, innate talents and interests. We have been engineered to function in a specific niche. This means that we can all provide unique value to the world that no one else can in quite the way that we do it. This is why its so important to be you. One, because everyone else is taken, and two, because no one else can be as good a you as you. You have complete monopoly in the area of being the wonderful, unique you.
You are going to have to take time for self-introspection and meditation. Rediscover yourself. The sad thing about most institutions of education, business, education, etc is that in passing through them, we learn to surpress our sovereignty, deny our personal genius in favour of taught techniques and established ways of doing things. But this one thing stands true, there is something that only you can do in the way that you do it. Do it. The world needs it.
You may have to unlearn a lot of things and get in touch with yourself. Make some changes, course corrections, etc. But it is the best thing you could do for yourself. Because once you start living who you are, you will begin to operate in a high level of excellence. You will also experience a joy that comes from living with passion, and doing that which you were made for.
To survive and thrive in the future, everyone has to be entrepreneurally minded, regardless of what field you are. This essentially means taking responsibility for your career. Don’t give your personal power away to another entity. It means being comfortable with taking risks, being creative, spotting opportunities and providing value. Think of yourself as your own company, and you are the president of You Inc. Look at the space where what you love to do and can do intersect with what people need and you have found the sweet spot. The place where work becomes play and you rake in the money J