Taking inspiration is a natural state for us humans: after all, it began when we were only babies. We learned to talk, walk and countless other things by copying others. As children, we are little sponges, absorbing things from parents, teachers and anyone else we come into contact with on the way. As adults, in business, it’s only natural that we continue that process and look to others. That’s why sites like Women’s Prospects are so helpful, providing not only inspiration but also insight into how other successful women are making their way out there.
The danger comes when we let our admiration for a particular entrepreneur or brand start to overtake or even compromise our own brand. The result can be a lack lustre copy cat brand that does nothing to promote our own unique identity as a professional or entrepreneur. At the best we never come into all we could be, at worst we could be facing a court case!
However, it can be sometimes be tricky to judge if you’re being inspired or are actually imitating, even subconsciously. Here are some signs that you may have lost yourself and your own brand and let yourself be influenced too much by others:
- You find yourself reading someone else marketing material, presentations or newsletters and picking out pieces to use in your own just a little too often
- You’re copying bits and pieces of someone else’s work and not even bothering to adapt it to your own style and product
- You tell your photographer or stylist “I want to look just like XYZ”
- You doubt your own ideas and would rather do what someone else is doing
So, how can you use inspiration but still stay uniquely you?
Address the confidence issue
Relying too much on getting ideas from what others are doing may not mean that you don’t have your own. It could just be that you have the ideas but don’t have the confidence to put them into action or show them to the world. In this case, a little confidence building may be in order. There are plenty of resources out there to help you with this, from self-help books (a personal favourite is Russ Harris’s The Confidence Gap) to YouTube videos to coaches to psychotherapists.
The most important thing to remember is to challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone, while at the same time turning down the volume on that inner critic, and making plenty of room for discomfort and anxiety (it will pass!). The more you practice moving past your comfort zone and taking calculated risks, the easier it will get and the more natural it will feel.
Investigate what attracts you
If we are inspired by a particular person, think about what it is about them that sparks this, and focus on using that quality rather than trying to replicate the person in order to reach your goals. What is it that is attracting you? Is it their values, their strengths, their actions or what they’ve done?
Knowing that you admire someone isn’t enough: really look at what it is about them that is pulling you towards them. So, you could be inspired by a big media personalities, such as Oprah or Richard Branson, and decide that it’s actually their personal charisma that’s drawing you in. It doesn’t have to be celebrities here. You may find that it’s just as likely to be someone who has a strong social media presence, or the life and soul of a regular business networking group.
If it’s a strong sense of personal style that captivates you, ask yourself what is it that style means for youis it glamorous, nostalgic, very smart and tailored? Why is it calling to you?
How can you make it your own?
The next step is taking action. How can you mobilise these qualities that inspire you in your own life and business? What is there about them that you could emulate, without having to be a replica of them? If you find yourself admiring someone for their philanthropic action in their business, how can you do this in a way that suits your own life, budget and availability? If you’re looking to someone with a multi-millionaire status, how can their habits inspire you to create a daily routine or push you to look for bigger deals?
By all means look at some of the tangible actions they have taken and learn from them, but it’s important to do things in your own way, working with your own personal strengths and skillset.
Staying true to You
If you admire someone for their outer brand and sense of style, trying to replicate them can really backfire in a big way. It is important that you recognise your own limits. You may like the idea of carrying off a vintage forties style suit but have to accept that a daily bike ride into work means that it’s just not realistic for your lifestyle, or that your current budget is never going to stretch to it anyway. Or you may admire Zandra Rhodes and her creative exuberance and yet concede that you are just not going to be able to get away with that in your own workplace, or, even worse, scare off clients.
What can be helpful is to create a vision board that captures the feel of the look you are creating, using photos from magazines or the internet. Use this to talk to a personal stylist and/or shopper, and together you can work on coming up with something that suits you, the way you run your business and live your life. Have patience and experiment with what feels more authentic. Take a trusted friend with you if you’re out on a shopping expedition and let them know you want honest feedback.
If you’re considering new photos for a website or promotional material, it’s critical that these portray the real you, and not someone you think you should be.
If looking to others has become a regular habit, try making a date to go through this process regularly in order to keep evolving your unique brand. It’s a practice that’s best done with a strong eye on what makes you, you. What are your unique strengths, skills and personal values?
Draw from them as much if not even more than the inspirations others can bring to you. Commit to growing and promoting them and you may find that it’s you yourself who becomes an inspiration.