Question: I'm starting a tour booking/bookkeeping/secretarial/translation business and have lots of local competition. How do I show customers I'm different from the rest?
Answer: That's four businesses, so you can eliminate lots of competitors right off the bat by choosing just one of them. An even better reason to narrow the number of services you offer is to avoid the "Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master of none" label. Web surfers also have trouble when they visit a Web site that covers a potpourri of businesses: Even if you make a favorable impression, surfers may not remember exactly what it is you do.
Besides choosing just one service, a key to differentiating yourself from others is specializing even further. Assuming the tour booking service is your primary interest, you could serve a segment of the population, such as senior citizens; people with disabilities; or people with particular interests, such as Japanese antiquities or Indian ceremonial sites. Ideally you should cater to a market you know something about.
Another way to specialize a tour booking service is to focus on a type of travel, such as by train or to remote locations. Or you might help people visit the locations of their ancestral origins or their special interests, like the birthplaces of French Impressionist artists. This way, you not only acquire the credibility associated with a specialist, but you more easily identify and market to potential customers. You can advertise in specialty publications (usually at lower rates than in large circulation publications), rent mailing lists and create a Web site with meta tags likely to be picked up by search engines.
While there are a few exceptions to this specialization strategy-B2B services possibly being one of them-you should be able to narrow down your idea to broaden your business's chances of success.
Small-business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards' latest book is The Practical Dreamer's Handbook(Putnam Publishing Group). If you have a question regarding a start-up business issue, contact them at www.workingfromhome.com or send it in care of Entrepreneur.