We’ve all been there. Watching wistfully from the sidelines at our competitors’ online followings, high-profile customers and sales, or all-round enviable lifestyles as we mildly indulge in cyberstalking them (social media reflects reality, right?). Then it hits: retreating into a cloud of paralytic inferiority, we wonder why we ever believed in achieving something similar. Surely, there can’t be space for us in a crowded marketplace already served so well?
The good news is that we are not alone in feeling this way – but what will define our careers is whether we stay in this place, or choose to move through it. The bad news: in case we were hoping to copycat our way along, true and lasting success is all about authenticity, and will require us to dig a little deeper. It’s time we challenged ourselves to release the need to seek attention or to ‘stand out’ in preference of pursuing something more meaningful and lasting – after which, the rest will follow more easily.
Some reasons why you can have confidence to proceed with a genuinely valid product or service, even when the market seems saturated:
It’s a big world out there, with plenty of potential customers;
If others are succeeding in your sphere, it proves that there is an audience for it;
Popular products will always need more than one supplier to keep up with demand;
Variety is the spice of life! Just because someone (or many others) are doing very similar things, doesn’t mean your product or service isn’t valid. After all, don’t you listen to music by a variety of musicians, buy clothing from different stores, and drink coffee from many cafés?
Next steps - where should you begin when cultivating a unique identity (ie. branding) for yourself as part of establishing your niche?
Know yourself better! Successful creatives have a strong sense of identity and purpose, and truly understand what makes them tick. Customers and audiences intuitively gravitate to them. What motivates you in this sphere? Far beyond the token ‘finding fame and fortune’ is where the truth lies. Does your work make you feel incredibly alive, or perhaps express a deep conviction for social justice? Does it allow you to invest in your community, or support working parents? Whatever it is, be brutally honest and know that this purpose must shine through;
Allow the most authentic version of yourself to be seen – loud and proud! It’s completely terrifying, but this is where the magic happens. As the saying goes, ‘if you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.’ It is so important to properly establish the groundwork for a distinct branding that people can engage with, believe in and share with others. Many of us tend to draw the line at this level of public vulnerability and only pursue goals until we can cover our tracks if/when it doesn’t work out. This is one situation, however, where it’s all or nothing;
Deeply consider the role of your audience: who they are, what they value, and how you can serve them in a way that aligns with your fundamental purpose. Authentically honouring the needs of your audience also gives them permission to be the best versions of themselves – and you will see the results.
In consideration of your audience’s needs, can you add value (before they are even your customers)?
You could try:
offering regular professional insights via email newsletters, a podcast or social media;
delivering pop-up events or workshops;
building a community of like-minded people to champion a cause strongly aligned with your product or service;
situating yourself as a leader in your sphere by inviting colleagues to come together, sharing common concerns and driving initiatives to support your industry or region.
Delivering this level of consistent connection is the key to building your core tribe, and steadily accelerating your career. Treat this relationship with the utmost respect: if customers can get similar products or services elsewhere, they will choose to support you because of the bond you have built and what you continue to offer them. Ensure that potential collaborations or changes in direction remain aligned with this audience (unless you are trying to build a new one).
As a final note on the true nature of competition with colleagues, I think it’s time we left behind notions of ‘us versus them’. We are all in this together, and innovation within the creative industries is hindered by our fragmented communities and general insecurities. This is particularly evident in Australia, where we are also relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Time spent glancing sideways or undermining each other is time taken from developing the best versions of ourselves and succeeding – which ultimately benefits everyone.
Drawing from diverse backgrounds in health, science and the public art gallery sector, Liesl Harvey’s passion lies where the creative industries intersect with business and audience development. She explores a variety of relevant topics and shares inspiration from around the globe via her Instagram account, @thedailyculturepreneur.