One Cannot Live on Alphabet Soup Alone

When I worked in Corporate America, everything was acronyms, and you risked looking like a fool if you didn’t know the ones your industry tossed around like penny candy. I remember sitting in a meeting where a fellow asked if “PITA” was another government agency. The snickers and subsequent ridicule were neither kind nor necessary. I regret I, too contributed. This practice of brevity spread even further the popularity of instant messaging (IM’ing) and later, texting. People just don’t want to type out entire words any more. Or is it just their way of having a secret code to keep the riff raff out?

When I became a freelancer/entrepreneur, I thought I’d cast away most of the alphabet soup, but have, instead learned new acronyms to impact and manage my business. Others, like SWOT analysis have followed me like a stray cat looking for a handout. Most of the letters may have changed, but the challenges remain. To some extent I still have to squeeze my voluptuous self into a box not of my own making, and I’d almost rather squeeze into a bathing suit two sizes too small!

I have learned that I can narrow down those essential to successfully launching my brand to two:  USP and ICA.

Acronyms in an Entrepreneur’s Tool Box

USP, or Unique Selling Proposition is another way of saying “core competencies”. It’s the products or services you provide in a manner which is unique to you and which make you attractive to your ICA.

ICA, or Ideal Client Archetype is another way of saying “target market”. It is also, for me, one of the most difficult aspects of marketing freelance work. The idea is to paint a vivid picture of the kind of person you want to work with; the person to whom you can easily demonstrate how your products or services will simplify their life and solve a problem for them. For the last 3 years, I’ve been thinking of my plans and dreams in broad strokes. This exercise seems to require a finer brush, and one I don’t currently have in my tool box.

Helping People: The Ultimate Goal

Yet along the way, I’m also learning, as I talk to coaches with different focuses and expertise, that there are many ways to help people, and their needs are as unique as they are. There might be similarities in certain groups, but they, too have a USP. They too are unique.

Some I’ve encountered recently are less about fine-tuning the image of your ideal client and more about engaging with people and showing up. Even more important is valuing yourself and what you bring to the table. In this, many of us are starting at the wrong end of the maze. We’re so busy trying to figure out who will value us and what we have to offer that we haven’t taken the time to see the value in ourselves.

I see it as being a lot like self-love. If we don’t love ourselves, how can others truly love us. If we don’t value ourselves and the contributions we make, how will anyone else see our value? Granted, many of us get this from too many years in a work environment which values everything but quality of work and work ethic. People with chameleon-like tendencies who can adapt their behavior to whatever a particular office culture rewards are highly successful within the corporate structure. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s undergoing dramatic changes in many industries today. It may also account for the rise in the number of people who are choosing self-employment instead.

Acronyms Are the Starting Point, Not the Entire Journey

But I digress. The acronyms are well and fine. They give us a bit of a road map with which to embark upon our freelance journey. But they are not engraved in stone. We can deviate from the beaten path and forge our own. It may take a little longer and we’ll make more wrong turns along the way, but if locking ourselves into someone else’s definition of success makes us feel claustrophobic, then perhaps the rougher road and wrong turns are simply how we have to do things.

I’m not advocating tossing them away completely, as I will be the first to admit they have value. I’m saying that some of us need to let our USP’s and ICA’s evolve as we go rather than having them emerge fully formed.

The Dynamic Process of Developing Your Brand

I’ve taken several passes at my USP, though I still feel I have a ways to go before figuring out the exact formula for success. In trying to figure it out, I took bits and pieces from books I’ve read and courses I’ve taken. Going on the assumption that my ICA is a busy entrepreneur of one type or another, I tried to put myself in their shoes to try figuring out their needs. It may not be the most efficient or effective method, but it is the place I chose to start.

I must have also paid attention to conversations in the various entrepreneurial groups I frequent because the recurring theme that stuck in my brain was time. Entrepreneurs work long hours building their businesses so they will have freedom. That freedom means having more control of their time. Ultimately this means working shorter hours so they can get away for those vacations. It means having a business that’s portable and can be managed from anywhere. And it means delegating the tasks they hate doing at first, and as they’re sales increase, delegating the ones they tolerate as well. The ultimate goal from where I sit is to have a business which runs efficiently and leaves the entrepreneur free to do only the things they love doing. Everything else is either automated or delegated.

Embracing Everything You Have to Offer

For a while, I thought I had to divorce the two sides of my business and focus on one or the other. But recently I realized I actually love being able to switch gears from writing to accounting and back again. I love doing the little organize-y things for people to help them manage their business more efficiently. And I love finding and learning new tools to mechanize tedious and repetitive tasks. Most of all, I love dynamic to-do lists.

My biggest aha moment came when I realized both aspects of my business gave busy entrepreneurs the same thing: more time to do the things they love. It took two time-consuming projects off their plate. So why not offer one or the other or both? Why not use my versatility as part of my USP?

I may not have reached a perfect solution, nor do I expect I’ll cease evolving, either the scope of my business or myself. But reaching an understanding with myself that I don’t have to follow someone else’s road map, and accepting myself in my entirety were huge discoveries for me.

Yes, You Can Have it Your Way

If you’re having trouble adapting to the parameters others have given you, it’s probably time to kick that box to the curb and try things your own way. I won’t promise there won’t be mistakes, or that some of them won’t be doozies. I won’t promise you’ll be making six figures in six months, or some such drivel. Instead, you’ll figure out what works for you by taking your own combination of tips, tricks, and advice from many sources to come up with something that’s uniquely you. And isn’t that the whole idea behind a USP anyway?


Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. She believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information.


Photo courtesy of Max Braun via Flikr