The Road Not Taken, by American poet Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

At church Sunday listening to our priest’s sermon he used an analogy from American poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to illustrate the choices we make in our Christian lives and how, according to Christian faith, they ultimately lead to salvation. As I had made mention to Robert Frost a few weeks ago in a piece published about his poem “Mending Wall”, it occurred to me that the above reference not only had applications to our faith-based lives but also for business.  More specifically, how for a small business or Start-up, one of the greatest keys for success lies in differentiation – or as Frost put it, the road “less traveled”.

In business, “differentiation” refers to the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a target market and setting it apart from the competition or competitors. Differentiation can take many forms – it can be in design, technology, or customer service, or it can be as simple as a color or the choice between automatic or manual. No matter what, the important message to keep in mind is that for your business to be successful, you gotta have it. Your business, product or service must have some attributes that make it uniquely different that those around it, otherwise it will ultimately succumb to the “me too” syndrome which will seriously jeopardize its likelihood for long term success. 

So how does one obtain this so sought-after thing called “differentiation”? The bad news is that it can’t be bought on either Amazon or eBay and delivered to your doorstep.  But the good news, however, is that by following 3 simple steps, you can create and maintain differentiation for your small business or Start-up and if you stick with me a little further, I’ll tell you how.  

To create a meaningful and sustainable differentiation for your small business or Start-up you need to do these three simple things:

  1. Choose something
  2. Hammer it home every chance you get
  3. Stick to it

#1 Choose Something

Every business has to have something that makes it unique or different, otherwise, why go into business in the first place? In addition to that, differentiators come in many shapes and sizes, but the key to having a differentiator is to start by choosing one!  How do you do that? Start by asking yourself some of these basic questions and writing the answers down as potential choices for “differentiation”.

  • What drove you to go into business?  What is that “thing” or passion that motivated you to risk the creature comforts of a salaried job and strike out on your own?  Are you a talented negotiator, graphic artist, composer, code writer, or financier?
  • What do other people (clients, sales personnel, competition) say about you, your company, or its product/service offering? Or alternatively, what are you best known for?  Is it your customer service, your cost structure, your response time, or the quality of your team?
  • What do you really like to do?  This can be anything and is unique for every person or business.
  • What’s the best part of your business or product/service offering? Is it the product, its design, cost/benefit ratio, or its delivery?
  • What do you do better than anyone you know?  Look into your heart and if that doesn’t get you anywhere, ask other people you know well (none of which can be your mother because she’s too biased) – they’ll be sure to know and share it with you openly and honestly.

Once you’ve written a few suggestions down, review them, maybe even set them aside for a day or two, share them with trusted colleagues or even clients, and then choose something.  This will be the building block upon which you will base your marketing communication, no matter how simple or complex, and will also set the stage for items #2 and #3.

#2 Hammer it home every chance you get

“Hammering it home” really speaks to “consistency” which involves communicating clearly, simply, and consistently your chosen differentiator.  All key individuals in your company, from the receptionist to the sales team, must know and understand your company’s chosen attribute for differentiation and then — they’ve got to “walk the talk” and wear it on their sleeve like a champion in everything they do. 

The differentiation you choose for your small business or Start-up becomes the platform for everything – your marketing communication collateral must describe and highlight it.  It’s got to show up in Blogs like this one, on your website, in your media, and in all outward facing aspects of your business. Your sales personnel must be able to share it to clients and decision makers smoothly and clearly. And it must become, over time, part of the DNA of your company, at all levels.  Everyone must understand it, live and breath it. Whatever you have chosen for your company, it has to become, over time, what sets you apart and distinguishes you from your competitors, and any other company that you do business with, so that both clients and providers can espouse to other potential clients or suppliers what makes your company so unique, so special, and such a good business partner.  Only then will you know that you have been successful in “hammering it home”.

#3 Stick to it

Lastly, you’ve got to stick to it. 

Of the three steps needed towards creating differentiation for your business or Start-up, “sticking to it” is probably the easiest of the three to do. After you’ve successfully completed steps #1 and #2 move on and do what it says – stick to it!  Don’t be tempted to spend precious time and energy in over-analyzing your chosen differentiators, but rather, stick to them, communicate them openly and freely, and share them across multiple platforms – everything from sales brochures, podcasts, blogs, Newsletters, electronic and print media – you name it, put them in there and stick to it.   After all – if you and your company are not committed to shouting from the mountain tops your unique differentiator, then who will be? Clearly this is you and your company’s job — so take it seriously, have a plan, execute it with precision, and stick to it.  

To learn more about how business owners can scale and drive more growth, through tools like Factoring and other important considerations, please check out the list of blogs on this website, or you may contact us directly at info@eifunding.com. You can also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

-Ernane