When I first started as a freelance writer, I joined a platform that put me in direct competition with more than 200,000 others offering the same type of service. My first thought was, “How in this world am I ever going to beat all of these other writers and actually get work?”
Fortunately, as it turns out, I apparently offer services a lot of my competitors don’t. Between my super-fast turnaround times, quick responses to requests, and willingness to go above and beyond to provide quality work on budget and by deadline (preferably before), my client list quickly grew.
Within a couple of years, I was among the of the top .1 percent of writers. I had differentiated myself enough to make a pretty good living as a contracted writer. So good in fact, I no longer work on that original platform because I’m simply too busy serving my current clients and taking care of their much appreciated referrals.
I don’t share this story for any other reason than to point out that standing out against your competitors is often the difference between growing your business and watching it shrivel into nothingness. Had I not been willing to do things that a lot of other writers apparently don’t do, who knows where I’d be. Definitely not writing, for that I’m sure.
Luckily, I don’t have to think about that and neither do you because you’re about to learn what others are doing to make their businesses stand out, enabling you to implement some of these strategies yourself, should you determine that they’re a good fit.
Have an Online Presence
Scott Bowen, VP and GM of Vistaprint Digital, says, “According to research, about one-third of consumers discover a small business for the first time online and 34% of consumers are unlikely to shop with a business if it doesn’t have a website. Yet, nearly half of small businesses still don’t have a website. This discrepancy should be a wakeup call for entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially ones in competitive markets.”
Bowen goes on to explain, “If you’re just starting a business, you need to get up and running online with a domain and website, and get listed on important search engines and directories. At the same time, you’ll want to make sure your brand messaging consistently translates to the physical world —from storefront signage to business cards and marketing materials. Once this cohesive identity is established, it’ll be time to put the horsepower behind marketing efforts across the online and offline worlds that can blow competition out of the water.”
“An important thing to keep in mind: 45% of U.S. consumers are unlikely to shop at a small business with a poorly designed website,” says Bowen. “In some cases, a bad website is worse than no website at all, so make sure you choose a provider who will help you get a great result.”
Questions to Ponder: Do you currently have a website? If not, what steps do you need to take to get one? Who can you contact? A web designer might be a good start.
Sharpen Your Online Presence
If you already have an online presence, another way to stand out from your competitors is to sharpen it, says Ray McKenzie, Founder and Principal of Red Beach Advisors, a management and business consultant group based in Los Angeles, CA. “In the competitive field of management and business consulting as a small firm, I focused on making sure my online presence was sharp, precise, exact, and easy to understand,” says McKenzie.
McKenzie says that taking this route has increased the visitors to the site, as well as the leads and inquiries, while decreasing the bounce rate. Furthermore, McKenzie, like Bowen, also suggests that “all small business owners make sure their online profiles, websites, logo, and social media sites all have the same branding, professional styling, and message.” This provides for consistency across all online mediums.
Questions to Ponder: How can you sharpen your online presence? What would need to be done to your website, social media profiles, and other online pages to make them more attractive to your consumer? Is your brand consistent across all platforms?
Provide a Unique Experience
Billie Tekel Elias shares, “My late mother had a wildly successful small business back in the ’60s because of what she did to make it unique. First, there was her kitchy concept: a go-to luxurious salon for dogs that offered every service from match-making to accessorizing your favorite pooch. She furnished her waiting area like a purple paradise with lavender colored wall-to-wall carpeting (who cares if dogs will piddle, I’ll use spot remover) and upscale vinyl upholstered chairs surrounding a large cocktail table.”
Elias shares that her mother didn’t stop there. “Before loyalty programs were de rigueur, she passed out wooden nickels to her customers that they could redeem at their next visit. She also employed a professional window decorator to make her windows uber-attractive, including a hot pink neon sign. She located her shoppe on a quaint commercial street surrounded by urban jungle. Her neighbors were an antique shop and a corset shop.”
How did people respond? “People came from far and wide to have Pearl style their dogs,” shares Elias, “including Larry Fine of the Three Stooges and Patti LaBelle. Her local celebrity status garnered her a spot on a morning television show where she was invited to appear with her toy poodles and some bespoke dog-wear from her store.”
Based on how her mom successfully operated her business, Elias says, “I believe her advice would be: be creative and don’t let anyone tell you your idea is silly if your heart and soul are in it.” (Elias shares her mom’s story in more detail in the memoir Pearl’s Party…and you’re invited if you’re interested in learning more.)
Questions to Ponder: What can you do to add to your uniqueness? How can you make yourself more memorable to your consumer?
Pull In the Big Guns
Elias touched on this in his recount of his mom’s business success, but comedian and corporate speaker Dan Nainan says that getting an endorsement from someone well-known has been extremely effective when it comes to his business growth. And he makes sure the world knows when he’s endorsed.
“One way I stand out is to get video testimonials whenever celebrities like my comedy,” says Nainan. “In addition to President Obama, I’ve performed for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Rudolph Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and many others.” (You can see his celebrity-filled testimonial reel here.)
Questions to Ponder: Are there any notable people who have purchased your products or services and are potentially willing to provide you a testimonial? What can you do to reach out to them? Who do you need to get in touch with first?
But Don’t Forget the Little Things
While bringing in the big guns can garner your business more attention, Rodger Roeser, CEO of The Eisen Agency, says not to forget about the little things you can do. “The line ‘the devil’s in the details’ is so absolutely true,” says Roeser. “Excellence and amazing service are expected, so even average service feels bad. So, in this day and age, it’s those seemingly simple little things that get folks talking and sharing (creating buzz and engagement) that is so helpful.”
To back up this statement, Roeser provides some real-life examples he’s experienced in his Ohio-based small business branding and marketing firm. “We have one client that only gives change back in 50 cent pieces,” says Roeser, “another that, with every first time buyer, they put a dollar with their name on the ceiling and the buyer gets to do it, with their picture for the wall. An airline that gives a photo souvenir.”
Questions to Ponder: What little thing can you do that could ultimately make a big difference to your customer? How can you show them that you value their loyalty and service in a way that would differentiate you from your competitors?
Become a Speaker
DreamFunded CEO and co-founder Manny Fernandez believes that becoming a speaker made a huge difference in his business success. Fernandez says, “I got involved in the investing community and got to know the organizers at events which I attended. This allowed me to get recognized by the organizers and invited back as a judge, speaker, and panelist for events in Silicon Valley which, in turn, has led to many unseen opportunities and media coverage. The media coverage helped to build and promote the brand.”
Fernandez, who has received a lot of recognition, including 2014 SF Angel Investor of the Year, Equity Crowdfunding Leadership Award, and 2016 Menlo College Silicon Valley Equity Crowdfunding Pioneer, says, “The difference between a hero and a coward are that they both feel the same inside, but the coward runs from adversity while the hero does what he needs to do to move forward and be successful,” says Fernandez. “Push yourself to overcome the fear of public speaking and reach out to others. It worked for me and it will most definitely work for you.”
Questions to Ponder: What local groups or organizations can you speak to, establishing yourself as an expert in your industry? What information can you provide that your target market would like to hear? If you need to hone your public speaking skills, is there a local Toastmasters you can attend?
Become Active in Forums
Eirini Kafourou handles communications at Megaventory, an online inventory system that helps small businesses synchronize stock and manage purchases and sales over multiple locations, and she says, “One very effective and budget-friendly strategy we have found is writing in forums; especially in Quora. The content we have created there is content that stays in the spotlight, as new visitors see the thread again and again.”
Should you choose to take this route, making your business stand out by posting on forums frequented with a high amount of traffic, Kafourou suggests that you list your domain early on in your bio and focus on creating content that is useful for the community in which you’re posting. This approach has helped Megaventory generate “a large number of trials…with reasonable effort on that platform.”
Questions to Ponder: What forums would your target market frequent? Who in your business could post on them or, as an alternative, who would you need to hire to take care of that for you?
Conduct a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)
Brandon Schroth, Digital Analyst at seoWorks, shares, “One of my favorite strategies for helping small business owners stand out is by conducting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). This is a fantastic way to put a brand directly in front of its target audience. It provides people from all over the world the chance to ask direct questions to an expert on the subject at hand. This can create the perfect environment for high engagement that is contextually relevant. The best part about it? It’s fun! And it only takes about an hour of your time.”
For instance, Schroth says they did a Reddit AMA for one of their clients that involved a culinary expert answering questions. “The user engagement was phenomenal,” says Schroth. (The AMA can be found here, if you’re interested in seeing what it’s is all about.)
Questions to Ponder: What type of Q&A session would your target market enjoy? What type of problem could you help them solve? What information could you provide to make their life better, easier, or happier?
“The way I stand out is by making giving back a priority,” says Mayer Dahan, CEO of Prime Five Homes, a real estate development company that focuses on modern, eco-friendly real estate development. “My company donates more than 10% of our profits to The Dream Builders Project, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that is dedicated to the improvement of humanity. Together, we host monthly events that include creating care packages for the homeless, back to school supply and toy drives, and a gala that raised more than $20,000 for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in 2016.”
Dahan was inspired to give back when a close friend passed away. “I realized that I hadn’t been there fully for her and was overcome with guilt and grief,” says Dahan. “As time passed, I saw the best way to preserve her memory was to give back to the community.”
Dahan says that this has also helped him professionally. He says, “Because of my desire to help the community and give back, I have met many like-minded people and gone on to have a business relationship with them as well. By doing good in our community, you can create stronger ties with others. The Dream Builders Project and Prime Five Homes have received national press thanks to our good deeds.”
Dahan’s advice? “Find a cause that you feel passionate about and dedicate yourself to making a difference in the community. Not only do you feel better because you are helping, but you will also be creating bonds and strengthening the community you live and work in.”
Questions to Ponder: To what local organizations or groups could you give back? Could you partner with any of them on an event to both give more to your community and get recognition at the same time?
Do these things and you’ll likely stand out from your competitors. After all, these strategies worked for these small businesses; they may just work for you too.