Every great business starts with an idea. You see a better way to do something, and create a company around it. You pour your heart into it and work long hours, but it’s all for a good reason. You’re turning your vision into a reality. Sounds great, right?

Here’s the catch: you’re not the only one. No matter what industry you’re in, you’ll face competition. It could be from similar companies, or it could be for the attention of prospective customers.

And now for the good news. Competition is usually a sign that you have a good idea, said entrepreneur and investor, Ben Yoskowitz, in an Inc. interview. “If nobody is competing in your space, there’s a very good chance the market you’re going into is too small.”

No matter how much competition you face, there are plenty of ways to make your business stand out by showing what makes it unique. Whether you’re a digital agency, a freelancer or a growing startup, here are four productive ways to make a lasting impression and make your business stand out from the competition.

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1. Market positioning: carve out your corner of the world

Every company is unique. Being able to prove that is one of the keys to success in business.

Market positioning is where your company fits in the mind of a consumer, or how you stack up against everyone else. When it comes time for a customer to choose you over a competitor, positioning makes it clear why you’re the right choice.

So, what makes your business unique?

You can’t mean everything to everyone, and you shouldn’t try to. Whether you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been in business for awhile and want to reposition yourself to capture a new market, these steps can help you solidify your positioning.

  • Define your purpose: Why did you start this business? Beyond money, beyond being your own boss, what is the driving force behind what you do? If you’re able to define that in a simple and meaningful way, you’ll be able to align with customers who have the same values.
  • Think beyond your product: What are you really selling to customers, or what problems are you solving? If you’re a delivery service, you may think that delivery is what you’re selling. But you’re also giving customers more time in their day and a sense of relief by taking the work of running errands off their plate. For Hubstaff, we create time tracking software and team management tools. But what we give our customers is efficiency and productivity for their business. We help them fight wasted time. Knowing what your value is and how to deliver more of it will only lead to a stronger relationship with customers.
  • Specialize: Choose an industry that most of your customers are in, or where you want to serve most of your customers, and become an expert in it. Maybe you’re a social media marketing agency focused on retail. You might have clients in other industries, but your services and experience are tailored toward the retail industry. This route isn’t for everyone, so consider if you’re better suited to serve a broader customer base.

The highest level of brand positioning — what every business should strive for — is to create a new category, or establish a 1 of 1 position. It’s great if you can express what makes your business different from competitors. It’s even better if you can say no one can compete with your business because of its uniqueness. Getting there takes more time and effort, which we’ll dive into in the following sections.

Summary: Define your purpose, positioning and audience. If you don’t know what you stand for as a business, your customers may decide for you. Which leads to our next topic: branding.

If you don’t know what you stand for as a business, your customers may decide for you. Click To Tweet

2. Branding: create a compelling story for your stand out business

If you don’t spend hours thinking about how your business would sound if it were a person, you’re not alone. Sometimes when you’re laser-focused on growing your business, branding can feel abstract and time-consuming. However, defining how your business presents itself to customers is an important step in succeeding as a company.

Branding a startup — or even a business that’s been around for decades — can help guide future decisions, from business cards and websites to product lines and sales pitches. And, it can be easier than you think.

As a company focused on productivity and growth, our approach at Hubstaff is to test everything. We balance long-term branding projects with quicker initiatives that have proven successful in the past. We invest time upfront to set the groundwork, and then we test and refine over time. Any startup can take this same branding approach.

If you, like many startups, don’t have a full marketing team, you can hire a freelancer. It helps to know what you’re looking for before you start your search. Do you need a brand strategist to help with positioning and architecture? Or do you need a designer to come up with your logo and color palette? A copywriter to develop your brand’s story and messaging? All of the above?

Once you know who you need, you can start your search on any of the freelancer networks — including our own Hubstaff Talent, which is 100% free to use.

All said and done, a good branding checklist (usually in the form of brand guidelines) looks like this:

  • Logo: Your business name in a memorable, easily produced format.
  • Color palette: Use these colors consistently to build your visual style.
  • Positioning: See Step 1 above.
  • Personality: How your company looks and sounds to customers.

Our friends at Invision prepared a helpful introduction to brand guides for remote teams that need to collaborate efficiently on branding. If you send the designer a postcard that says, “I LOVE THE LOGO,” they have 3-5 business days to imagine why you hate it so much. Leaving a comment in Invision? Much faster. Way less awkward.

Summary: Spend some time upfront on branding your business and then refine over time. Hire a freelancer if needed. Seek out digital tools to streamline the process.

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3. Referrals and reviews: build buzz around your experience

You know what else makes a business stand out? An army of loyal fans.

Rave reviews and word-of-mouth referrals are of unmatched value when it comes to growing your business. Beyond building your brand and harnessing the power of organic growth, great reviews urge your audience to choose your business over others. A Zendesk report on the impact of customer service stated that 88% of participants have been influenced by an online customer service review when making a buying decision.

Rave reviews and word-of-mouth referrals are of unmatched value when it comes to growing your business. Click To Tweet

When your customers love you so much that they tell their friends, they’re doing your marketing for you. Just ask Subaru owners or Apple users for recommendations and you’ll see what I mean. A focus on one-of-a-kind customer experience can have long-lasting, brand-boosting benefits for any business, no matter its size.

Here’s another example: Netflix as a brand has become so ingrained in daily life that, “Have you seen anything good on Netflix lately?” is a regular topic of conversation. (Try it the next time you need an icebreaker; it has a 90% success rate for me.)

But, that level of brand awareness doesn’t happen overnight. Here’s how you can get started.

  • Get set up:  The first step in building buzz is to make sure you have a profile set up on the places customers can brag about you. Facebook, Instagram and Yelp are good places to start getting business reviews.
  • Delight your customers: The next logical step is to provide a top-notch customer experience. Remember the branding section of this post? Come up with unique ways to package your products or deliver your services, and you’re well on your way to making a lasting impression.
    Just don’t forget: there’s no marketing good enough to make up for a subpar product. Be honest and build trust with your customers instead of overselling and letting them down. Find small, unexpected ways to delight your customers.
  • “How’s everyone doing over here?” At a restaurant, servers check in on their tables after the first few bites of a meal. It’s the best way to correct any immediate issues like missing silverware or the wrong order. When things are going well, it reinforces a positive experience in the mind of a customer. Think about how you can seek feedback and referrals from your customers just like this, in a cordial, streamlined process.

Every business should and could do this. A thank you email after your client booked a service should include a link to write a review. A card in a shopping bag can remind customers to tell a friend if they enjoyed the experience. Most modern brands offer promo codes that customers can share with friends, providing benefits to both. When it comes to getting reviews, think about the medium that works best for your business, and then test it out.

Summary: Get social media and search accounts set up. Create a remarkable customer experience. Make it easy for your most loyal fans to sing your praises.

4. Pricing: it’s about value, not the price tag

Pricing — one of the Four P’s of Marketing — is another factor that makes your business unique. However, using pricing to stand out doesn’t only mean undercutting your competitors.

How you set your pricing structure can reinforce the positioning you’ve established. Do you offer a premium experience? If so, your pricing should signify that. Or are you for everyone, within any budget?

Pricing isn’t as much about money as it is about value. Sticker shock only happens when you haven’t properly communicated what your customers will get for their investment. If you keep getting feedback that you’re overcharging, it might be time to consider how to better package or deliver your services.

Summary: Differentiate your business through pricing by staying true to the meaning and value you provide to customers.

Here’s the gist

The simplest way to stand out is to figure what makes your business unique, and communicate that to your customers in creative ways. Don’t let this list limit you. Find your own productive, business-growing ways to make your business shine.

How do you differentiate your business? Let us know what you’ve tried and what’s worked for you in the comments.

Our theme this month is freedom and flexibility. See how you can find more of both in your work by checking out our other posts: how to focus on the right work with simple time management strategies and how to plan your work week and stress less.

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