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18 The Three Natural Phases of Successful Small Business Growth

growing a businessI’ve owned a small business for many years and have worked with thousands of small business along the way and I’ve come to sense what feel like natural states of successful small business growth.

A common small business plight is the frustrating cycle of expansion and contraction. I believe this not simply due to the cycle of markets, but more often due to the lack of strategy and proper expectation around planned growth.

I think business owners need to think about growth a lot like a parent thinks about the growth and maturation of a child. But, many simply dive in and try to do things they are not ready to do, lacking the proper foundation of an ideal market, core message and systems and processes necessary to deliver a thrilling customer experience. Now, depending upon a series of what I like to call “success factors,” things such as experience, resources, and networks, some business owners are able to move through these phases much more rapidly, but successful, long-term growth comes from moving in this same fashion no matter what.

Every business should look at progressing through as least three phases (although it’s never quite this linear)

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8 So You Think You're Different?

Being different, or more accurately, having a point of differentiation that matters to a market, is one of the most critical marketing strategies for the small business.

Intentionally finding and centrally communicating that point of difference is what sets the truly successful business apart from the businesses relegated to compete on price.

See, the market must have difference, a point of reference with which to compare competing businesses – that’s how decision are made. So if you don’t give them something that makes you uniquely suited to serve their needs, they will fall back to the only measurement of difference you do have – price. And, as I’ve said often – price is a terrible place to compete because there will always be someone willing to go out of business faster than you.

But what makes you different? That’s the question small business owners have a tough time with because, at the end of the day, people are a little uncomfortable really being different. So, they hang their hat of things like “solution driven blah blah” and “superior customer service” and “unique set of fill in the blank” that everyone in their industry is saying.

Don’t believe me? I dare you to take the “Sameness Test.” Go to the website of your top five competitors and copy and paste the first paragraph you find there onto a blank page. Now add the first paragraph from your site. Then black out any reference to company names and pass this document around your office and see if anyone in the office can pick your site out or identify any competitor. It’s my experience that this will probably make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Use this Sameness Test as motivation to step out and really identify some way for you to create, perfect, and communicate, in the simplest terms possible, how your business really is unique.

Don’t know where to look? Ask you customers, research your industry around the world, look for opportunities presented by your competition. You don’t always have to be the first one to create a revolutionary innovation in your industry to be different. Sometimes it’s enough to package your services differently, approach a niche market differently, price your products differently, add services to products, add products to services, create outrageous guarantees, or add some truly remarkable habit to your sales and marketing process.

Just know this, it’s OK to be different, in fact, it’s the only way you can grow.

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