If you’ve been a freelancer or a small business owner for even a few months, I’m sure you’ve heard the advice, “Differentiate, or die.”

The experts are like a dog with a bone: “Nail down your USP, if you want to succeed,” they say.

But when you’re struggling to even understand what the heck a “unique selling proposition” can do for you, deciding on how to focus your marketing (via your brand) can make you feel like a little lost kid at an amusement park.

Here’s my piece of advice: Quit trying to discover your USP, and start cooking up your Secret Sauce

Now you want the recipe, right? I knew it. But here’s the thing: there’s no one-size-fits-all, plug-and-play recipe for secret sauce.

Nope. Secret Sauce — by it’s very nature — has to be totally unlike anyone else’s.

Which means, the recipe does not exist. (Sorry, pumpkin.) Over the years though, I’ve learned that there are specific types of ingredients that every great brand uses to create their own addicting flavors. And that is definitely something I can help you with.

Here are the 9 Steps to find your Secret Sauce ingredients

(Don’t be fooled! These 9 Steps take some time. And you’ll probably need to enlist the help of a good friend or colleague to bounce some ideas around and make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.)

1. Do a self-inventory: Examine all the bits that make up who you are: your passions, values, skills, strengths, weaknesses, motivations and goals.

2. Get inside your Ideal Customer’s head: Do the same inventory that you did for yourself. Only this time, focus on who you’d really like to work with. Create an Ideal Customer persona from all that wonderful research.

3. Find the archetypes: Who could be the model for what you bring to the table? Is there a comic book hero, fairy tale character or real-life leader that you could say you’re like? What about your ideal customer? Find one for each of you.

4. Look for patterns: Make a summary of your life path and employment history. Just like a fingerprint, yours is totally distinctive. Now look at the rest of what you’ve uncovered so far. Where are the intersections and overlaps? What kind of patterns do you see?

5. Write the back story: You and your ideal customer are the main characters. What big problem or desire are you two dealing with? As the hero of the story, what is your “perfect world” vision? How would you like the story to end? And, how do you champion that vision? (Hint: that’s your mission statement.)

6. Find the metaphors: Add to the story with symbols and images. Even other words will work here. The point is to find something that your ideal customer relates to immediately. One symbol can speak volumes on your behalf. (This is where you begin to develop your business identity pieces like your logo.)

7. Test! How does your audience respond to this new branding? Do they get it? Do they understand the meanings behind your visual and verbal representations? And does your branding stick? (Is it memorable?)

8. Create a plan: Set some specific goals that you can measure and then outline how you’ll reach them. What is the best way to deliver your brand’s message? Is there something you can do (on a regular basis) to reinforce that message? Schedule it.

9. Review and adjust: Take a look every month at how your marketing (via your branding) is working for you. Are you closing in on your goals? What do you need to adjust?

Yep, the process works.

I promise it will help you identify your particular “points of differentiation” and how to clearly express those to your target market. I also swear on all that is holy in marketing that if you do this, you will make it 200x easier for your ideal customers to find you.

If you want some expert help and guidance with this process, check out this self-study workshop. Not only is it one of the most affordable ways to work with me, I believe (in this particular case) it will also give you the best possible outcome. Especially if you do it with a friend.

The point is: don’t do this process in a vacuum. Get your best business colleague to work through this with you. Or better yet, suggest your mastermind group tackle this over the next few weeks. If you do this now, you’ll be ready to make a huge splash next year — and create a real difference to your bottom line.