You have one. You may not know it, but every business owner and sales professional has one. You have a claim to something that makes you truly unique in your industry. You have something to offer your customers that they cannot get from anyone else. That something is your unfair advantage. Do you know yours?
“We have the lowest prices.” Really? Lower than Walmart’s?
“We offer better, more personal customer service.” Would you accept a tire being returned to your store if you did not sell tires? Whether real or urban legend, this very story is a cornerstone to Nordstrom’s reputation.
“No one can beat our selection.” Can you prove that?
Your unfair advantage does not lie in any general claim to price, selection, or service. Your unfair advantage lives in that which makes you more than just another realtor, broker, deck builder, web developer, or shopkeeper. It lives in the realization of what it really means to be a local business owner in your community. Once you can articulate that, you will be able to bring a whole new life to your business. Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to find out what it is and own it. “It” is where your power lies.
Nancy is a realtor in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who does not sell “houses.” She offers a lifestyle. Marblehead is well known among hard-core sailors as one of the premiere sailing communities in the country. Top-notch sailors and Fortune 500 executives who love sailing flock there because of the incredible sailing environment. Nancy knows this. That is why before taking her clients to any listings, Nancy shows them the area. She takes them to visit the yacht clubs. She shows them various mooring options available. She takes them sailing. If you love the sailing lifestyle, there is only one realtor who can plug you into that community. Nancy turned her passion for sailing and the lifestyle that surrounds it into the focus of her real estate business. It is her unfair advantage over anyone else trying to move homes in that area. Are there homes sold in Marblehead by agents other than Nancy? Yes. There are just not many with clients who came there to sail.
In a great comparison, here is another realtor I know with a different unfair advantage. Momo specializes in finding housing for the elderly. When elderly people are ready to downsize or make a move into assisted living, she helps them sell their current home. She knows this is very often a difficult transition for families, so she makes a point to keep the transaction as simple and painless as possible. She also will personally connect families with other businesses she know that offer services they need to get through the move easily. Her heart for the elderly is the core of her business.
Understanding the concept of your unfair advantage is not difficult. Where business owners typically fall down is in not “activating” that advantage in their business. My hunch is greed is the biggest factor. Ugly as it may sound, small business owners typically feel that to be successful we need to “have it all.” We live under the misguided notion that in order to thrive we must serve as many people as possible, so we need to stay as general as possible. We believe that moving our business towards our unfair advantage could effectively turn some people away. My experience shows most small business owners shy away from anything that even smells of leaving money on the table.
Yet, if you are truly trying to yield more money from your business in less time, the quickest, most efficient way to do so is to take advantage of your unfair advantage at ALL TIMES. For this to work, you must be willing to stake your reputation on “it.” You need to narrow your focus. The reality is to grow bigger you need to go smaller.
This can be done in a couple of ways. One is to have a passion like Momo does for the elderly. Another is to focus your business geographically (like Nancy in Marblehead) by being “ultra-local.” Being local is an unfair advantage every small business owner has over big business. Do you love where you live and work? Do you have strong ties to your community? Then use this to your advantage. If you are a business-to-business company ask yourself, “How many businesses are within a one-mile radius of me at this very moment?” If your market is more residential or consumer-driven, find out how many neighborhoods are within a one-mile radius of you right now.
Going after larger markets is an exhausting and expensive process. It requires more physical travel, is harder to wrap your arms around, and keeps you “busy” but not necessarily productive. If you were to focus your efforts on people or businesses within one-mile radius of where you are, think of how much easier it would be to get things done. “Going ultra-local” also strengthens your visibility in your immediate surroundings. The farther out you reach, the less focused your efforts are and the weaker your exposure becomes. Concentrate on that for a moment…
Going ultra-local also provides you the perfect environment for making your business ultra-personal. By making your world smaller, you create the time you need to really KNOW your customers. You find more time to visit clients, to hold more appreciation events, and to deepen relationships in ways previously not possible. The beauty of this is at the same time you are getting to know your clients better they are getting to know you too. Your unfair advantage lives and breathes in the strength of these relationships. Larger, more complicated companies and major corporations cannot do this. Be local. Make it personal.
In addition to the fear of leaving money on the table, small business owners trip themselves up by not seeing the forest for the trees. Pizza Hut hands out coupons for free pizza to elementary school students with an A on their report card. Tony’s Pizzeria, right around the corner does not. Why? Tony either sees “giving away” pizza as too expensive, or more likely, he never gets around to making it happen.
Tony is missing a main accountability ingredient: a boss. Pizza Hut has a local manager that has a divisional manager that has a regional supervisor that has a corporate VP pushing the process down. Tony is focused on keeping the doors open and his employees employed every day. He does not see how free pizza could position him as a champion of education in his community with advertising that is paid for only when it works. Nine parents out of ten would choose Tony over Pizza Hut, if he would not let the big guys out-localize the local guy.
Make it local. Make it personal. Make it happen. One of the great things about being a small business owner is you can choose whose rules you want to play by. If you want to do business solely with customers within 1 mile of your office, you can. If you want to sell homes only to people looking for waterfront property, do it. If you want to build a business that provides work for stay-at-home-moms, that is your business. Not only can you choose what you want your business to be, you have the unique ability to turn on a dime. You do not have layers of bureaucracy and corporate decision-makers to muddle though. It is your business. Just make it happen.
My daughter and I daydream sometimes about opening up a coffee shop together. Our whole purpose in being would be to promote the other local businesses around us. Instead of pretty pictures on the wall we’d have the local fishing report and the day’s weather forecast. We’d be known for being a “non-virtual” communication hub of our small town. It is our own ultra-local opportunity. It feeds our desire to help small business, to be a part of our community, and to do something meaningful together.
What is your unfair advantage? It is a fair question. Work it out.