If you offer a service – accounting, IT, legal, financial – you’ll have similar qualifications to other professionals in your niche. You might also be members of the same Chartered Institute or trade body. And you might have the same letters after your name.
So how do you stand out from other businesses that do the same thing?
The story of Jane Brook (left) and Claire Bannister (right) might help you.
Along with 300 other House of Colour Image Consultants, they’ve gone through rigorous training in colour analysis and style. All of them have certificates to prove they can identify your ‘Season’ – the palette of colours that work for your skin tone, eyes and hair – and your clothing personality.
In this sense, they are the same. But delve deeper and you’ll see that they aren’t the same at all. (You’ll also discover that ‘colour’ and ‘style’ goes much deeper than clothes and make up.)
How human interest differentiates your business
When a potential customer comes across you for the first time, they want to know you are qualified to do what you say you can do.
That’s the ‘head’ bit of any relationship that you develop with them. The paperwork that proves you have the right skills to solve your client’s problem.
But for that person to like, trust and buy into you, they must get to know you as a human being.
That’s the ‘heart’ bit.
It goes beyond what you do and the qualifications that enable you to do it.
It’s about why you care about doing your job well. After all, you could have the best qualifications in the world. But if you’re just coasting, your prospects will realise that your heart isn’t in it. They’re less likely to warm to you. Which means they’re less likely to buy from you.
Be human: head content and heart content
You can express your human side in different ways. These ways differentiate you clearly from other people doing the same thing as you.
Your human side might include:
- stories about why you were drawn to the work you do and why you want to make a difference to your clients
- how you see the world, what you stand for and the ways in which your work makes life better – for your clients, colleagues and/or the wider community
- sources of inspiration that keep you going when things get tough and spur you on to grow your business in a particular way,
These themes cropped up in my conversations with Claire and Jane. They are close friends and they’ve both built very successful House of Colour franchises. But when we explored what each of them finds most rewarding about their work, there was an obvious difference:
- Jane loves one-to-one sessions with clients.
- Claire loves group classes, with three or four clients.
As we talked, several strands emerged. The same will happen to you, once you start delving into how you’ve got to where you are today and why your work rewards you. Try starting with…
Your childhood stories
Claire’s love of groups has several elements to it. One element goes back to her childhood and vivid memories of family gatherings:
“My mum and dad were really fun people. They created a very caring environment. It was inclusive. They had a group of friends that I called my ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’, although they weren’t physically my aunts and uncles. They were always round each other’s houses and all the kids were together. It felt like it happened every weekend and it was all about friends. You’d never leave your friends. Your friends are key. People will go in and out of your life, but you keep those people close to you.
“When we grew up as teenagers, we never had mobile phones then, but my mum would say, ‘All your friends come round to yours; get ready, off you go clubbing, come back’. When we got back, there’d be tea and toast and mum saying, ‘Don’t wake your father, but everyone, there are beds on the dining room floor. Come and sleep’.
“It was always, ‘Come to us’. The more the merrier. I definitely think that is in my ‘being’ as it were.”
It’s not surprising that Claire is at her happiest when she’s recreating that sense of togetherness, in a group class:
“I do these massive of shopping events. For the last one, I had about 120 clients through the door. I feel pleasure when I see everyone, and they obviously feel pleasure when they see me. It is like welcoming friends. There’s nothing I like more than them being all in the kitchen talking about the clothes. That’s what I love.”
Your view of the world
Other people, and Jane Brook is one of them, tend to look to the future rather than the past. Maybe your business isn’t shaped by your childhood or previous careers. Perhaps you’re like Jane and a strand of your story is about your values and how you see the world. Perhaps your work is about correcting what you feel is an imbalance or injustice. Jane:
“I know that ‘community’ is really important to me, but I didn’t understand why. I’m not very good at going back into childhood. I’m very good at thinking forwards. But for me – and I can’t really trace this back – ‘community’ comes from the fact that I need to feel that I belong. So I’m helping others feel that they belong and feel that they can be themselves. That’s what’s really important to me because I felt for years and years that I needed to conform to society norms of what a woman should be like. And that’s not me. Gradually I’ve been shedding my protective layers. I’m becoming more and more ‘me’ and showing my vulnerability. That’s been incredibly powerful.”
In this context, one-to-one sessions are ideal for Jane:
“My business is all about connecting with people on a deeper level. It’s about having an ongoing relationship with them. I’d known that before, but I’d clarified it in my mind as a business goal, because ongoing relationships ‘make business sense and da di da, di da’. But actually, it’s not that. It’s because I love working with these people. I love being part of their life. I love getting to know them. Building this community where I’m taking them forward and they’re not stuck in a rut. We’re all moving forward together and growing together.”
Your sources of inspiration
Another way to understand why your work rewards you, is to think about what inspires you. Maybe it’s a person – an industry thought leader or someone in your business network. Maybe it’s a book, article or TED Talk. Or maybe it’s something that – on the surface – has nothing to do with your business. Like a trip to the cinema, and for Claire, the final part of The Showman:
“The bit that I love is at the end where they are in the middle of the arena and he’s orchestrating and conducting that. I just love the fact he’s got a tribe of people who love what he does and who are all individuals, all doing their own thing as well. I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by people. Jane says she likes to do one-on-one clients. I like three or four. I like that buzz, connecting different people and seeing them interact together, even though they’re strangers. I love that.”
Once you start bringing your stories and sources of inspiration to the front of your mind, you’ll start to see how they shape your approach to your work. Your approach will be unique to you. It will differentiate you. Claire:
“I’ve always been very clear on what my day would be. The experience, when someone comes to my studio and walks in my studio, will always be the same. It is like putting on a show. It’s warm. It’s enthusiastic. It’s safe. And then I orchestrate the drapes…’
You can see the drapes in this photo, in front of Claire: squares of cloth that consultants put around your face, so you can see for yourself which colours make you go ‘wow!’ because they light you up.
“I’ve only just thought of it, but it is like that – orchestrating! And then all of a sudden, you – the client – you’re ‘in’. You’re in my group and I will show you and help you and love you and say that you look and feel amazing. Because it’s not so much about the clothes, it’s about the feeling and the transformation that you have. I get so excited because I think, ‘You’re going to get it! You’re going to love it!’ I’m just so excited for them. And I love the fact that I love it so much.”
Your next step
A few months after these conversations, Claire became Head of Training for House of Colour in the UK. As she explained to me later, it was a natural next step for her, extending her ‘tribe’ to include colleagues as well as clients:
“What I hadn’t realised was that I am someone who needs to lead people and create a buzz and a party. We call it The Showman, don’t we? That’s where I get my energy from. My energy is having people who are part of my ‘tribe’ and them all getting what I do, understanding it and valuing it. That’s what I hadn’t realised I needed to do more of. That’s where I’m happiest.
“And it’s just given me a better direction with my business. It gave me the confidence to do the Head of Training role because it made me realise that training was another way I could share what I have with another tribe of people, House of Colour trainees. That is joyful and I hadn’t realised that was a natural thing that I would want to do.”
In May 2021, Claire’s tribe got even bigger, when she became the UK Managing Director at House of Colour. As she put it, ‘Loving the job… got my own Showman thing going on!’
Find the strands to your own story. Quick recap:
As Claire and Jane show, the story behind your business – the thing that helps potential clients to get to know you as a human being – will have different elements to it. It’s these elements that make you unique and help your business to differentiate itself from anyone else working in the same field as you. They will also build trust will those potential clients, so that – in time – they will buy from you.
Elements include – but aren’t limited to! –
- stories about your why: why you joined your sector; why you love your work now; why you want to make a difference to your clients
- what you stand for: your views on where you feel the world falls short and where you want your work to make life better
- sources of inspiration: the people, places, events or objects that give you the energy and ideas to help you grow your business.
One last and important word
Sharing your human side – your stories, your views, your values – not only helps you to stand out from competitors. It also enables you to attract exactly the right clients to you. By ‘right’ I mean people who reward you financially, professionally and personally because they:
- appreciate the value of what you do and are prepared to pay you what you are worth. No negotiating over prices. They get it.
- are enjoyable to work with. You look forward to seeing them, rather than feeling your heart sink when their latest email lands in your inbox.
The cliché goes that people do business with people. And the marketing principle of getting people to ‘know like and trust’ you, reinforces this. If you share more of your human side, people will get to know, like and trust you. More importantly, the right people will come to you. The people that reward you emotionally and money wise. Jane:
“It’s doing what I’ve always said we should do as House of Colour Stylists: that is, to attract the right people to us. The stronger you are in yourself, the more you will draw the correct people to you, because people will identify with you. I’ve always been very good at knowing that. But the conversations with Miranda have connected it all up, so not only do I know it, I feel it. And I’m becoming more and more me, as the time goes on – and that is attracting more and more of the right people. In fact, one of my clients has just emailed me and asked me to go and work in Europe for a week with her clients. So all of these opportunities are starting to come now that I am becoming more Jane Brook – if the world’s ready!”
Would you love to be more yourself?
If you’re in the States, you can contact a stylist here.
Would you love a career change that gives you more?
If you’re interested in becoming a stylist, House of Colour UK runs regular Discovery Days and information about the next one is here. If you just can’t wait (😊) then you can contact them direct right now.
If you’re in the US and want to join their growing community of image consultants, you can reach out to House of Colour USA here.
Declaration of self-interest:
House of Colour was a client of mine for several years. But before I worked with them – and I’m not sure I told them this before – I was deeply sceptical about what they did. Could wearing your right colours and style really boost your confidence to the point where you’d win more pitches, earn more money and confidently make small talk at networking events? (I’m an introvert. I found it hard to do all these things.)
As for the make-up, I didn’t do that. In 2015, the year of my colour and style metamorphosis, my make-up ‘bag’ amounted to three Kohl pencils: brown, black and grey.
I’m not joking. In make-up terms I was stuck in the 1980s. It’s possible that one of these mouldy Kohl pencils dated back to that time. So, I arrived at my Colour and Style class, wondering what on earth I was doing. But within weeks of my session, I was wondering why on earth I hadn’t done colour analysis before. But that’s another story, which I will tell at another time.