What is Your Value Proposition?
Value proposition (noun.) - the reason we should give a shit.
To be honest, the ‘value prop’ has become such a buzzword in modern organisations. It’s used in business for how the customer would benefit; in consumer brands for why the customer should buy; in marketing, it’s why a customer should pay attention.
This is all to say that we value value propositions because they make us stand out from the crowd.
They tell us why we should care, why someone should pay attention and choose you over somebody else. It’s important for any business or marketing strategy to have a clearly defined value proposition. In this overly-saturated world of startups and advertising content, having a clear reason that you can be a cut above the rest is as good as having a million dollars to make sure your ad is seen by every single Facebook user. And let’s just be clear, even a million dollars won’t solve the fact that you have no value to offer a customer.
But the value proposition starts to emerge when you’re also creating a personal brand. As I’ve started to build out who I am and how that is of value to potential clients and even readers, I’ve started to ask myself the same questions to build out my value prop.
What can I offer?
Why should anyone listen to me?
What makes me so different?
And it’s terrifying to have to answer those questions.
In the internal quest to find yourself, what happens when you need to define who you are to other people?
My own journey to self-actualisation has always played in contrast with seeing how others see me. I’ve had my own ideas of my own value and the image I may put out to others, only to have it disproved in my eyes.
It’s the basic semiotic paradox right? My actions, my blog, my Instagram feed serve to project a certain side of who I am that I would like others to see. And yet, how people will interpret that into their own meanings can be completely different. It’s why my experience with the Nomad MBA was so enlightening, to see a person reflected back to me by people who I’d only known for three months.
I’ve always struggled with this, my own insecurities undermining any attempt to just let go and be whoever it is that I am. I projected what I thought people would want - the outgoing, often crazy person who was generally up for anything. And sure, it’s not like this was a facade. There was just more to me and occasionally you might catch a glimpse of her, tapping away at her laptop for hours when the productivity hits.
It’s been a work in progress, but I’m slowly reconciling these facets of my identity together.
I will play as hard as I work. I am both a proud Aussie and proud Chinese girl. I am boldly female and yet a bad feminist. I am Tiff; and yet so much more than meets the eye.
I know who I am; but no, I cannot answer the question of ‘who are you?’ When people ask you that question, they don’t want to hear this entire blurb. They don’t want to know all the facets of your complicated identity, how they interact and often contradict each other. Frankly, they want the cliff notes, the tweet under 140 characters, your IG bio.
And I get it. The thing I’ve learned from travelling and meeting so many people on the road is that it can be all too easy to judge a person on first impressions; or even just after that first introduction when they answer who they are.
Ok, but say we even dig a little deeper. Do our follow up questions do anything to reveal who a person is? Where are you from? What do you do for work? What brought you here (to Bali, to this bar, to this hostel)? What does this actually say about who we are as people?
Yes, perhaps this gives snippets, but more than that, it gives us these archaic ways of categorising people. Which national stereotype will I place on you? What sort of ambition or intelligence do you have? How adventurous or spontaneous you are?
While they can be somewhat telling, they do little to peel back the layers. So what can we do?
Take the agency back into our own hands and tell them who we are.
And with that, we’ve taken the long way round to the original point. How do we put ourselves out there in the way that we want? The thing is that we’ve found comfort in the usual questions - no matter how repetitive they come. My default is to talk about what I do, to say how I’ve come to this point in my life.
To go any deeper and expose these internal battles with identity I have would be to admit vulnerability. it would break down the facade of what you might assume and my natural instinct to just prove you wrong. It saves me from saying with any assertion about who I am.
It’s terrifying to say with any certainty that you identify with any one thing. And it’s because it comes down to these three fears calling you back from every ‘I am…’ statement.
1. Fear of embarrassment
To say that I’m a writer would mean that I have to write well. To say that I’m a feminist would mean having to back up every action with my feminist agenda. Assertion means you have no room to hide behind ambiguity. Writers write, business owners are business owners, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs.
Living up to the expectation the title carries can be terrifying. You carry the responsibility to uphold other people’s understanding of the title. You tell someone you’re an entrepreneur? They’re immediately going to have this image in their head of how you act and what you believe.
2. Fear of disappointment
So what if you don’t live up to their expectations? Usually, people’s ideas of these terms can be quite limiting and specific. If you were to paint a little outside of their lines, it’s more likely that you’re seen as a fraud than that you will change their mind from the image in their head.
So instead of owning your title, you’re seen like a fraud.
3. Fear of success
It would be easy enough to screw what they think, if you were doing well. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes your startup fails to get off the ground. Sometimes you don’t uphold the best feminist practices. Sometimes you change your mind, your direction, your identity.
People only want to believe you when you’re doing well. With things that are not easy to define or measure, people have to recalibrate what they mean by success. You setting out as a digital nomad, rejecting the normal path of corporate life? Well, it’s not legitimate until something you do looks like success in the normal paradigm; until you’re self-sustaining or have a successful business. Otherwise, what was the point of trying something different just to struggle?
The fact is that the choice to become a digital nomad is the success. It is bloody difficult to reject everything you know to take on this new lifestyle and try and make it on your own. If we were able to own that small success, maybe this whole digital nomad identity would be easier.
But the fear of blowing smoke up our own ass about it, keeps us back. In fact, blowing smoke up our own ass about anything stops us from truly owning our successes and how they shape us as people.
The fact is I don’t know where to go from here. We could just try and overcome all our fears and let people’s thoughts fade into the background. But as you’ve seen, I’ve always been bound by what other people see me as - both good and bad.
Heck, it’s the basis of this whole idea of value. What do they get out of me? It’s not just about what I put out. So we find ourselves at a stalemate: people will not change their minds with the expectations they hold in their heads and we will not assert ourselves out of fear of these expectations.
But that’s just it. We can’t change the whole world, no. But to get out of this stalemate, we have to take on the responsibility.
The world won’t change unless we do.
It’s going to be scary and uncomfortable. But if anything, it’s not like I keep choosing this digital nomad life not to be uncomfortable. Forging our own path, our own identity is awkward and weird but it should be.
So if the laws of physics or justice catch up, other people will too. But we’ve got to take the leap and just claim what we own.
If we put out our offers and know our own value, just maybe, people will come to see it.