Sometimes, Seth Godin is dead-on. Sometimes, he isn’t. Lately, he’s been posting some pretty cool stuff on his blog. This piece speaks to one of my favorite BrandBuilder themes: Saying no to average. Here’s his post:
“One of my favorite conversations goes like this.
“Oh, by the way, I read your book Purple Cow. I liked it a lot. I even underlined some paragraphs.”
“Thanks!” I say. Underlining is the goal of people in my line of work.
“I can imagine that it’s really helpful to a lot of people. Unfortunately, in my [business/organization/line of work], most of what you write about doesn’t really work.”
The reason it’s such a good conversation is that people in every possible line of work have managed to tell me that the ideas don’t apply to them… and that gives me a chance to ask them more details about what they do–and within a minute or two, we’re both jumping up and down, excited with the possibilities of how it does work in their line of work. Ministers, freelance photographers, real estate agents, middle managers, web site marketers–doesn’t matter, it always seems to come down to one thing:
Say no to being average.
This morning, Bradley was explaining to me that it couldn’t work in his profession as a freelance writer. It seems that almost all the clients want average stuff. Which no surprise, since average is, by definition, the stuff most people want. I asked, “Are there any writers in your field who you hate because they get paid way too much compared to your perception of the effort they put in and the talent they have?”
“Sure,” he said, feeling a little sheepish about being annoyed by their success.
“And how do they get those gigs?”
It’s because they stand for something. Because they are at the edges. Because if an editor wants a ‘Bob-Jones-type’ article, she has to call Bob Jones for it… and pay Bob’s fees. Bob would fail if he did average work for average editors just to make a living. But by turning down the average stuff and insisting on standing for something on the edge, he profits. By challenging his clients to run stuff that makes them nervous (and then having them discover that it’s great), he profits.
This is scary. It’s really scary to turn down most (the average) of what comes your way and hold out for the remarkable opportunities. Scary to quit your job at an average company doing average work just because you know that if you stay, you’ll end up just like them. Scary to go way out on an edge and intentionally make what you do unattractive to some.
Which is why it’s such a great opportunity.”
Right on. The trick is to understand that reputations take a while to grow. If you’re a photographer, a writer, a web designer, a massage therapist or a fitness coach, it is going to take longer to become known as THE (insert your profession here) than, say… if you’re a store or a bank. The smaller the business, the smaller the exposure. (Yes, that’s changing, but it is still the reality in most markets.) It takes time. If you can afford to take the time, if you have the courage to stick to your convictions and grow as slowly as you need to, do it. Don’t compromise.
All you have is your reputation. Your brand. The promise of what you stand for. Produce average work, and you will become known as the “average” (insert profession or business type here). Believe me, you dont’ want to be an average anything.
You owe it to yourself not to be.
If you lose jobs or clients as a result, so be it. You have plenty of average competitors out there. Let them fight over the lousy projects. Focus on the ones that you will absolutely knock out. The ones that allow you and your clients to shine. The ones you would want to work on – even for free – just because they’re that good.
Get off the crowded blue train and carve your own path.