This American Tog, Act One: Expertise

Quick note--this series an homage to This American Life, and it's way more fun if you picture Ira Glass reading this to you. ;)

Hey everybody, 16 Hoops here. It's This American Tog. Each week, we have a theme and different stories on that theme. Today on our program, we look at "Business and Survival of the Fittest". 

Act One: DNA (the stuff upon which everything else in your business is built)

(cue quirky music)

We are all individually the sum of our 100% unique life experiences. 

We are all also literally the sum of our human DNA handed down over millennia.

We are, each of us, wonderfully complicated. 

And it just so happens that this is a helpful way to think about your business, too. The "special snowflake" combination of all the best parts of your work, expressed in the perfect way and working together out in the universe, make up the key to ultimate success and fulfillment--both for you and your customers.

How? We'll show you in three acts.

From WTOG, York, Maine, it's This American Tog and we're 16 Hoops. Stay with us. 

Your DNA: What makes you you

Do you have a favorite teacher or class or moment that you will never forget? Something you were taught so expertly that all these years (or decades) later, you find it's still teaching you something?

For yours truly, the classes I'll never forget were high school biology and biology II with Mrs. Bresnick. Those are the only high school notes (and thoughts, frankly) that I have kept to this day. Her classes stirred something deep in my then almost-fully-formed 16-year-old brain.

I was and still am fascinated by mitochondria, Mendel's gene experiments with fruit flies, Darwin and the Galapagos.

It was a like a magic carpet ride into the distant past of our human collective. It helped me understand what makes each individual human different and distinct.

That class, and my fascination with its topics, along with every other experience I had before and have had since, are what make up the person I am today.

Now, I bring all of my continuing, ever-growing knowledge, fascination, and experience to 16 Hoops and my customers in subtle ways that--statistically speaking--can't be duplicated.

To put this into business terms, your special-snowflake collection of experiences forms what we're going to call "expertise". Expertise is the DNA of your business. It's the sum of your unique parts.

By nature, DNA can't be all-purpose

Your personal genetic makeup is unique (well, unless you're an identical twin). No one can imitate it. No one can duplicate it and pretend to be you.

Your experience and stories are what make up your expertise--and no one can imitate those, either.

So, the natural question for togs is, of course...

Does Being a Professional Photographer = Expertise?

Not so much, as it turns out.

Saying you are a photographer is like saying you are a human. Anyone with a homo sapiens brain and a pulse is a human. Ergo, anyone with a camera and a business card is a photographer.

You need to say what kind of photographer you are. What kind of human you are (one who likes rock music and hates strawberry yogurt and cares deeply about animal welfare, for example). Otherwise, you're just a faceless, unidentifiable chromosome in the shallow end of the gene pool.

Swim over to the deep end

To take it a little bit further, let's compare someone who claims to be a doctor to someone who claims to be a photographer.

If Joe Next Door has a busted kneecap, should he just go to Craigslist and hire anyone who claims to be a "doctor"? No. Absolutely not.

He wants (needs!) a doctor with experience, who knows how to solve his unique problem, and even more, who plays a part in the healing process.

If your potential customer has a newborn and wants baby pictures, should she just go to Craigslist and pick any old "photographer?" No.

She wants (needs!) a photographer with experience, who knows how to work with babies uniquely, and even better, who can perfectly capture their tiny world.

If your customer is looking for a tog on Craigslist, she's basically throwing a dart at the "senior portrait-family-weddings-newborn-maternity-pets-reunions-events-boudoir-corporate" photographer. 

She's stepping into the murky gene pool of one-size-fits-all togs--where getting something truly unique and special for her newborn is practically impossible, because too many togs try to do it all. They try to duplicate the DNA of everyone around them, to build expertise in too many different fields, and the end result is that they have shallow experience in a bunch of fields and deep experience in none.

Makes no sense, right? But, by not digging into their DNA, by not exploring their own personal expertise--photographers are forcing customers to gamble on them. 

It's one of those lose-lose scenarios.

Now, picture instead that--because of your unique combination of talents and interests--you have photographed almost nothing but newborns for five years. You have true expertise in this niche. On top of that, you have brought all your years of exploring the world in your own unique way to each and every session. 

You understand intimately how to pose them, interact with them, and portray their tiny, pure worlds in a way that no one could ever be able to duplicate--especially, ahem, by just looking at your photos on a Pinterest baby-picture board. And your ecstatic customer will pay a premium for this gift.

That is the promised land of true expertise. That is your 1-in-a-100-billion DNA, which no one else can duplicate. It only happens when you start differentiating yourself--swimming out of the shallow, crowded waters and into the deep end.

Cure yourself of clone thinking

Why, then, do photographers act like clones of each other? When instead they could have been dominating a market by simply tapping into their own unique DNA? It's because they never asked for help from another expert who is hard-wired to help them do this.

Oh, and the Internet (especially Pinterest) doesn't help. It's even MORE reason to do the work it takes to diverge from the pack.

The bold (not to mention profitable) decision to plant your flag deep into your own expert terra firma will completely transform your business forever.

Coming up next week

Act Two: Blue Eyes vs. Brown, or: How Customers Will "See" Your Expertise".

For WTOG, this is 16 Hoops. We'll see you next week.