Unique Selling Points (USPs) are brilliant things. They are what set you aside from others in your field and show how you are different, they let the world know your strong points and show that you are unique enough to satisfy potential clients’ needs and stand out from the crowd.
Most marketing resources urge you to find your USP but it can be really difficult to find yours unless you have a really unique set of specialities. So, for example, if you specialise in pre-war manufacturing of tin circus toys that’s a great USP, as long as there are enough clients out there to keep you in work.
So let’s clarify… you need a USP that isn’t so unique you can’t find the clients.
The problem is that a lot of us have specialities that are varied or not so unique. I’ve found that the best way to find your USP is to think hard about what you can offer then narrow it down to something more manageable. Using myself as an example, there are many editors out there who specialise in history, fewer who are genealogists and even fewer who specialise in the north of Scotland. But realistically how many people out there need an editor with that narrow a speciality?
In my search for a USP I have come to realise that, perhaps like many others, my USPs are varied and can attract more than one type of potential client. It’s not a jack of all trades scenario, rather a diverse set of specialisms. Years ago, while still a librarian and with time on my hands, I attended a marketing and advertising course (I have no idea why, I hadn’t even thought about a future freelance life – while other people went to the pub, I went on courses) and through the years there is one thing that I still remember the lecturer telling us… we are all unique, we just have to believe in ourselves and see ourselves through the eyes of others.
Easier said than done.
So, here’s how I found my USPs, perhaps it will help you to find yours?
- First of all, think about your work.
If you have moved from gainful employment to the freelance world you will already have an idea of what you can do, but if you have been freelance for a while and have become blind to your talents you will need to think objectively. In either case get a pen and paper out and write down what you have done in the past and what you tend to do now. What do you specialise in?
My specialisms can be categorised as:
Genealogy and local history… I have spent the last almost *cough* thirty years working in these fields, whether as a professional or through volunteering. I started researching my family tree at the age of 15 and have been a volunteer either working at a local archive in Whitby as a student, or transcribing for a variety of archives and family history societies. Even when working as an academic librarian, and later a genealogist, I was volunteering, so I can definitely say it’s a specialism. If I wanted to take my specialities further I suppose I could concentrate on genealogy and local history in the far north of Scotland and the Whitby area of the north east of England.
But my historical knowledge also includes barges on the Medway, the history of ferries and numerous archaeological and historical subjects.
If you think logically around your subject in this way you can narrow down your points:
History > genealogy > Scotland > far north of Scotland
History > genealogy > England > Whitby
History > local history > far north of Scotland and Whitby
History > maritime > barges
History > maritime > ferries
History > archaeology
So I’ve a few areas there that can be used as USPs, narrowing down the historical field in which I work. That’s not to say I can’t work in other areas, but these are my specialities. If someone asks, my specialist area is genealogy and local history, but my specialisms are those I’ve just listed. I’ve never really thought of as them as specialisms, but they are. It’s what I know and what few other people do.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a specialist as: ‘A person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity; a person highly skilled in a specific and restricted field.’
Look at your work, I’ll bet you can find your specialism.
Next, if you want to go further, if perhaps your specialist field is still not narrow enough…
- Think about the work you used to do and the courses you’ve done.
I’ve briefly worked in an art gallery, an art school library and a frame shop. I’ve loved art since I was a child and have read and studied widely on the subject. I’ve also, over the years, learned a lot of crafts from feltmaking and needlework, to bookbinding and glassmaking. While a broad overview won’t make you an expert, from hands-on work and courses to being widely read, you shouldn’t discount this area of your life from your USP search.
So narrow down the main points, for me this would be, for example:
Art > art history> c19th
Art > modern art
Art > arts and crafts > bookbinding
Art > arts and crafts > feltmaking. etc.
All well and good, but you may have more unique talents. There are specialisms which can be derived from your hobbies and areas of interest outside of your old working life…
- Think about your passions.
There are areas of your life that can nurture specialisms. Subjects where you have no official qualifications or training, but years and years of knowledge and self-taught studies set you apart from the others. These may be so specific that they require no narrowing down. Mine are:
Numismatism > Roman coinage > Iovi Conservatori coins
So you see, the thought of finding your Unique Selling Points can be daunting, but with a bit of objective thinking you really can find yours. I searched for years before realising that I don’t just have one, I have a number of them. Many resources will tell you to find ONE USP, but that’s where I think many people come unstuck.
Rather than sit down and wonder just what the hell you are good at (which can be fairly daunting as you rarely see your specialities as such unless you concentrate on just one narrow subject) why not sit down with a pen and paper and put down what you know.
Unless you have a highly specialised degree finding your USP can be difficult as you can easily forget that not everyone knows what you know. For example, my degree is in Librarianship and Information Studies, so over the years I have tended to forget that what I find second nature is seen as a specialism by many… I understand the nature of information, I am a pretty good researcher (even if I do say so myself), I taught students how to research and am comfortable around academia. But this doesn’t really stick as a speciality that can be used as a USP. If you have specialisms that don’t seem to fit in with traditional USPs you have to think outside of the box. Ask your friends if you are in doubt, see yourselves through their eyes.
So there is my take on finding your uniqueness, broken down into steps that have worked for me. I’ve read many things that tell you to have one USP and stick to it, but if you work with varied clients, or want to attract varied clients, what is the harm in having a few? I certainly can’t put myself in a box.
If you’ve found this useful, let me know and if you have your own way of finding your USP why not tell us in the comments section?