Are You in the Clone Zone? Be Brave, Be Bold, Be Marketable.

Posted March 21, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in On the Ladder

For so long, we’ve been taught not to make waves in the workplace. Keep your head down. Tick the boxes. Do the work. Don’t upset anyone. Be the best at fulfilling that job description. Don’t color outside the lines.

And whatever you do, SEPARATE your work identity from your home identity.

That philosophy has created a generation of women afraid to be themselves. I was one of them. Right after I finished my undergraduate degree, I took a job with a major corporation. I went in thinking, “How can I be creative? How can I use my unique skills in writing and strategic communications to jazz up this place?”

This place didn’t care to be jazzed. I was most successful when I kept my mouth shut and left all semblance of a personality at home.

Even when I started my own business, I started to slip into the clone zone. When I started a blog as a creative outlet, I frantically hid it from potential clients because I used sassy, sarcastic language and (gasp!) sometimes reviewed wine.

Even though I was marketing myself as a writer, my introductory marketing letters were dull and “perfect.”

At networking events, I spouted off well-rehearsed speeches covering exactly what I thought they wanted to hear.

Then I read two books that changed how I thought about myself and my business.

One was Linchpin by Seth Godin.

One was Rework by the founders of 37 Signals.

The general theme of both: the old way of working isn’t working. I’ve said it before, but this theme is important here. There will ALWAYS be someone who can do your job cheaper and faster than you can. And, eventually, there might be a robot who can do your job.

But what if you bring something completely irreplaceable to the table? What if you harness whatever quirky skill set you have and become someone who simply can’t be replicated?

What if you became a brand? A completely unique, completely noticeable brand?

It’s a little risky, because some jobs were just meant for ticking boxes. But how amazing would it be to have a boss or a client who said, “If Ellen got hit by a bus tomorrow, I’d be absolutely up the creek without a paddle.”

Those are the intangible skills. This is the stuff that makes you valuable.

One of my most conservative clients found my blog. I was terrified, but they thought it was funny. Actually, they were impressed at “the range of [my] voice” since the style on the blog was so different from the style I used for them.

That was it. That’s my niche. That’s my intangible skill. I can take on whatever voice I need to. I started selling that skill. It landed me loads of ghostwriting jobs and I got to pretend to be everyone from college presidents to CEOs. I now have an incredibly varied portfolio of clients and projects.

I wasn’t meant to be a box ticker. Frankly, I’m not very good at it. Now I market myself because of my personality and unique skill set. I use them as assets. It probably turns lots of potential clients off, and that’s just fine. I’m sure they’ll find someone else who is a better fit.

About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at, and her business website is at