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What are you doing to stand out?

I was listening to a podcast recently, and the guest on the show said something about how businesses need to stand out from its competition. To which the host replied, “That’s for sure, you don’t want to be a penguin.”

Sometimes, the most mundane things that I see, hear or read spark an idea for a podcast topic. Well, that phrase did it for me – Don’t be a penguin.

What do I mean by – Don’t be a penguin?

First, let me ask you, have you ever seen a large group of penguins? Maybe at a zoo, in the wild or even on TV? How do you differentiate one individual bird from the rest? I have no idea. And I suspect, unless you have an affinity for penguins, neither do you.

Unless one of the penguins has some form of distinguishing feature, they all look pretty well the same. So if I asked you to pick out one penguin from the bunch, you might have a hard time deciding since they all look the same. You would probably look harder for that distinguishing feature to make your selection easier. It’s much simpler to choose something that stands out from the rest, than something that blends in.

Think of your design business.

I want you to think of your design business in terms of those penguins. Or more on point, I want you to think about a client looking for a designer.

To a client, unfamiliar with the design space, we’re all penguins. As far as they’re concerned, we’re all the same. So how do you expect them to choose you out of all the other design businesses out there? You need to be different.

Your design business needs that distinguishing feature that will help clients chose you.

I recently had Col Gray on the podcast. Col’s business, Pixels Inc, is growing because he stands out. I’m not talking about Col’s Scottish accent. Sure, that’s a distinguishing feature in most parts of the world. But it doesn’t help him in his home country of Scotland. I’m pretty sure most of the other native designers he’s competing with locally have a similar accent.

No, Col stands out because of the personal brand he’s developed, Including his look. If you don’t know Col, he has a very distinct look. He’s almost always wearing black. He has a very long beard that grows down below his chest level that he often ties it with hair elastics.

On top of that, you never see Col without a ball cap. And not just any ball cap. It’s either black or red.

So visually, Col stands out. If a company asked multiple designers to pitch them, they’d remember Col. In fact, I’m sure they’d remember him months or even years later. Col is not a penguin.


Do you remember Craig Burton, who was on the show a while back? Craig’s design business is called School Branding Matters. One look at his website or even just hearing his business name and you know right away how Craig’s design business is different.

Imagine a school principal or school director looking to rebrand their institution. If presented with three or four different designers to choose from, which one do you think will stand out as the best choice? The three designers who have practically the same message on their website just worded in different ways? Or the one designer whose website says he helps schools craft compelling visual brands?

Do you get my point? The penguin that stands out is the one that gets picked.

Even niches have penguins.

Even within a niche, you don’t want to be a penguin.

Take my Podcast Branding business. I know several other people in this niche that offer podcast cover artwork as a service. I also know I’m one of the more expensive options. Some of them charge a fraction of what I do. And yet, I get new orders every week. Why is that? Because I stand out.

I ask every client who hires me why they chose Podcast Branding? Most of them say it’s because the other options all looked the same, and they couldn’t tell which was better. But my business looked different. I presented as the most professional, and even though I cost more, I seemed more trustworthy, and I looked like the one that could help them the most.

I’m also the only podcast cover artwork service, as far as I know, who insists on meeting and talking with each client before I design anything for them.

I’ve had several clients tell me that was the clincher. They felt that personal touch meant I would take better care of them than any of the other services that wanted them to submit their information via a web form.

So you see,

It doesn’t matter who’s the better designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest designer.

It doesn’t matter who’s the most affordable designer.

What matters is which designer stands out from the others because the one that stands out is the one chosen most often.

How can you stand out?

What can you do to stand out? You could try embracing a uniquely personal look as Col has. But that strategy could take years to develop. Or you could try narrowing down and focusing on a niche like Craig, and I have. Niching automatically sets you apart from all-purpose designers.

But what if you don’t want to go to those lengths? What if you don’t want a unique look or to niche down?

What you need to do is figure out what makes you unique and embrace it. Emphasize it for everyone to see.

Be unique.

I knew a web designer who exuded personality on his website. For example, this is how he described part of his design process.

“Once I know the scope of your project, I’ll present you with a proposal. I can do this over video, but I much prefer to do it in person. We can meet at my office or yours, but whoever’s office we chose is responsible for supplying the cookies.”

His site was full of small nuances such as that. And you know what, he told me that most clients he pitches to have cookies waiting for him.

I also remember this headline on his website.

“I’m a Scottish Web Designer, and I’m very good at it. Web Design, that is, I’m only so so at being Scottish.”

Upon landing on his site and reading that line, you knew he was different. Some people might be turned off by his presentation, but chances are those weren’t clients we would have wanted anyway. Those who did like it saw his uniqueness as different than the other designers and hired him because of it.

Don’t be a penguin.

So ask yourself, what am I doing to make my design business stand out from my competition?

What can I change or do better to improve my chances of being the chosen one?

What can I do differently so that I’m not just another penguin in the rookery?

That’s something for you to ponder.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com