Service entrepreneurs come to me because they want to be Brain-Sticky: they want
to be compelling, memorable and original in the crowded marketplace. Often, in our
first call, they are excited and prattling off the things they think make them different
enough: I really listen; I ask penetrating questions; With me, they take action; I’m
very intuitive; Clients can reach me on the weekends, etc.
This is when I have to play bad-cop.
To coaches who tell me that they’re intuitive, take people to action, and listen really
deeply, I say, “That’s what a coach does. It’s in the job description,” at which point,
the newer ones instantly deflate and announce, “I don’t think there IS anything very
special about me, then.”
The pain I hear in their voice runs deep.
When we’re in business for ourselves, there
is very little separation between “what we
offer” and “who we are.” If we aren’t offering
something special, things get collapsed and
we start thinking we’re not special. And there
is no fate worse for a service entrepreneur
than not being special. If we can’t separate
ourselves from our work, it’s safe to say we
can’t separate our egos from our work–and it is a bitter pill to swallow that
we may not be special enough to fulfill our mission and have an impact on the
From the moment we’re born, every one of us wants to be special. Even as teenagers,
when blending in is ‘in’, we want to stand out to our best friend, our boyfriend, our
teachers, our sports team. Every one of us dies a little every time someone we admire
or love overlooks us. It is the human imperative to be noticed, seen, wanted,
valued–i.e. recognized as special.
This doesn’t go away when we “grow up” and become business owners. In fact, the
need is often augmented then, put on display, if we’ve had a history of being ignored
and passed over. But for others, the existential human need to be different and special
still exists. And in business, it certainly exists. It is an absolute truism: you must
be special to succeed in your own business.
So, for those whose business identities lack the “stand out” factor, there is a double-
blow: their human fear of not being good-enough/special-enough is triggered as well
as the very real potential that they will fail in business.
And for those who are visionaries, this is acutely painful…and unacceptable. If you
are here to effect change in big ways and fulfill a mission bigger than yourself, you
won’t achieve it feeling small and insignificant like you did in gym class, or by
closing up shop.
The problem is, however, that the most prevailing branding and differentiating
advice out there is superficial and not long-term Brain-Sticky. If you’re here to make
change, you must stand out in a substantive way. No gimmicks and bling. (And no
features and benefits, either.)
Return for Part 2 tomorrow, as I share the most commonly accepted strategies for differentiation and why they don’t go far enough for any service provider—but
particularly not for those with visions to change the world. Until then, give it some
thought: how has not having a solidly different business identity pulled
on your in-bred human fear of not being seen, wanted, valued…special enough?