How to be different

Me and my family

Me and my family

This my family. Me and my brother Steven are 2 years apart. Steven was a very social and outgoing kid. He was out every day from dawn to dusk getting into trouble and having fun with all the neighbourhood kids.

I was different. A dreamer. My parents tell stories of how when I was a baby I was intrigued by cloud formations and buttons on peoples’ clothing. I didn’t want to go out to play like my brother and the other kids. I just wanted to do my arts and crafts. They thought I was a really weird kid but noted that I was artistic so that explained it.

Grab the Missing the Boat Scorecard and see your opportunities for differentiation

As I got older, I continued to be different. The teenagers were all going to the amusement park and I didn’t feel like it. My mother used to say “just go with the kids.” But I wanted to do my own thing. I had a yearning to fit in but I knew that I marched to the beat of my own drum. 

So the years went by and I ended up at Art College in New York (which nobody from Canada did at the time). I studied graphic design and then went to work as a designer for several years. That evolved into a career as a brand strategist, which is all about finding the point of difference that a brand can hang their hat on.

I worked on all sorts of global brands but finding the point of difference was like finding a needle in a haystack. The reason was that many brands aren’t very different from the one another. 

Then last year, a lightbulb went off in my head when I was preparing a keynote speech for The Design Leaders Conference in Dublin. The title of my talk was “How to Differentiate”. I was pondering the notion of differentiation, when I realized that its actually about being different as a business, instead of just saying it. Using the right words is just the tip of the iceberg. Standing out and delivering one of a kind experience comes from the core of your business.

If you’re reading this article, then you are most likely offering a fee for service model. That’s conventionally the way creative agencies and consultants operate. The problem is that there are an abundance of unique agencies offering creative work and charging a fee for the service. Clients can’t tell the difference between the agencies at first glance, so they usually choose the service with the lowest price. This has made it increasingly difficult for creative businesses to get work and get paid well for it. So how do you do it differently? Here are 3 ideas to consider when you want to differentiate your creative business.

Grab the Missing the Boat Scorecard and see your opportunities for differentiation

Equity arrangement

Fuseproject ( is a design firm in San Francisco that develops partnerships with entrepreneurs where fees are greatly reduced and a royalty/equity arrangement is put in place. The beauty of it is that you are truly investing in your clients' success, as opposed  to just getting the work, doing the work and getting paid. Being an investor in the company is the best way to show your support for your client's success.

Productize an Offer

People seem to have a much easier time buying a product than a service. For this reason, many firms have created packages for their services, such as web package and identity package with different price ranges.

An example of this strategy is one of my own clients, who is an accountant. He created a new accounting firm where small businesses invest in a monthly membership for accounting and bookkeeping services. It’s all technology-based and paperless. Currently, he’s scaling it up and has a team of bookkeepers working for him.

Create leverage

By teaching a valuable skill to people who are starting out in your field. This can be in person or online. I once came across a branding boot camp targeting entrepreneurs. Over the course of one weekend, the workshop promised to provide useful information to help people create their brand. Get creative and share your knowledge and experience with those who may benefit from expanding their skill set.

Now is the time to stop working hard and to start working smart. I speak with hundreds of creative agencies that are doing far more work for income that is unsatisfactory. So what’s the solution? Start exploring something new, even if it seems risky or “out there". From each new experience, there is something to gain that will bring new life and a creative edge to your business.

By Rhonda Page, Edited by Vanessa Butera

Grab the Missing the Boat Scorecard and see your opportunities for differentiation