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Make Your Self Stand Out to Get Ahead: Differentiation

A few years ago I took a trip to India for work. As part of my visit, myself and a colleague from Germany left the work site and went on a tour of a 2000 year old temple away from the hustle of the major city where we were working. During our visit to this temple some young boys approached us and proceeded to take pictures of themselves with us. Why, you might ask? Because we were different from almost anyone they had ever seen before. We were far enough off the beaten path that a blonde haired blue eyed person was something different.

Blog Differentiation

Much the same phenomenon happens in blogs. Recently after the election ended with Trump as president elect, every blog had a post about what would happen to personal finance based on our newly elected president. It certainly was an important topic, but after reading the same thing on about 4 blogs I had had enough and found myself searching for anyone with a different topic.

Which brings us to today’s topics. If you recall a while back, I wrote about crafting and protecting your image to enhance your business and career. Well, there was one thing I left out of that post, the importance of differentiating yourself from others. If you blend in with others too far then you will become expendable, your business won’t succeed, or you won’t get ahead.
So, what does that mean? Well if you are running a personal finance blog like mine it’s about trying to position your blog to provide a unique perspective. In my case for those who may not get it yet, it’s about taking a formal finance/economics background and presenting those concepts in a fun format where some learning will occur but mostly the post will be fun. My line for success is that my wife, whom hates discussing economics, likes a post where I speak to a financial topic. Is that a unique enough topic for the personal finance world? Check back in a few years.

I will say though that the most successful blogs in personal finance are obviously providing a unique perspective. You have the in your face methodology of Mr Money Mustache, if you want the take of a former bank employee in one of the most expensive cities in the country you want Financial Samurai, or if you want a physician then White Coat Investor. Granted over the years many others have entered their niche, but since the early years of blogging they have prevailed. Differentiated and thus generating their own unique following. So to start any business you need to be prepared to differentiate your offerings.

Choosing a Differentiated Career

In the same way, if you are going the more traditional career path you will be best served by differentiating yourself. Whether that be by being one of the hardest workers or even before it begins choosing a career that will differentiate yourself. Take my career. I’ve made a living as being someone with a detailed business knowledge, and actually working in the business, with IT capabilities. Had I been purely IT, I would have long since been outsourced, and yet I prosper as the guy who can go from area to area translating topics into IT needs. My career has touched on all types of areas: Finance, Logistics, Supply Chain Planning, Distribution, Sales Analytics, and Marketing. Yet through all of these what got my foot in the door was the IT background. Now, I’m not saying that’s the right path, as everyone has a different path to take. What I am saying is if you are just starting out choosing a college major or a career path then consider an area where it will be easier for you to stand out if you want an easier path forward.

Differentiating Yourself as an Employee

So, you’ve already chosen your business or job? You can still differentiate in the way you execute. In a corporate world that would mean going the extra mile. Volunteering for difficult assignments that might get you noticed. Figuring out where in the company there is a distinct lack of knowledge and learning that area. Or even as simple as putting in the extra hours. In a small business world that might mean superb customer service, presentation (think Apple), or speed of delivery (think Fed Ex). In either case look for your niche to improve your odds of long term success.

Differentiating your Business

One final example to leave you with. A few months ago I spent some of an afternoon walking around in the Shanghai markets. The problem with each of the vendors is they all sold the same thing. 100s of stores selling the same thing where the only outward difference is perhaps the price. As a business person you don’t want to compete on price as that’s eventually a losing proposition. Competing on price will ultimately result in no profit margin as the market corrects ever downward. So how did they get around this? Well one particular vendor stood out. He had made up his store to look much more professional then the rest. He also had someone talking over a loud speaker promoting his store. He stood out and differentiated on presentation. As I sat observing I noticed he did much more business than the other more haphazard stores. He had found his niche, his differentiation. It truly showed differentiation in action.
How do you differentiate your career or small business? If you’re a blogger how do you differentiate your blog?


  1. The Green Swan
    The Green Swan December 26, 2016

    Great post! Differentiation is very important and I learned that lesson shortly after the financial crisis in 2008. I didn’t want to be expendable so I pursued my grad degree in the nights and weekends and took steps to broaden my work experiences to make myself more valuable. And it certainly required some long hours, still to this day!

    • December 26, 2016

      Thanks for adding your story. Grad school certainly can create differentiation and open some doors.

  2. Go Finance Yourself!
    Go Finance Yourself! December 26, 2016

    Nice post! Identifying ways to stand out when you’re in college is a great place to start. The job market is very competitive, and in many cases, it takes more than having good grades and some leadership positions in electives. Everyone has that now. The same holds true once you get into the working world. When I first started working, I tried to differentiate myself by always going above and beyond the call of duty. Coming in early and staying late. Taking on as much responsibility as possible and taking things off my manager’s plate. Anything that would get me noticed as a high achiever.

    • December 26, 2016

      So very true. What I remember when graduating college was everyone wanted someone with experience. Having just a degree was never enough. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Untemplater
    Untemplater December 26, 2016

    Great points. People love reading true stories and hearing opinions – that’s why some blogs that have strong personalities have done really well. It gets boring reading periodical type articles that aren’t written in first person.

  4. SomeRandomGuyOnline
    SomeRandomGuyOnline December 26, 2016

    Great post! Differentiating yourself is really important, especially when it comes to your career. While I was in residency, I would tell the medical students that when they would interview for a residency spot, most of the questions actually centered around the non-medical, non-science stuff on their applications like hobbies and personal interests. This would serve to differentiate them from other applicants with similar test scores and grades. For instance, when I was interviewing for a spot, I felt I stood out more when the fact that I had been skydiving multiple times or that I’m a certified bartender came up rather than my test scores or volunteer work.

    As for my blog, I’m still in the process of differentiating myself from others. At the moment, I’m just focusing on sharing my experiences and some of the financial lessons I’ve learned. Hopefully the differentiation will come organically. I guess we’ll see.

    • December 26, 2016

      Your brand is certainly not made overnight. I’ll be curious to see how it evolves over time.

  5. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money December 26, 2016

    This is a great post. It makes me think about why certain NFL players are super popular while others aren’t nearly as popular. People in my opinion love stories which is why I think NFL players who “hide” behind a helmet are trying so hard to make names for themselves over NBA players who show their face everyday at “work.” I feel like in today’s society that we need to stand out more than ever with increasing competition.

    Thanks for getting me thinking this afternoon and as I head back to work I need to continue looking for ways to differentiate myself and stand out!!

    • December 26, 2016

      Interesting, I’ve never really thought about the NFL players, but your right when I think about it. It’s why the strong personalities tend to be the memorable players. That would be similar to what untemplater stated a few comments ago about strong personality in bloggers. Thanks for the great add.

  6. Andrew
    Andrew December 27, 2016

    Great points. I think there is a natural tendency to want to just ‘fit in’–which is something I tried to do when I was in school. But, it certainly pays to stand out a little bit. I think I started to realize this more and more after trying to make money through side hustles.

    • December 28, 2016

      So very true. When you start a side hustle you certainly don’t want to fit in. Especially in todays day an age where alternatives are so easily found. You need to stand out from the crowd.

  7. Mrs. Groovy
    Mrs. Groovy December 27, 2016

    Super post for anyone who needs to reflect on the importance of standing out. Years back when I was acting I took head shot photos with these big, business-like glasses on that had clear glass, since I had perfect vision. People would practically hire me directly from the photo. For our blog, the differentiation is with Mr. Groovy’s writing. He’s very quirky in his story telling and he’s not afraid to veer into controversial un-PC areas that affect our wallets. Now that we’re retired our perspective is changing. We’ll be posting about it I’m sure.

    • December 28, 2016

      Thanks Mrs. Groovy, I’d agree Mr Groovy does have a unique style. I look forward to seeing how the perspective will change.

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