I have a simple message for you today: being different is good. Read on to see how it can actually be your biggest asset.
I’m a web developer and graphic designer living in a small town and I’m having a hard time creating much buzz here.
I have some long term clients that usually come by referral from people I know, but as the black sheep of my family, I have been unable to get an “in” with local business or make many connections in my area. I just don’t connect with the scene.
After 8 years on this path, I’m wondering if it is worth it because I feel like I don’t have much of an audience for my work, though my actual clients (all remote) love me.
I love art, design and fashion. My personal style is more edgy/creative than what I show on my site because I have worked with mostly older, less style-brave clients until now. I want to change that but I’m not sure where to begin.
First off, I feel you. I think we can all remember a time in our lives when we didn’t fit in. I find it fascinating when I read interviews from famous people I admire because for the most part, they didn’t fit in, either. I know it can seem difficult in the moment but trust me, it builds character and empathy.
The sooner you own exactly who you are and play up your interests, the sooner your like-minded tribe can find you. “Just be yourself” sounds cliche but it’s the best gift you can give to yourself. I distinctly remember the stigma of being a goth in high school. The payoff was worth it, though because I was able to discover a whole new social circle that was just as weird as I was. Being yourself and knowing that there’s no pressure to impress anyone else in an effort to be cool is so freeing.
I know it can get lonely if you’re different but remember, there’s a whole world outside of your small town. If you can’t move due to various circumstances, make the best of it. I was born and raised in Portland and even though I love living here, I don’t really fit in. I’m not into anything remotely rustic, I hate hiking, don’t drink beer and all black is my uniform of choice. My design aesthetic also doesn’t fit the local mold and because of that, I have very few local clients.
Instead, I choose to focus on a worldwide audience. Most of my clients at Branch are based in New York, Los Angeles and London. It’s worked out well being “different” because I’ve gained an entirely new audience and group of clients I click with in the process.
Rapid-fire advice to use being different to your advantage
1. Embrace your personal style fully. If knee-high black boots, eccentric jewelry and purple lipstick are your thing, rock it. If you already feel like you don’t fit in, you really have nothing to lose. I remember my neighbor’s bewildered looks at my goth get-ups and it still cracks me up. Have a good time being you — maybe your small town needs a shake-up!
2. Reach out to clients who embody your ideal design aesthetic. If you don’t have a lot of work examples to show them, you may have to work for discounted rates or trade in the beginning but just a handful of the right kinds of projects can transform your portfolio and in turn, your business. Years ago, I halved my rates for a lipstick brand but showing that one project in my portfolio has brought me in a half dozen more beauty-related projects.
3. Build a new portfolio site. Whether it’s a custom WordPress site or a Squarespace template doesn’t matter. The sooner you can show people who you truly are and what you excel at, the sooner your business can thrive. Don’t worry about what the locals think — this is your vision. People around the world are looking for talented designers daily — I just got off a call with a client in London this morning who embodies my ideal principles and aesthetics. I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for the internet.
4. Share your work often. If you have limited time, I’d recommend three platforms to share your design work: Instagram, Dribbble and Pinterest. Each post and pin is an opportunity to make friends, meet clients and practice crafting your aesthetic and voice. You are full of personality and you got this.
5. Get out of the house. I know your town is small but there may be a good friend lurking around that you haven’t discovered yet. Everything is more fun when you have a partner in crime and someone to bounce creative ideas off of. You never know where you’ll meet someone! I met my friend Sarah at a Steampunk convention and all it took was complementing her outfit to strike up a conversation. Most people feel like they’re out of place, too — you just have to make the first move.
“Honestly, if you don’t fit in then you’re probably doing the right thing.” ― Lights Poxleitner
Stepping out from behind a toned-down image you’ve created can be scary…but it’s the only way to be truly happy. When you’re happy and comfortable in your own skin, people will be naturally drawn to that. Doors will begin to open. And pretty soon, you’ve managed to step into the life you always wanted: a life that allows you to live authentically, make a good living and surround yourself with friends who like you for exactly who you are.