For nearly ten years, I spent a considerable amount of time in my career as a freelance graphic designer. Building a business took time, and as Mark McGuiness reminded me, it also requires you to wear several hats, including that of Sales Person Extraordinaire.  I subscribe to Mark’s newsletter that revolves around Creativity and Business, and the latest issue on Sales was a fabulous reminder of determining one’s competitive advantage. It’s great to have a product or service, but if you sell to clients/customers/colleagues, and no one visits your website, or signs up for your newsletter, or buys you product, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity to connect with potential business. Selling is an integral part of your business, and although we may shirk this responsibility, or dread this part of the process, its important to remember that it is possible to learn this skill and sell without selling your soul.

Look at your client’s situation and assess what challenges and problems they are faced with. How can you provide a product or service that is a match for their needs? For example, as a career coach, I identitifed the problems specific to my target market: youth. Problems included lack of work experience, lack of career direction, poorly written resumes and inexperience marketing one’s self. My solution to these problems was to teach kids how to market themselves in today’s competitive work place, to inspire them to get clear on who they were and what they offered, and to support them in following their dreams. This purpose helped clarify how I was going to serve this population and to remember the guiding philosophy of my practice. In other words…Here’s how I’m going to help you with your challenges and here’s how I’m going to guide you to your purpose, which will allow you to focus on you who you are and what you offer. Everyone has a greater purpose, big or small, and it’s this guiding light that sets you apart, makes you whole, special and unique. And it’s your job to determine this!

Observing your target market in order to identify their wants, needs and desires is the next step, and it’s critical that you take the time to learn about their business. This can be done through newsletters, blogs or social networks and just like you would learn about the company before an interview, you should learn about your client or customer. In my graphic design business, I required clients to complete a design brief where I asked a series of pertinent questions about their company. This process of asking questions in the beginning of the process is the second most important task at hand. The best and most effective websites I designed were ones where the client actively answered each question on the questionnaire. By focussing on the person, asking lots of questions and listening to their challenges, I was able to come up with a solution that was a fit with their business. As a creative coach, getting to know the client’s business and their needs is the first task at hand when I meet with a new client.

Lastly, it is important to focus on benefits of your service, and how you will serve your customers. Ask yourself: what do I do for my client/customer/employee? As Mark says “What’s in it for them? Why should they care? So what”. As a creative coach, my aesthetic appreciation for beauty, my marketing perspective, and my creative intuition, all come together to inspire, support and teach clients how to get clear on their purpose, how to visually portray their themselves and their business, and how to build a business that is in alignment with their dreams. By asking “What difference does your service make in their lives? How do they feel after they encounter my work?”, you ensure that  your client stands out. For me, that means communicating with passion, ignite interest and helping my clients to  shine above the competition.