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4 Ways to Stand Out as a Small Business in a Crowded Space Differentiate yourself in the competitive landscape by working smarter, not harder.

By Pia Beck

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The past year has undoubtedly demanded pivots and change in more ways than anyone could have imagined. Businesses were catapulted into endurance mode with a singular focus: survival.

As new survival methods (and messaging) became the norm, entrepreneurs fell into a pattern of using their message to bridge the gap from unprecedented to post-pandemic. The rise of the small business, competition and an oversaturation of information make for a crowded space that calls for differentiation. In the face of a re-emerging world, it's long overdue for business owners to approach marketing their businesses in new and inventive ways by focusing on conscious consumerism, intentional inquiry and the human experience — all without the overwhelm of what others are doing.

Small business is surging, and assumptions are driving struggle

As entrepreneurship sees a surge since the pandemic, growing 24% from 2019 to 2020 worldwide, spaces have gotten more saturated. Competition and information overload are everywhere. What business owners aren't thinking about are these caveats:

  • An assumption that every consumer in a niche is using the same criteria

  • Following a framework established by predecessors or competitors is the path of least resistance, even more so in a predominantly online world.

So, how does a business become the first of its kind, meaning that instead of worrying about competing with others, it carves its own place, defining what it means to stand out alongside hundreds of similar businesses?

Related: 5 Small Business Strategies to Recover, Rebuild and Be Ready

Make your business the clear choice for the right customer

To succeed as a business means to go against the grain. This requires an understanding that the following things will make your business the clear choice for the right person:

  • Carve out new criteria that serve the unique needs of a specific customer

  • Enroll your customers in a culture that aligns with their values

  • Foster customer loyalty through repeat purchase opportunities

Capitalizing on trends, trying to compete with other businesses for the attention of the same customers or building your business for scale before focusing on critical mass simply won't work in today's small business landscape.

Related: 9 Strategies to Boost Small-Business Profitability

How to stand out in a crowded space

1. Dig into the data in order to set new benchmarks for success and design unconventional solutions and services to meet the needs of your customers.

Wherever you can, provide human interactions that leave your customers feeling seen in ways other brands haven't connected with them. Listen generously, care uniquely and create a corner of the market that customers feel like they have to be a part of.

Ask yourself: What do you do exceptionally and uniquely? Who is the customer that wants exactly that? Now, how do you enroll those customers so you can deliver the experience they want, but maybe haven't been able to explicitly identify.

2. Rather than striving for market saturation, go after building a culture that serves customers holistically as a human and a consumer, based on shared values.

Businesses can make a bigger impact by being and believing in precisely who and what their brand is, rather than trying to satisfy everyone.

Ask yourself: What do your customers value? Based on this information, what are the criteria that matter most when investing in a product or service like yours? What values does your company embody? How can you translate these things into tangible processes, messaging and touchpoints that make people feel like they've found the place they belong?

3. Create a community around your brand that your customers want to tell others about.

As the leader of this community, press forward into uncharted territory, and be sure to bring your customers along for the journey with you, enrolling them in your shared evolution — or redefine the environments that have already been claimed.

Ask yourself: How can you lead with meaning and encourage others to do the same? In what ways does the community feel like a safe space to impactfully speak up, take action and connect with others?

But why does any of it matter?

Standing out in a crowded space as a small business isn't just about cutting through the noise to see success. While growing a business year over year, generating revenue and hitting benchmarks are essential factors, they aren't the only metrics that matter.

What matters is how well you can identify, attract and enroll a customer that becomes a champion of your brand: the customers that purchase from you without a second thought, over and over again, because they not only believe your business is best for them, but also feel like they belong to a group of people who also buy from your business.

To stand out as a business, you don't have to be better than any other business — you just have to be the clear best for your customer.

Related: This is What the Small Business Model of the Future Looks Like

Pia Beck

Business Consultant, Community Leader

Pia Beck is the CEO of Curate Well Co., a consulting, configuration, and community platform for impact-driven leaders to change narratives and redefine norms in industries desperately calling for something different.

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