Unique or unusual businesses often attract attention, but not all businesses can be unique. For many business owners, establishing themselves in a sea of competitors is a real challenge, and one that must be overcome if they want to increase their share of the market. In this article, The Gap Partnership discusses some of the ways smaller firms can stand out from the crowd.

An introduction to differentiation

The key to standing out when your business is not unique is differentiation. If you are too similar to more established competitors then you’ll find it hard to attract the necessary attention. Differentiating yourself can be difficult if you’ve got a tight business plan but it’s not impossible. Getting potential customers to sit up and take notice is a case of doing something they’re not expecting, in an original and positive way.

Do it the same… but better

Look at what your competitors are doing and work out what they are doing wrong. This is known as competitor analysis and is a key part of your research before you write a business plan. If you know what your competitors are doing wrong, you can fix these things and begin to offer a superior service/product. Many people choose a business based on the perceived quality of the product and service; if you can demonstrably show that your offering is better quality than that of your competitors then you are putting yourself in a strong position.

Provide unbeatable customer service

People know that things go wrong; it’s a fact of life. But how a business responds when things go wrong can make the difference between a satisfied and a disgruntled customer. Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, and really understanding what it is they need from you (it’s not always an ear to shout in), can help you tailor a response that turns the situation on its head and turns them into a loyal fan. Once you get a reputation for providing great customer service, it becomes much easier to garner new business, and you’ll stand out from the crowd because potential customers will know you have their interests at heart.

Give powerful incentives

Offering incentives can push customers into going with your company rather than that of a competitor. Tailor the incentive to your niche and audience. There are countless possibilities. Offer to waive a fee if the client refers four new clients to you. Deduct the cost of a consultation from the full cost if the client goes ahead with a purchase. Throw in a free car valet with every MOT. Offer a free tax return service every five years. Think outside the box for ways to not only win new clients, but retain current clients, and you’ll soon become known as a company that goes the extra mile.

Operate a corporate social responsibility policy

By their nature, companies can seem detached. Because of this, potential new customers don’t always know whether to trust an unproven business. Corporate social responsibility policies help re-engage the business with the local community, help others that are less fortunate and (as a benefit to the business) spread the word about the company’s services and position in the community. CSR policies do not need to be complex – you may wish to donate services or products to those in need, or get your employees to fundraise for a worthwhile cause.

Promote your company’s expertise

Business owners are experts in their particular niche; after all, they’ve often had long-standing careers in the industry before delving deeper and going it alone. Conveying this expertise to potential customers is a fantastic way to prove you know what you’re doing, and that anyone employing your services is in safe hands. This adds some personality to the company and gives an ‘insight’ into the inner workings. There are a number of ways to convey your expertise; writing online articles is a common technique, as is providing commentary to the media and opinion pieces to local and national press.

A final word…

Doing something to stand out from the crowd is only half the battle – you also need to let people know. Word-of-mouth from satisfied customers is a very effective marketing tool, but you’ll also need to market your unique selling point in relevant arenas, such as the internet. Don’t skimp here – if you’ve spent time and money making yourself more relevant and useful than your competitors, you want to shout it from the rooftops.

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