If you read yesterday's post, Lesson Four: Rediscover Your Passion, you learned that passion will give you the energy that you need to fuel your business. However, passion is not enough. You also need a plan and "the core business plan is how you're different."
Today we'll take a look at how to differentiate your business from your competitors.
Lesson Five: Stand Out
To have a successful business you need to "learn to stand out from the crowd." This is my favorite lesson because it fits so perfectly with the Freak Factor concept. It seems obvious that we need to stand out, especially in business. Every marketing textbook touts the absolute importance of differentiation, of being different than your competitors. However, it isn't easy to do be different in real life and most people don't create a business that truly differentiates itself from others. As Pam explains, "common sense is rarely common practice."
This disconnect occurs because "we are told at an early age that our fire and passion is not 'appropriate.' We hear things like 'nice girls from the suburbs don't start punk rock bands.'" In other words, when you actually try to differentiate yourself or your business, other people criticize you and try to discourage you. They try to get you to be more normal.
And other people aren't the only barrier. Our own beliefs often keep us from being different. "We see others around us conforming to 'safe' lives and we don't want to stand out."
As Paul Graham points out, starting any business makes you "statistically abnormal." The decision to be an entrepreneur is the first step toward being different. The next steps involve differentiating your company as well.
Find YOUR Business
Don't listen to other people who tell you what kind of business you should start. It might be a good business idea, but not the right business for you. "It's not like you get up in the morning and say 'I want to be an entrepreneur. Should I make chips, software, a dry cleaner, desks?' That is the wrong order. The right way is you love dry cleaning or software or chips and becusse of that love of and knowledge of that industry, you are going to change that industry. If you want to be an artist, be an artist! But don't do it because you read in BusinessWeek that the market for art is getting bigger. Quite frankly, you might not have the talent."
Your personality and style can shine through in both your business and the way you operate it. In her recommendations on blogging, Pam says "don't be afraid to be funky and use humor. . . People are hungry for real conversations with real people. Let your true self show through in your business." It is tempting to try to be what you think other people want you to be. That doesn't work. It's not authentic. Be yourself. Be real.
You Can't Please Everyone
We have to make choices. We can't do everything and we can't please everyone. "There's that common reaction of 'No, no, no, but everybody wants this.' Well, yes, but you can't do business based on everybody."
"I try to talk about displacement. In small business, displacement is a critical principle that I think is poorly understood. And what that means is that everything that you do rules out something else that you can't do. So you're stuck with trying to focus on what's most important and the narrower the market, the easier it is to get there. You want to really know your target customer."
I love the concept of displacement. It reminds me of a quote from G. K. Chesterton. "When you choose anything, you reject everything else . . . so when you take one course of action, you give up all the other courses." This is one of the fundamental reasons that I counsel people to stop trying to fix their weaknesses. Time spent trying to fix your weaknesses takes away from time you could have spent building on your strengths. You might want to do both, but you can't. Pam uses a dating analogy to explain why. "The more time you spend waiting around on a lukewarm romantic prospect, the less time and energy you have for a quality one."
Find Your People
"Who are my people? These are not just those people who would grudgingly fork over money for your product or service; they are people who would clamor to do business with you because you are the exact answer to their problems. They are your ideal partners, clients, customers, and mentors. These are people whom you like to spend time with, who embrace you despite your perceived warts, mistakes, and flaws and who are deeply affected by your work." The right people will not reject you for being yourself, for being real. Don't try to please everyone. Try to please the right people.
In his post, Who Spreads Your Word, Seth Godin narrows the definition of the "right people" to focus on those that tell others about your company, product and/or service. You have to find these people and build relationships with them.
As with differentiation, "this is obvious, of course. But what you are you doing about it? Have you figured out which portion of your user base are the talkers? Is it possible to focus your development efforts on actually making something that they like? Or, are you confusing the people who talk about your competition or about other industries with the people you need to reach? Might not be the same tribe."
"The #1 cause of an idea that's not spreading or a business that's not growing is that they don't have a committed group of people spreading the word about them. If you treat everyone the same, you're not increasing the odds that some people will step up on your behalf."
"This is the first question to ask someone who is frustrated at the rate their idea is spreading. 'Who are you hoping will talk about you?' If you don't know, it's unlikely to happen all by itself. On the other hand, if a marketer is smart about finding, courting and delighting the group most likely to spread the idea, it's time well spent."
Jonathan Fields, author of the Awake at the Wheel blog, offers a good summary that combines today's lesson with the previous posts on time and energy management. "Find something you're madly passionate about, surround yourself with people you love to be around, work your buns off and make a ton of money . . . as a byproduct of the fact that you're having the time or your life and contributing value to the world along the way." This quote is also an excellent lead-in to tomorrow's lesson on integrating your business and life goals.
The key lesson for Day Five is that your business will succeed if you aren't afraid to stand out and be yourself. Don't choose a business idea that requires you to fix your weaknesses or become someone that you are not. Differentiation requires you to be unique and that often means accepting imperfection in yourself and others.
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