• 4 Ways to Make Your Small Business Stand Out

If you have a small business in Vancouver or if you are thinking of starting your own venture soon, you are probably familiar with the highly competitive landscape in the region. Vancouver is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, which draws a lot of people to the idea of being their own boss. It does, however, come with its own issues, particularly with the city being so expensive and the competition being fierce.

When you have an idea that you believe in and you want to start your business, one of the first question that comes to mind is “is there anyone else out there doing this already?”. It is a fair question that leads to a market research to see what the competition is like and how you can execute your idea better or differently. Which brings us to the age old question: how do you differentiate your business from the others?

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution or a checklist for this, of course. Every industry is different and there are so many other variables to consider such as geography, competition and financial resources. But there are a few things that you can consider to at least guide you through the process.

1. Become a Specialist

One of the keys to a successful small business is keeping your focus as tight as you possibly can. We all tend to get distracted by all the other things we can do but when you have limited resources, it is critical be laser-focused on one particular area. Mastering a specific service/product will give you a lot more market credibility and reputation than producing multiple products that are mediocre. As you grow your business and increase your resources, you can always branch out and extend your offerings but for the beginning it is important to remain focused.

A great example that I like to use for this is Apple. As of this article’s date, Apple is $233 billion company that has been around for 40 years. When you have the resources that Apple has, you can pretty much do anything you want. Literally anything. But to this day Apple kept its focus fairly tight. Until the launch of the tablet line-up in 2010, the company only developed iPhones, computers and iPods. If Apple can stay focused with all of its endless resources, anyone can.

2. Provide Amazing Customer Experience

Another area that you can make difference is the experience you provide to your customers. This is actually where smaller businesses have a great advantage over large-scale operations. Bigger corporations have a lot more customers, hence a lot more problems and customer claims to deal with. When you scale up to a national or international audience it becomes extremely difficult to keep your customer service level high and consistent. As a small business you have fewer customers and fewer problems that you can deal with personally as opposed to having them call a generic customer service line.

A perfect example for this is Zappos, the online shoe retailer. It was launched in 1999 as a start-up and grew to the point of being acquired by Amazon in 2009. Zappos was known for its incredible service and the lengths that their customer service agents would go to please a customer. In one of these customer interactions, they sent flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments. These kinds of incredibly personal and thoughtful gestures will go a long way to create rapport with your customers.

3. Create Your Own Category

Many things have already been done in the marketplace. Unless you are coming up with a service or a product that is truly a breakthrough innovation, it is likely that your idea – or at least something that is quite similar to it – has been done in the past either successfully or unsuccessfully. But even if this is the case, the key is to put a spin on that idea by finding a consumer need that you think is currently unmet within that category.

There are a lot of examples of this, including Keurig K-cups, Netflix, Under Armour, Spanx, and many more. Each of these brands created their own niche within their respective categories by identifying a consumer pain point that they thought needed to be addressed. If your small business is going to be operated in a highly competitive category, creating your own niche becomes even more critical in order to achieve success.

4. Be Accessible and Top of Mind

The worst thing that can happen to your business is to be forgotten. You might have customers that love your business and be extremely happy with the service they get but once the business is completed, people tend to go their separate ways and forget about each other. This is quite risky for a small business, especially if you are relying on repeat business and/or referral business to increase your revenues.

A great way to mitigate this is through providing added value to your customers even after the business transaction is completed. This could be through online content, blog articles, podcasts and videos. This strategy has a two-pronged effect: it keeps you top of mind for existing customers and creates awareness for prospective customers. So it is definitely a win-win situation. An important note is to avoid hard-sell tactics when using this strategy. The sole purpose of these added value content pieces is simply to provide valuable and useful information to existing and potential customers to forge a positive association with your brand in their minds. Over time, your business becomes a trusted partner and when they need services within your category, your business will be the one that they remember first.

I hope that these points provide some guidance and direction to small business owners who want to differentiate their brands. Like I said in the beginning, each industry is different and every case is to be treated differently but the point is that a business that is no different from the others will have a much harder time in succeeding compared to one that has a strategy in place. With technology becoming cheaper and more accessible everyday, the barriers of entry to a new business is continuously decreasing, creating a more competitive landscape for everyone out there. The good news is, competition is how we come up with our best ideas in order to stay ahead.