How to stand out in a crowded marketplace
A major challenge facing small business owners, is how to get your business noticed. This is especially the case, if you work in a very competitive industry or profession. So, here are some ideas to help you and your business stand out.
First, the challenge
If you look at the marketing messages, services and promises offered by the small businesses in any industry, you'll see they look remarkably similar. This cookie-cutter approach stops them from standing out. They simply become camouflaged, among all the others who seem pretty-much the same.
This then leads to the problem of fee sensitive clients! When a prospective client is faced with a series of very similar sounding service providers, they use the provider's fees (or prices) as a way to determine value.
For example, all things being equal, any qualified accountant should be capable of looking after their needs. Therefore, the accountant with the lowest fee, for the same service, seems to be the best value. Whilst this is almost never the case, it's hard to justify being more expensive, when you're perceived as offering the same service as your equally qualified competitors.
How to stand out from the crowd
So, how do you stand out from your competitors? The short answer is that you need to bring something different to the table. You need an element of your service or product, which offers unique value.
Here's an example of how I made this work for a client
I'm going to use the example of an accountancy practice I worked with almost a decade ago. The senior partner realised that business owners saw accountancy as a commodity service. Of course, the same is true of the majority of businesses in almost every industry or profession.
In case you're wondering what a commodity business is, here's a dictionary definition I found that sums it up nicely: To render (goods or services) widely available and interchangeable with those provided by another company.
The senior partner asked me for some ideas, to make his practice stand out from the crowd. I gave him a number of options and one immediately captured his attention. I suggested he offered his clients the opportunity to network with each other. Initially, we created a monthly networking event and it was an instant hit.
We invited his clients to attend (for free), and asked them to bring a friend along. Over 150 people attended the first event. There he was, networking with a room full of local business owners, around 50 of whom were prospective clients, and he had zero competition from other accountants. I suggested he get a sponsor for each event, who would cover the financial cost in return for being mentioned in the marketing of the event and the chance to address the group for 15 minutes. So, these events didn’t cost my client a penny.
From the moment he started networking his clients as a part of the service he provided, he found he no longer had to compete for business based on his fees. His conversion rates went through the roof too.
So, he was able to charge higher than average fees and also win more clients than before. His client retention improved too, as fewer clients were tempted to leave.
Here's why it worked
Prospective clients would meet with him and a number of his competitors, and HIS practice stood out. His accountancy practice was the only one offering to help them grow their business and meet new potential customers. His practice was the only one that was proactively connecting them with hundreds of fellow, local businesses. If his fees were 25% higher than all his predictable, lookalike competitors, for many prospective clients it was still amazing value.
He went on to invest in software, which created a business forum exclusively for his clients, adding even more unique value. Yes, some of his competitors tried to copy him, but they were always playing catch-up. His practice was leading and the marketplace noticed
It was HIS practice, which stood out from the crowd!
How to make it work for you
Broadly, there are 2 things you need to commit to in order to make this work.
Firstly, it takes courage to move away from that cookie cutter approach. It feels comfortable to just follow what's expected of you... to follow the flock. Doing your own thing, with your ideas, is a little scary.
Secondly, it takes the commitment to get creative and look for something you can offer, which will make your business stand out for all the right reasons.
My best advice on this is to look for inspiration outside your industry. Something that is common in one industry can be rare or non-existent in another. By adapting suitable ideas from an unrelated industry and making them your own, it’s possible to create a very attractive commercial advantage.
I hope you found these ideas useful. More importantly, I hope they inspire you to make your business stand out from the crowd.