Do you look the same as your competitors? SOUND the same?

You might find this hard to believe, but even with my branding background, I’ve had a blind spot about HOW to stand out from the crowd.

Differentiation — that fancy word for your Unique Value Proposition — is a critical factor for business success, to be sure. And many times we marketing experts push you to find your niche as a way to do this.

Niching (or specializing) often falls into one of these categories:

  • WHO you serve. You could be an attorney who only serves other attorneys. An editor who only works for erotic authors. Or a life coach who only works with recovering alcoholics.
  • HOW you serve. You could be a dentist who uses hypnosis instead of novacaine. A landscape designer who creates solely with maintenance free plants. Or a copywriter who takes payment as a portion of sales made via copy she writes.

Then there’s a third category: WHAT you say and HOW you think.

If you’re a professional who thinks and talks differently from your peers, you might be called a “thought leader.”

And if you’d like to BE a thought leader, the first step is to question the status quo. To approach every business decision and strategy with extreme curiosity.

Instead of worrying about whether or not you’re doing things the “right way,” you’d ask yourself, “Is this long-standing way of doing things still appropriate?”

Case in point: Me.

For a large part of my career, I based my expertise and credibility on whether or not I followed marketing “best practices.”

Because of course people EXPECT a professional marketer to look and sound a certain way, right? To have a particular set of credentials. To focus on hard numbers, ROI, and clearly defined target markets.

Where’d I learn to do this? From my peers.

Yep, it was peer pressure of the nastiest adult kind.

Nasty because it was disguised as professional development, so I didn’t recognize it until decades later.

It arrived first via my education (thank you, UC Davis) and then was reinforced over and over by various professional associations.

I was proud — at one time — to be able to claim I was an “AMA Certified Professional Marketer.” (You had to have X number of years gainfully employed as a marketer and/or have the education, PLUS there was a horribly long test and a nice chunk of change involved.)

Things finally began to shift for me in 2013 when I realized (for the upteenth time) that there was a LOT of marketing stuff that I preferred not to do.

For many years, I thought the problem was WHO I did the marketing FOR.

I left the legal world for healthcare. And then I left that for government and the arts. And then I left them for the nonprofit world.

When I started my own business, I vowed only to use my marketing super powers for good and to never champion a fear-based message again. EVER.

I helped market green businesses. Social enterprises. And all sorts of mission-driven small businesses.

Then, I gave up the agency model for one that favored coaching/teaching/mentoring. And I ran smack into my own worst marketing nightmares in the online world.

And even though I said I was done with marketing and rebranded as Story Bistro, the changes were mostly semantic.

Instead of a marketing plan, I created the “Storytelling Framework.” And instead of content strategy, we worked on what stories clients needed to tell and how to tell them better.

Those were all changes in the right direction, but they weren’t enough. There was still an emphasis on planning. Still an emphasis on strategy.

And now that storytelling has an official standing-room-only bandwagon of its own, it’s super important that I put my Mama Bear energy to work for both our sakes.

For me, that means leaving behind (at last!) the left-brained planning stuff and seriously owning my mission to help business writers and speakers fully and creatively express themselves and their world-changing ideas.

Creative writing classes for business people? Yup. But even more important, creative THINKING classes.

Are you feeling a bit crowded in your industry, too?

Could your difference rest on how you think and what you say?

Here’s what I know to be true:

  1. Our world is in dire need of positive change.
  2. Our world’s governments largely serve the needs of our big corporations, not the needs of the people.
  3. Business, therefore, is one of our greatest levers in moving the boulder.
  4. YOU, as a business owner, have the capacity to create change in your corner of the world which can then ripple out, join with other ripples, and eventually create waves (or even a tsunami!) of positive transformation.
  5. I have a deep burning desire to help make that happen by helping you clarify and communicate your unique vision in a way that stands out.

The next question is: What do YOU see that needs to change?

There are SERIOUS cases of The Emperor Has No Clothes happening all around us, but most of us are too afraid to point them out.

Usually, because we’re too worried that our peers and potential clients will think we’re not professional. (Always remember Imposter Syndrome is a bitch who lies.)

If you’ve noticed certain things happening — or not happening — in your industry…

If you’ve been afraid to integrate your personal life with your professional life…

If you’ve tried to tone yourself down to suit your peers…

All because you didn’t want to burn a bridge or upset the “Influencers,” it’s time to change that.

And 2016 is the year we’re going to do it.

Starting January 1st, my Digital Dining Room program will be transformed into The Business Luminaries’ Roundtable.

This program will remain small: just 36 seats total for the entire year.

And rather than working on the basics of good marketing vis a vis storytelling, we’ll be do something a bit more advanced.

Are you ready?

Would you like to figure out how you can disrupt the status quo?

Would you like to hone that disruption into a TED talk or a book?

Would you like to light up your corner of the world and lead it into a brave new future?

circle-of-flamesIf your answer is yes, go check out The Luminaries’ Roundtable website.

If you feel like you’re ready to tackle this kind of highly creative and important work, consider yourself invited. I’ll save you a seat.