Remember when newspapers became free? These days even coffee is being offered for free. In fact, the free marketplace is getting so crowded that, if you are frugal enough, you could get by on very little these days.
So imagine my face when, at a networking event, I was asked what I specialise in and before I could answer, the overeager networker piped up, “I suppose you specialise in everything really”.
Perplexed is putting it mildly. An excellent and sensible question turned into a farce unless, of course, it was my overall demeanour that gave off an air of invincibility. If you specialise in everything, you might as well be free – general is everywhere.
Unless, of course, you have that “je ne sais quoi” about you that we all admire or you have three eyes and an ear missing such that we just want to come back for more.
If these gifts are lacking in your persona, then the pressure is on and the risk is that we could end up being quickly wrapped in today’s fish and chip paper or come across as frothy as a first world coffee moan.
So what is it about us that sets us apart from what is free?
Can we afford the risk of being the generalist which clients will continue to return to for more? Is it our ability to bring to life important (but otherwise dull) financial requirements that life demands?
Or if I still see my simple, three-letter name spelt wrong on my coffee cup, am I mad to continue paying for something I can get for free?
The journey of establishing ourselves is not straightforward. We could specialise to set ourselves apart – perhaps clap our hands at the sound of a problematic divorce case or put together fantastic financial plans that are so personal, not only will we spell the name of our clients right, we will know the whole family tree.
Even here, thanks to the plethora of “redefining yourself” marketing workshops, it can feel like there are too many specialists and that instead, we need to be an authority, a “go-to” person, and perhaps write a column for our sector.
And then we see others who seem to do nothing but turn to the fountain pen and question whether they write any business at all.
Maybe we need to be experts, or even aspire to celebrity status. One thing is certain: we are becoming fewer and there is enough room for all personality types.
Make sure you know who you are and be mindful of what is free.
Mel Kenny is a chartered financial planner at Radcliffe & Newlands