How to Stand Out in a Saturated Industry

There are so many myths that are easy to get wrapped up in for creative entrepreneurs - that our industry is too saturated which is why we aren't booking any clients, that we aren't interesting enough to share parts of our personality that will connect with our dream audience, and that it's next to impossible to stand out in such a competitive market. But the problem with these ideas is that they can be paralyzing - yes, there are a ton of creative entrepreneurs out there and yes, it's very competitive, but focusing on the negative, scary parts of our creative industries can make us feel so discouraged that we stop trying at all.

If you find yourself feeling this way (which, tbh we all do at some point) I want to challenge you to confront the fear of a saturated creative industry. Let's try and break some of these fears down, and I'm going to share ways that I've found to utilize the saturated market of  creative entrepreneurs and how you can use it to your advantage.

How to stand out in a saturated industry for creative entrepreneurs 

Every Industry is Saturated - Not Just Yours

I want to start out by reminding you that every industry is saturated, not just yours. According to Petapixel, in 2013 (which was a loooong time ago, mind you) there were 54,830 photographers in the US and I'm sure that that number has gone up by now. Yep, I could take that as a scary statistic and it could make me not want to pursue photography, but this is the same for every industry - as of 2016, there were over 1.3 million lawyers in the US, over 600,000 restaurants in the US, and over 800,000 designers in the US. Despite the fact that yes, there are tonnnsss of entrepreneurs and small businesses that compete with one another, they're still able to get customers and keep their businesses sustainable. 

You probably already know that the way to get clients in a saturated industry is to stand out, but you might be confused as to what they really looks like. I don't want to you to get caught up in feeling like since there's so much competition it isn't worth it to try - that's just not the case. The way to stand out in your saturated industry is to carve out a little part of the industry for yourself and double down where you are. And the way to do that is...

Use What Makes You Unique

This saying tends to make creatives tense up and feel nervous - "I just don't know what makes me unique, probably nothing." Figuring out that one special thing that makes you oh so totally unique is honestly silly, because there's no one special thing about you that will suddenly set you apart - what makes you unique and sets you apart is the fact that you are literally a unique person. There's no other you, and yes you might like some of the same things as other creative entrepreneurs, but the specific mixture of your personality is what makes you different than your competition and is what will help you stand out in your industry.

If figuring out what makes you unique freaks you out, I want you to listen up - you are already unique, you just may not be capitalizing on it yet. 

Try not to get overwhelmed and feel like you need to suddenly know every single thing that makes you different - think of this more as a learning process. Take note of the small things that make you different, your quirks, what you do on a daily basis or what weird little saying you use - keep track of those small contributors to your personality and see which ones align with your brand. Here's a short (incomplete) list of places to draw inspiration from.

  • How do you take your coffee? When do you drink it? Does it take you 5 hours to finish one cup (like me)?
  • What's the saying you use when you're super excited about something?
  • How do you greet others?
  • Do you snort when you laugh? Slap your knee?
  • Is there a type of cloth or pattern you love to wear all the time?
  • Are you a lounger in pajama pants or a get dressed every day kinda person?

Pay attention to the way you interact with your daily life, how you communicate and build relationships with your clients, and silly things you do that your friends or family comment on. Use these all as inspiration for ways to build personality into your brand. Remember that just sharing a photo of a coffee cup doesn't convey your personality - but if you shared your coffee cup that your boyfriend got you that has a cat on it that you're obsessed with, you're getting closer. The more little bits of personality that you include in your brand, the stronger and more unique you and your business become. 

Build Personality into Your Brand

Maybe you've heard of adding your personality brand, or maybe you're scared of doing it - either way, a personal, compelling brand is the best way to stand out from your competition because it's literally what makes you and your competitors different. Your brand is what will make your dream clients seek you out and choose you out of alllll those other photographers/designers/creatives out there because you are the only one they can imagine themselves having a coffee with and spending their time and money on.

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.
— Seth Godin

Yeah, you could just have a brand, like maybe you're just the family photographer or maybe you're just the coach for women - but what about that makes a client feel like YOU are the perfect choice for their needs?

If I'm hiring a graphic designer to build my website, I'm not going to choose Joe Schmoe who builds websites for anyone who asks. I want to work with the website designer who builds beautiful and aesthetically pleasing sites for women entrepreneurs who serve other women through their creative businesses, and I want to meet her for coffee and I want to her about her rescue cat she loves. It's sooo much easier for your dream clients to feel connected to a compelling, personal brand where they feel like they're truly connected to the person they're hiring than it is to try and communicate your value if you're just a website designer.

Here comes another fear - what if your dream clients don't connect with your personality?

I can promise ya, babe - if your dream clients don't connect with your personality, they aren't your dream clients. You want to share parts of your personality that connect with the people you would want to spend time with because if you're a creative entrepreneur who pursues your passion as your career, working with clients who don't value or appreciate your creativity is not going to be sustainable.

Use Your Uniqueness + Personality to Add Value

Once you've found a few of the ways that you're unique and what you want to add to your brand experience, you can use those ideas to add even more value to your brand and the services you provide. For example, let's say you're a coffee connoisseur - you can use the fact that you love sharing coffee with people you care about and build it into your brand to add extra value. Maybe when you meet with clients, you can use your knowledge of the best coffee shops in your city to make recommendations. Or you can gift coffee mugs with your clients logo on it. Or you can ask your clients how they take their coffee, so that when you meet you've already prepared it for them.

Maybe this is as simple as sharing parts of your unique personality on your social media platforms, starting with photos of yourself and moving into photos of what makes you unique (back to the coffee cup with a cat on it idea). Now that you have a foundation of ideas to work from on what makes you stand out from your competition, you can use those ideas to build into your brand and add value into the experiences you provide your clients.

Using what make you unique + what your personality brings to the table = a valuable, original brand that will help you stand out in your saturated industry (without having to add anything new to your product offerings)!


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Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.