If blogging is a business itself, much like publishing or content production, then it only makes sense that the rules of good blogging would be the a variation on the foundations of running a business. As I was reading a guest post by Skellie on Problogger entitled “5 Powerful Techniques to Help Your Posts Stand Out”, I was thinking about how her points could be applied to the small business owner. I thought I would reframe her examples to look at the larger view of the entrepreneur, bloggers included.
Celebrating your differences in your market is the basis for the creation of a unique selling proposition (or unique selling point) and the formation of a point of difference for your product. It is impossible to know how to brand your company if you don’t have a clear vision of what you offer, why it is different from others who may offer similar concepts or products, and how to convey all of this to your customer.
Why is being different important? Being different is important because not everyone does it—not everyone puts “be remarkable” into their business plan. Many people can open a chain store, a coffee shop, or provide web design services that are just the same as hundreds of others out there. What makes you unique is putting in the extra effort and showing the initiative to make yourself different. It is about finding your niche and being best in the world at something, whatever your version of the world may be.
You can use branding to make yourself stand out even when you are selling the same home care products as 100 other women in your city, cater to a specific audience when creating your content online, or provide the greenest dry cleaning service with the best customer service in all of Cleveland. The point is that you have to be different to stand out in a crowd, because doing the same thing as everyone else will never bring you the success you want.
How should you go about being different? Try some of the examples I have outlined below:
Develop a recognizable and consistent voice
Being different doesn’t mean you have to constantly change. For example, my husband used to frequent a pizza shop regularly before we were married. The owner knew all the regulars and often served them himself. He also sponsored local youth sports which then brought in business from their aftergame parties at the pizza place. This kind of predictability and personal service brought customers back time and time again to watch sports, consume food, and play video games.
The food there was OK, the beer selection was minimal, and the TVs weren’t huge, but that pizza shop offered a very unique selling point that created regulars that brought a consistent cash flow to the business. When that owner left, a new one came in who didn’t have that personal connection or that feeling of comfortable predictability—and all of the regulars soon left to another establishment that did. Without the personal touch and reliability of the original owner, the business itself faded. What the new owner lacked was a “recognizable and consistent voice” to keep the business going after the handoff, and what the pizza place lost was essentially the heart of the business.
How can you keep and maintain a consistent voice while your business grows? The key is to put yourself into the business, as it is easiest to maintain when it is natural. Which gets me to point number two:
Put yourself into your business
When you are an entrepreneur, what usually makes your business different is you. You bring everything you do into the company to make it what it is—your passion, your skills, your talent, your ideas, and your unique spin to a solution for a current problem in the world. I am my company. I even gave the company my initials! I know there is a frequent debate among small business owners working “on their company” vs “in their company”, but I will always be the kind of person who works in my company.
My personal handling of every customer is not unlike the pizza story above, but it does limit me in terms of the number of clients I can take on. If personality is important to your service business, then quantity over quality might be important as well. Consider how many clients you can logically handle, and then consider the pros of taking more (potential income) vs the cons of losing that personal touch (losing income).
Develop your own style
I have always stressed the importance of personal branding, both with my clients and on this blog. Your personal style as the business owner shines through in everything you do, from your business card, to how you conduct yourself while spreading the word about your company, and how your business operates on a daily basis. Your own style is what makes your business different, because no one in the world is like you.
I see a lot of small businesses trying to hide their uniqueness by setting up a false “big company look” complete with auto-attendants and phone services that will chase you around. Except in a few rare cases, you shouldn’t try to be something you’re not—be yourself and let your small business pride shine through. If your potential customer wants a big business, that is where they will go, so it is important to be honest and let your visitor decide that right from the start.
Use imagery in a unique way
In my special for Startup Nation, “5 Steps to Marketing Your Website”, I discussed the use of imagery in marketing your site. This imagery doesn’t have to stop with your website—bring it to your store, your uniforms, or your marketing materials. You could try:
- Hiring a local painter to create permanent or seasonal murals on your walls or windows.
- Provide creative or fun uniforms for your staff, or let them express their own styles.
- Creating catchy fliers, business cards, and advertising pieces.
Why stop with the graphic arts? You could use the power of mental imagery in your business as well. Who would forget singing waiters or cashiers that always remembered to give balloons out to customers with kids?
Break with tradition
Let’s revisit that pizza parlor. You may be thinking, “How can she use a pizza story to tell us to stay the same, and yet use the same example as a reason to ‘break with tradition’?” The answer is simple: Personal service is breaking with tradition in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I live). In every city, you can find plenty of pizza chains, fast food joints, and other institutionalized eating establishments—but finding a single owner with a single store who knows his customers is a rare treat that you can’t find at Little Caesar’s or Papa Murphy’s.
For most of the establishments in this area, “tradition” is chasing trends, so doing things “the old-fashioned way” is actually breaking with tradition. If you’re not a pizza joint, you can be the only cafe that offers old-fashioned Italian sodas instead of just offering staples like Coke and Pepsi, the only drug store that also carries a selection of locally-made seasonal items for the family, or the only hardware store that sells goods and services by employing retired professionals to teach how-to classes.
Good customer service, a quality product, and value for your customers never goes out of style. Let others chase fads—you can often differentiate with yourself by keeping some traditions alive.