As a small business owner, do you dream of success? Of course you do. That’s why we do what we do. We all want some measure of success. For most of us, success means achieving the lifestyle of our dreams.

A Common Mistake Among Small Business Owners

As business owners, our businesses help us achieve our dreams. That’s why, when our businesses are in their infancy, it’s so natural to pour ourselves into the minutiae of operations and sales and marketing and human resources and everything else in order to keep the baby alive and well. “It’s our sole responsibility to keep this ship afloat!” we cry.

We try to do it all. Superpreneur-style.

Obviously, it doesn’t take a genius to know that trying to do everything on your own is a seriously flawed practice…unless your goal is to burn out in the most spectacular way.

Always Be Innovating

In the U.S., existing small businesses comprise 99% of all employer firms, employ nearly half of the workforce, and account for more than 60% of the private sector’s net new jobs.

The most successful entrepreneurs work smarter not harder in order to use their limited time more wisely. In other words, successful small business owners are innovators.

“These are the kind of leaders who give their companies a clear competitive edge. They do so by acting innovative themselves and expecting others to do the same. That’s what we discovered in the eight-year research project behind our book… Put simply, innovation is driven by choice, not chance, at the most innovative companies in the world.”

Clayton Christensen and Hal Gregersen, co-authors of The Innovator’s DNA

Correct Your Mistakes While You Can

You’re not alone in your struggles to achieve small business entrepreneurial success. You’re also not alone in wanting to make your business stand out from competitors in order to achieve that success.

Earlier this year, Babson College published a research report entitled The State of Small Business in America 2016, which highlights the main challenges and current opportunities that America’s small business owners encounter.

The report collected insights from over 1,800 small businesses across the U.S., representing every industry sector with a median age of 12 years in business, a minimum of 4 employees, and at least $150,000 in revenues.

The most unexpected findings in the report revealed the depth and breadth of innovation that small business owners are currently responsible for producing.

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3 Ways to Make Your Business Stand Out From the Competition

If you want to pursue opportunities that will get you closer to your dream lifestyle, innovation in the 3 areas below will take you there so long as you are committed.

1. Build Meaningful Relationships

You’ve heard this a gagillion times before, but likely still don’t have a clue about exactly how to build business relationships let alone make them meaningful. So let’s take a look at how to build your business network and maintain relationships that mean something to clients.

  1. Solve Problems: When you think of yourself as a problem solver, you will always try to find something of value to offer. Problem solvers routinely survey their existing customers and keep a close eye on their industry to identify pain points. Why? Because whether you’re speaking at a conference, posting to social media, building out the content on your website, brainstorming a blog post, having lunch with a current client, or speaking with a potential client on the phone, you can better understand how to build brand evangelists, attract customers, and convert leads with a unique value proposition based on real problem-solution insights. Every successful business has a unique value proposition. It’s a guiding light for all interactions and outreach that can be intermingled into every piece of content and messaging that your business puts out. Make sure you know yours!
  2. The best Customer Service increases business success.pngBack to Basics: You are only as strong as your weakest customer service channel. Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said “getting things done in an an accurate manner, on a timely basis, and at a reasonable price” is fundamental to customer service. I would add “fulfillment” to Calkins list, meaning that if your customers don’t experience your product or service as advertised, there will be backlash. So make sure to meet these most basic expectations first. Every touchpoint that current and potential customers have with you and your business will make-or-break you, especially in a social media world. Everything rides on customer service, so try to pick up every call, find solutions before a problem arises, and be transparent. And always remember that great customer service will help you turn current customers into brand evangelists that will generate referral business for you.
  3. Be Selfless: When you offer expert knowledge and suggestions, you build credibility for yourself and your business. Want to get really crazy about being selfless? Give potential clients options to consider that are NOT your business. For instance, at Prialto we actually give prospective customers suggestions for other virtual assistant services even when it means not taking their business because our services truly aren’t the best resource for them. People appreciate this like you wouldn’t believe, and typically come back to us after trying other solutions in the industry.

2. Understand Processes

We live in a very fast-paced world, which doesn’t leave much time to inspect all facets of your business. But don’t stress. Just looking at a few will help you get where you need to be to beat your competition.

  1. Workflows: Look at your industry on a weekly – if not daily – basis in order to identify ways that your business can reimagine systems that will create an x-factor (see definition below). This reimagining is called business process reengineering, which refers to a focus on the analysis and design of workflows and business processes within an organization. Look for holes in the offerings of your competitors. Is everyone in your industry failing to address a particular pain point? Grab that problem by the horns, find a solution (make your products and/or services better, find better pricing models, or simply offer more value for their dollar), and use that solution to illustrate how your customers are getting value from you versus the rest of your industry. Key takeaway: Value drives sales.
  2. Next Level Sh#t: Consider defining your x-factor, which is a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. To put it in practical terms, an x-factor will separate you from your competition if it adds value to your business and it’s something you do or have that nobody else does or can do. It’s a matter of playing to your strengths, so take some time to decide what your core strengths are and how they distinctly set you apart from your competition. Again, value drives sales.
  3. Organizational Differentiation: is yet another form of advantage. Maximizing the power of a brand, or using the specific advantages that an organization possesses can be instrumental to a company’s success. Location advantages, name recognition and customer loyalty can all provide additional ways for a company differentiate itself from the competition.

3. Engage in Research and Development

To create meaningful impact, business owners must stay nimble. Goldman Sachs conducted a study of nearly 10,000 small businesses that showed over one-third are engaged in research and development for a new product or service. About two-thirds of the businesses in the study are improving the quality of an existing product or service.

  1. Innovate then Iterate: “An innovation will get traction only if it helps people get something that they’re already doing in their lives done better.” Clayton M. Christensen business best-seller, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. He has come up with a series of tests to help entrepreneurs judge whether their ideas are likely to succeed in the marketplace. “I think it’s very important for innovators to understand what we’ve learned about established companies’ motivation to target obvious profitable markets — and about their inability to find emerging ones. The evidence is just overwhelming.” So study your competitors to figure out what they do that you could do better, and discover what they don’t offer that you could offer. Position yourself as a true competitor to reap the rewards of disruption.
  2. Interview Your Clients: Interviewing clients gives you the most effective, insightful bang for your buck. Beyond asking them open-ended questions related to your products and/or services, ask them more specific questions that get to the heart of why they chose to work with you, and why they stay. Additionally, ask them what would help them refer others to your business.
  3. Utilize Data: Unless you’ve been spending most of your time under a rock, you understand that content marketing is the end-all-be-all of your online presence. Among its many graces, content helps you rank in search engines and builds your clout. But in order to be effective, content must utilize data (analytics). Which means that in order to utilize data, you must actually track it first. Once tracked, study certain key metrics according to your business needs and objectives. Using analytics (data) in combination with your UVP-rich content is crucial and cannot be overstated. Putting these all together makes for incredible SEO opportunities, to say the least.

Correct Your Mistakes While You Can

For many business professionals, these aren’t life-altering revelations to make your business stand out from competitors. Rather, the secret sauce here is that you must put each of these aspects of growth hacking – essentially – into action in order to beat your business competition. Spend time doing the above three things well, and you’ll stand out from the competition.

For fun, check out these examples of corporate competition through differentiation. And if you want to dive into your x-factor and what makes you great, check out 8 Force Multipliers for Entrepreneurs via Anthony Iannarino.

Admit it, innovating is cool. Is it the new black? You decide…

We’d love to hear your comments below.