When you’ve got your own business, you hear all the time how important it is to ‘find your Unique Selling Point’ (USP). You must offer something different to everyone else… Try to stand out in a crowded marketplace… Offer something your competitors aren’t offering… blah blah blah.
This is all well and good, except it turns out it’s really bloody difficult to find your USP. Sometimes it’s not just difficult but downright disheartening and can leave you feeling completely unoriginal and uninspired…
When I first tried to nail my USP, I tried to work out if there was any way that I was unique as a photographer – if there was something about me and my work that other photographers didn’t have. I came up with nothing. It was depressing… Was I really that boring? Then I turned my attention to my products – maybe I could still offer my clients an item or a service that no other photographer offered? Again, I found nothing that I couldn’t see a number of other people already offering too. Back to the drawing board.
Then, a few years later, it clicked. I’d like to share my ‘a-ha’ moment with you as it’s SO simple and makes such a difference. I actually see the problem as being the phrase ‘Unique Selling Point’ itself, as I think it’s REALLY misleading and unhelpful. There are three key things I’d advise anyone to bear in mind…
1) THINK ‘ONE OF THE FEW’, NOT ‘THE ONLY’
The word ‘unique’ implies that it has to be something that ONLY you offer. But let’s be realistic, what on earth could most of us possibly offer that’s truly unique and that no-one else is offering??? You shoot film? So do lots of others. You provide unlimited coverage? So do lots of others. You use special handmade albums? So do lots of others. Unless you’re planning to be the country’s first unicycling wedding photographer or you plan to shoot on a homemade cardboard camera or something else similarly weird and wonderful, you’re unlikely to be the ‘first’ or ‘only’ of anything.
Instead, think, what do I do that not everyone does? What am I ‘one of the few’ people to offer? It doesn’t matter that some others do it too, just think what you might do or offer that sets you apart from the majority, not from absolutely everyone. Chances are, there will be a few of these things, not just one. Write them all down.
2) THINK PERSONAL, NOT JUST PROFESSIONAL
The ‘selling point’ part implies you should be thinking purely about the things you sell. But it’s not just about you as a photographer, and the products that you offer. You’re not just a camera. You’re a real person with an interesting story to tell. People, including your clients, are interested in that story and they need to connect with you as a person to be able to feel comfortable being photographed by you.
Forget about photography for a minute. Think about YOU and your own life, your history – past jobs, past experiences, other skills and interests that you have. Again, ask yourself, which of these things marks you out from the majority? Which of these things would only be true of some other photographers? Maybe you’re a mother. Maybe you grew up in a different country. Maybe you used to work in TV. Maybe you’ve overcome a serious illness. Maybe you volunteer at an animal sanctuary. Maybe you’re a certified diving instructor. Maybe you love painting in your spare time…
Write them all down, and for each one, consider how this is in any way relevant to the job you do now as a photographer. Does it help you in any way? Has it inspired you to work in a certain way or with a certain type of person? Do particular parts of this job come easier to you than they might to others as a result of this? Has it made your work more meaningful? Do you apply things you learned in the past to how you work now? Is there any way that any of these things might connect you with your ideal clients and make them feel an affinity with you and your work?
3) THINK COMBINATION OF THINGS, NOT ONE SINGLE THING
Finally, the phrase ‘Unique Selling Point’ makes it sound like there should be just ONE thing that makes you stand out. But now you should actually have a whole list of things, both work-related and personal, that not everyone offers or has experienced… Things that will be in some way interesting to your ideal clients, things that feed into each other, tell a story and show you’re not just ‘the same as everyone else’. Now, combine all these different things together. What you now have is a COMBINATION of qualities that actually IS entirely unique to you. Each individual thing on its own might not be unique, but the combination of all of these things IS unique.
You might not be the only film photographer out there, you might not be the only mother in the industry, you might not be the only photographer to have worked abroad, and you might not be the only photographer who runs marathons in her spare time… But chances are you’re the only one in the industry for whom all of these 4 things are true. You’re also the only person in the industry whose photography is affected in the specific way that these separate things interact, influence and feed into each other.
Take each thing on its own and it might not seem important, but combine them all together and suddenly it all becomes pretty fascinating. As a human being you’re unique – because you’re the unique combination of all your different qualities and experiences. Think of your brand in the exact same way and suddenly it won’t be so difficult to find what makes your business unique either.
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