It was a bold move but I’m proud I plucked up the courage.
Looking back at what led me to this decision, I remember pondering on both my business and personal life being two sides of the same coin. The coin that could be described as passion for creating my own universe or, to put it simply, a passion for sticking out.
In my recent TEDx talk I decided to, for the very first time as a speaker, lift the lid on my personal life, outside of my fundraising business GrantTree. I talked about the alter ego of the business woman in me, a wacky, risqué and attention loving burlesque dancer. It dawned on me that the quality of being the odd one out has guided me through my personal life and my professional life just the same. There are a few other important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to building a successful business but one of them is – undoubtedly – a passion for sticking out.
Based on my experience of getting to know hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’m prepared to argue that enterprising women are particularly good at being unique and expressing it with pride. I’ve recently attended a business retreat for female business owners where I had a chance to meet quite a few fantastic ladies. I’ll use their ventures as examples in what areas of business uniqueness will help you succeed.
Having a great brand reputation
Firstly, the most obvious one: brand. People need to believe good things about you to want to do business with you. Sticking out in terms of doing everything possible to build good associations with your brand amongst your target market, is essential. What you will find when your business first starts picking up is that most, if not all, of your clients are with you because they heard something favourable about you from a source they trust.
Check out my good friend Rikke’s career change consultancy. Rikke has changed the lives of over 500 professionals to date, all attracted to work with her by word of mouth and the strength of her reputation.
Similarly, another friend Hannah Foxley, MD of The Women’s Wealth Expert and author of The Wealthy Divorcee, managed to build an incredibly strong brand and a reputation as an expert in her field. The vast majority of her business comes from strategic partners in the legal field who see her as the best possible source of financial advice for their clients going through divorce.Both of the ladies mentioned above can definitely attribute their business success to the strength and excellent reputation of their brand.
Culture is hard to copy
Another area of business where some thought through uniqueness can revolutionise your company is culture. This is the element that’s most difficult in a successful business to copy. As someone said, it takes 6 days on average to copy your IP, 6 months to implement your business model but 6 years to clone a good business culture. Companies like Zappos recognise it and, when recruiting new staff, put more stress on culture fit than any other quality of the candidate.
A different friend, Michelle Clarke, runs a company known for its great ethos, Talent Dynamics. The purpose of the company is to show companies how accelerating levels of trust in the team massively impacts productivity, effectiveness and business results empower businesses to find best possible people to build well balanced, holistic teams. Michelle also runs the annual Trust Conference with an aim to teach companies from all sectors how to do business and build partnerships based on trust. Great, trust based culture in her own business has enabled Michelle to considerably expand her team creating close to 300 license holders globally in the last three years. Trust also makes it possible for all the licensees to be managed by a core UK based team of only 3 people.
Values make the difference
Thirdly, and most importantly, values. As Simon Sinek put it in his famous TED talk, People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe. It’s not straightforward to build a team with particular values in its DNA. Also what you find is that embedding those values in all areas of your activity as a company is the type of work that never ends. This is because of the fundamentally transient nature of your business and the market in which you operate.
In my company GrantTree, we’ve let the values emerge from the way we already behaved as a team and our beliefs as individuals. If you would like to find out more about the results we arrived at, take a look at my cofounder’s blogpost here. Once you’ve managed to create a – truly – value driven organisation, I guarantee that you will stick out. Standing out because of your values is arguably the most significant and meaningful way to differentiate yourself.
As GrantTree, we are still learning how to create a truly empowered, value driven company. Following our values of transparency, humility and generosity though, we have already managed to implement a few systems that make us very different to an average fundraising consultancy. For example, we successfully implemented employee determined salaries (i.e. our team decide, through a group discussion process, on the fair levels of payment for everyone), open allocation for directors, and a non hierarchical model of management where everyone on the team takes responsibility for their own work (instead of reporting to managers). We are in the process of implementing peer reviews which will determine if a new hire stays in the company after their probation period, and highlight any inconsistencies of all team members with our culture and core values.
It’s been an exciting journey so far and considering what we’ve achieved, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. One thing is certain: if we didn’t have the love for sticking out embedded in our very DNA, we wouldn’t be the brilliant, fast-moving and fearless team that we are.