Younger generations may not be familiar with the slapstick comedian, silent film star, and Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin but his legend is certainly solidified in the hearts and minds of film junkies and history lovers. Before Charlie hit the big-time he cut his teeth as a young performer by clog dancing at the age of 10, and landing his first acting job as a pageboy in a stage production of Sherlock Holmes by the time he was 12.
In 1975, Charlie heard news of an establishment holding a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest so he decided to secretly enter the challenge. He came in third place. It should serve as a lesson for all of us that if an acclaimed and prominent celebrity as well known as Charlie Chaplin can't even win at being himself then how much harder is it to act like someone else? Yet in the corporate world this is exactly the trap in which entrepreneurs and small business owners can find themselves entangled.
It can be a long and difficult road creating a brand, starting a business, establishing a following, and formulating a model for success. There's a lot to be said about copying an already proven method or idea and adding your own unique twist or style. However, is imitating or replicating a previously created institute the best way to rise to the top, or the quickest way to drown in a sea of impersonators?
How do you stand out among other companies that look like you?
Charlie Chaplin lost his look-alike contest because his opponents did a better job of looking and acting like the famous figure. So how do you ensure your corporation separates itself from the competition? Small businesses are run by individuals who have a passion for their communities and are generally entrenched in their surroundings. The personalities and character traits of each owner are what set the tone for how a local bakery, clothing boutique, or carpet cleaner will be distinguished among clients and customers.
Let your individuality, charm, and charisma shine through to establish a difference between you and your competitors. Although Chaplin was in a room of others who were all attempting to portray the same theatrical character, only the true Charlie knew his own personal quirks and mannerisms. Everyone else was simply pretending to be someone they were not, but in the end, Chaplin didn't do a good enough job of being himself.
Don't let yourself be easily duplicated
All I need to do is mention the name Charlie Chaplin and immediately his signature look comes to mind. The hat, the suit, the mustache, the cane, and the humorous walk are all classically unforgettable. However, developing such a recognizable brand is a double-edged sword. On one hand, pulling off the not-so-easy task of establishing a highly marketable image allows potential clients to know exactly who you are and what you do upon a quick glance at your sign or logo. The flip-side of the coin is that becoming exceptionally recognizable makes you an easy target for imitation. Charlie lost his look-alike contest because it wasn't complicated for anyone to dress like him, act like him, and essentially fool others in to thinking they were him.
Protecting yourself against impersonators is crucial for long-term business success. There may be several pizza parlors in the same city as you, but what does your restaurant do that can't be duplicated? Is your logo the same color and theme as all the rest? If you blind-folded your customers would they be able to tell the difference between your deep dish as compared to another?
There are thousands of real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and insurance brokers in which we have to choose. What products and services do you provide that couldn't possibly get you confused with a competitor? Creating a decidedly recognizable brand will bring in customers but it will also put you in the cross-hairs of those who would seek to piggyback off of your accomplishments.
Stop spinning your cane
Charlie Chaplin will forever be known in the annals of movie making history as the guy who waddled when he walked and spun his cane to incite laughter among his audience. But I'm sure to those who truly and personally knew him, he was much more than his signature role. Unfortunately for Charlie, acting diversity is not a trait in which he'll be remembered. As movie goers evolved and societal humor changed, no longer did crowds pack theater houses to catch his latest comical offering.
What is your business offering today that may not be popular in the future? You may have struck gold with a product or service which quickly became prosperous but eventually your cane spinning will grow old and tiresome if you don't evolve with your clients changing tastes and demands. Don't allow your business to be painted in to a corner. Leave yourself room to grow, adapt, expand, and advance.
Learn from your losses
You can bet there were a few lessons learned from Chaplin the night he was unsuccessful at being himself. I envision him later that evening, by himself, perhaps getting a chuckle at losing the competition, but also wondering where he went wrong. How could he have failed at doing the one task he should have been best at?
If you're an entrepreneur or small business owner you've come up short a time or two.There have been, and will be, moments of defeat. However, that doesn't mean it's time for you to hang up your hat. Charlie Chaplin didn't suddenly stop being Charlie Chaplin because he lost a look-alike contest. In times of failure it's best to reflect on our true identity and remember who we are. Think about what got you to that point of loss. Make note of the missteps and miscalculations to avoid a similar outcome in the future.
When you're the leader of a small business it's hard being yourself. The latest trend in marketing or the most recent gimmick based advertising ideas threaten to take away our unique selves as we try and keep up with our competitors. Take a lesson from Charlie Chaplin. Would your clients and customers be able to pick you out of a line-up based upon how well you perform your services or how superior your product is when compared to imposter's and imitators?
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