Your passion is your unique selling point.

(On April 17, 2024 I will be leading a webinar for National Association for Interpretation all about how to be a freelancer in this field. Here is some of the content.)

Thinking of being a freelancer? Define your passion and you’ll define your unique selling point—the thing that sets you apart.

I became a freelance interpretive planner in part because I wanted to do the work I love to my own standards on my own timelines.

I wanted to do things right.

Think of freelancing as your chance to do the same.

What does ‘doing things right’ mean to you? It’s time to start articulating that, because it’s going to be a cornerstone of your brand; it’s going to be a pillar of how you do business.

You may not think of yourself as a particularly passionate person. You may not think of yourself as principle-centred or guided by professional ideals.

But have you ever thought of yourself as the kind of deeply cranky person who regularly loses patience with your co-workers’ professional fuckery? Yes?

I knew it. Ok, here we go.

The Task: Your Unique Selling Point

Think back to a time in your employed life when you were convinced you could have made a difference for the client or for your agency if somebody had let you—if somebody has listened to you, or let you do it your way.

For this exercise, I need you to be specific. Think back to specific days on specific projects. Think back to moments when you thought…

  • Oh my dudes, I could have saved you a ton of money if…
  • You know what, Brenda? This would have been done way sooner if…
  • Well, gang, we wouldn’t have had to re-do it if you’d just let me…
  • You know what, Bryce? I could have made a way nicer/more efficient/more marketable product if you people had just let me…

You get the idea. When did you feel passionately that things would have turned out better if you’d had more influence?

Two young men walk heads down in front of a fantasy mural.
Vancouver BC

Go into your journal and write two or three of those memories. What exactly was the difference that you wanted to make, but weren’t able to at the time?

Write out:

  1. The project and the situation
  2. The (lacklustre) result
  3. The difference you could have made
  4. How you would have done it
  5. What expertise, talent, skill, vision would you have used at that time?

Look at number five in particular.

What is it about the way you work that sets you apart? That makes you better at your craft?

Don’t think in generalities. Don’t just write that you work harder (although that helps.) Not just that you’re a nicer person (although that is also a great business attribute.) Go deeper than that. If you work harder, what does that hard work bring to your customer? Better quality? Faster results? More originality? Better attention to detail? Write it. What does being a nicer person to deal with bring to your customer? Higher satisfaction, a feeling of being listened to? Better results through a better relationship?

Think about your philosophy. I know that sounds pretentious, but you actually have one. I promise you do. What is it about the way you approach the actual work that makes your way better?

Because that’s your unique selling point.

That’s your unique selling proposition. And committing to that excellence and taking pride in it is going to give you purpose and get you out of bed in the morning as a freelancer.

And, perhaps most importantly, it’s going to differentiate you from those other consultants in your field that you might have turned up in your web searches. Differentiation is everything in freelancing—your task is to show your clients how you are smarter, more efficient, more up to date, more constructive, more observant, more responsive, more useful than other freelancers. That’s what we mean by unique selling point.

Say you’re interested in becoming an interpretive planner for nonprofits. Maybe your example for the exercise above was a time when they could have involved stakeholders sooner and more meaningfully, but they didn’t. You knew they should have; you knew it was time to involve stakeholders and you knew what a difference it would have made. You may have even recommended strongly at the time, but they didn’t listen to you. And the project suffered for it, and you saw it all going wrong in advance. And you felt embarrassed for your employer.

Remember that feeling? Well, freelancing is your chance to do it right.

Now, as a consultant, you can make meaningful, timely consultation part of your brand; part of the way you do things. You can make that part of every proposal you write; you can make it part of your promotional material. You will be known as the one who gets consultation right.

For me, as a government employee back in the day (I have worked as an employee in municipal, regional, provincial, and federal settings), it was the lack of evidence-based decision making. I was just so tired of bad decisions based on whims and ideology.

I was also passionate about risk-taking. I still am, and let me tell you, government work is not the place for you if you are passionate about working at the very edge of your comfort zone—about working with creative people trying bold new things to make great things happen. That’s what freelancing is all about.

Ok, time to get to work.

Now, get busy with your journal. See if you can come up with at least three ways you will do your work to the standard you’ve always wanted. Three ways that you’ve been frustrated or embarrassed for the work in the past.

Be specific. Identify the skills, talents, or knowledge in which you will take pride. The things that will become the hallmark of your reputation—the things that will set you apart from others in your field.

Let me know what you come up with.


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