The same thing I was bullied for in middle school became the foundation of my successful business

laura belgray 4Laura Belgray.Courtesy of Laura Belgray

  • Laura Belgray is a copywriter who charges over $1,000 a hour.
  • She's built her own successful business by being unabashedly herself - the same thing she was bullied for in middle school.
  • "In grade school, not fitting in can mean nowhere to sit in the school cafeteria," she writes. "As a brand, meanwhile, fitting in is the kiss of death. Being polished and perfect makes you boring and forgettable, and being unlike anyone else is the golden ticket."

When I was in sixth grade, my mom handed me a letter.

"It's from a secret admirer!" she said, lingering in hopes of further information.

I waited for her to leave, then opened it. Secret admirer? I had my doubts. Boys didn't like me.

"I've been watching you and have a crush on you," the note, in telltale middle-school girl's bubble letters, said. "Your hat is so sexy and so are your Wrangler jeans. And I love the way you walk - like a duck!"

My face turned hot. I tore the letter into tiny pieces and flushed them down the toilet.

Within one line, I knew who it was from:

My former best friend, Beth Y., and her new bestie, Beth F. - who'd stolen Beth Y. from me on the first day of school and made my sixth grade life hell.

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We'd been Beth 'n' Laura. Now, they were Beth 'n' Beth, or - as one teacher nicknamed them, Beth Squared.

Beth F. took over my group of friends and got me kicked me out of pizza Wednesdays, when we all went to the famous V&T Pizza up by Columbia.

She stood by like a mob boss, her arms folded across her chest, while boys tossed around my green felt hat - an unfortunate fashion statement I'd brought back from camp and made a point of wearing every day as my signature "thing."

She rolled her eyes and elbow-jabbed Beth Y. whenever I said something in class.

"You walk like a duck, Laura," Beth F. yelled at me more than once, unleashing a torrent of unconnected accusations. "You're a spazz. You're so weird. You suck at gym. You don't even have any designer jeans!"

It was true. I wasn't graceful. I was obsessed with Archie comics and video games, not eyeshadow or General Hospital. I skipped gym whenever I could get away with it and stayed in the art room drawing "Save Water" posters on oaktag. (New York was going through a drought.) And no, I didn't have the right jeans.

(In my defense, I'd tried on every acceptable brand. Sassoon, Calvin Klein, Jordache, Gloria Vanderbilt, you name it. They weren't made for a kid with a butt, and my dad didn't want to pay "highway robbery prices" for "dungarees" anyway.)

All in all, I was too "me" to fit in.

Luckily, life isn't middle school. Neither is business.

In grade school, not fitting in can mean nowhere to sit in the school cafeteria.

As a brand, meanwhile, fitting in is the kiss of death ....

Being polished and perfect makes you boring and forgettable ….

And being unlike anyone else is the golden ticket.

I know this not only because of tired buzz-phrases that put a premium on being different, like "outside the box," "disruptive marketing," and, of course, Apple's famous "Think different."

But, speaking first-hand, I've made a lucrative business of being unapologetically me; of sticking out and being what I call "flawsome" - showing off my weirdo imperfections everywhere I can.

Between my social posts, my blog, my marketing emails, even the copywriting services page on my website, sharing those quirks and shortcomings that once got me kicked out of pizza Wednesdays is what now wins me fans, buyers, and clients.

These people know my whole deal:

They know that I sleep too late, get dark thoughts about my industry, fight old ladies for food samples at the supermarket, am a lazy procrastinator, leave the house looking like a hungover raccoon, and have a very strange way of eating a sandwich.

They know that I have a shopping problem.

They know that I hate my feet and that I love Real Housewives way too much.

They comment on my posts and write back to my emails with thanks like:

"Have you been reading my journal?"

"I'm so glad I'm not the only one."

"You're so different from the other businesses I get emails from."

"This is just what I needed to read today. Thank you for being real."

And, best of all, they follow up with, "I need to work with you."

Being relatable and different is what sells my copywriting mini-products and courses, my writing retreat in Italy, and my $1,450/hour copywriting services. (I often have a wait list.)

In business, it's tempting to look around at what's working for everyone else, and do that. That website font and color scheme, that tone of voice, that feed of glorious, filtered-to-death, I'm-on-a-boat Instagram pics.

But fitting in - though it may keep the Beth F's of the world off your case and spare you from fake "admirer" mail in sixth grade - will only get you honored in the Business Hall of Same.

It'll make you bland, generic, overlooked.

And for us former middle school outcasts who dare to stay different, standing out is sweet revenge.

Laura Belgray, founder of Talking Shrimp, is an award-winning copywriting expert and unapologetic lazy person. She writes TV spots for clients like NBC, Fandango, and Bravo, and helps entrepreneurs and creatives get paid to be 100% themselves. Get her 5 Tips for Non-Sucky Copy here.

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