Energy management

Letting Your Unique Power Shine Through

By Alice Bredin

All businesses have unique strengths — those traits that attract prospects and keep customers loyal. A unique strength might be your company expertise, what you sell or how you sell it. Whatever it is, your business will benefit from showcasing it as much as possible.

Small companies that can communicate their unique value will find tremendous opportunities to grow their customer base. A 2014 Gallup poll that measured Americans’ views on various institutions found that two-thirds of Americans trust small businesses and want to buy from them. Use these tips to find your strengths and let them propel you to new success.

Know your value
You likely know what is unique about your company, but many businesses can benefit from expanding the list and making sure it continues to work to best effect. For example, you may know that your market expertise gives you an edge, but you may not realize that your customer service is equally important. Or maybe you’ve been focused so narrowly on your distinctive inventory that you don’t realize how your quick turnaround times truly set you apart from the competition.

Customers are your best source of information for helping you see your business more clearly. Consider sending out a survey via email or encouraging customers to submit comment cards when they visit your business. Incentives may encourage feedback, so provide a discount or a freebie of some kind to customers who participate. If nothing else, make it a point to chat with customers and ask them why they chose you.

Up your game
Given the changing nature of business, technology and marketing, look for ways to tweak your offerings so you continue to stand out. For example, extended hours may have been a selling point in the past, but now people expect 24-hour live customer support. Likewise, a broad inventory of products has continual appeal, but access to locally sourced items may be an even more important characteristic of your product mix.

It isn’t always easy for customers to know what suggestions they should make, so ask specific questions to gather the most actionable feedback. Instead of asking, “Where can we improve?” inquire about what products or services customers want, or if they were satisfied the last time your staff helped them. Ask about previous promotions to gauge whether your marketing is working. If a few customers love your promotions but say they never hear about them in time, you’ll know you should reassess your communication strategy. If customers say they leave your business with questions unanswered, you’ll know to focus on customer service training.

Market narrowly
When you identify what sets you apart from the competition, you have to spread the word. But effective marketing can be tricky if you aren’t careful because it’s easy for messages to get lost in the constant buzz of advertising, social media and other marketing ploys. Pick only one or two strong messages to emphasize to your customers and prospects.

And think carefully about the medium of your message. It makes sense to send a tweet when new inventory arrives, but a staffer talking about how your maple syrup is the best in the land is better for YouTube or Facebook. Business operates in a show-me-don’t-tell-me marketing environment. You won’t get very far by simply touting your expertise — you have to showcase it through conversations on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Share your expertise freely and people will see that you are the expert. Encourage others to talk about your strengths online as well, since endorsements of all types are how many shoppers make purchase decisions.

Emphasize your “small-ness”
Everybody loves a David-and-Goliath story. Customers want to support small and mid-sized businesses, so wear your “David” identity with pride. What are some small-business strengths you can boast about? Do you carry locally made products? Partner with other small or mid-sized businesses? Volunteer for community events or nonprofits? Be sure to mention these things on your website, blog, social media accounts or even just signs posted around your business location.

Support employee efforts to shine
When you’ve found your focus as a company, the next important step is empowering your employees to carry it through. They’re the ones who are representing your company to customers and supporting each other internally, so the right communication and training are essential. Top management may be steeped in your business’s unique strengths, but it’s meaningless when the message doesn’t get down to the people who are carrying out essential day-to-day functions.

Take steps to maintain a dialogue with your employees and keep them focused on your key differentiators. At employee meetings, re-emphasize your strengths and find a recent example of them in action. When a particular employee goes the extra mile to fulfill a client request, or when a customer tweets glowingly about a great experience she had with your business, you should share that information with people on the front lines.

Another way to let your unique power shine through is by becoming a sustainable business. If your business is looking to become more energy efficient and reduce utility costs while doing so, download PG&E's “20 Sustainable Products to Help Businesses Save Money and Energy.” eBook. This eBook offers a wide range of proven practices to eliminate waste to help your small business stand out from the crowd even more.

How does your company stand out from the competition? Here are a few tips to help find your business's strengths.
  • SMB Blog Author
    Alice Bredin
    Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert and author. Small business owners worldwide have relied on her books and columns to improve their productivity and success. She is a former small business commentator for public radio's Marketplace program and has helped shape small business policies through her testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Alice is president of Bredin, Inc., a B2B marketing agency that helps the Fortune 500 sell to small and midsize businesses.

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