Spotting your own uniqueness is a bit like recognizing you’ve got bad breath.
You typically need someone else to point it out to you.
Positioning is a concept people often confuse with branding. But positioning comes before branding because it’s a core element the brand is developed around.
I’ll share 6 ways to position yourself and some cautions for each as you figure out this foundational element.
And just because you’re business is already financially successful, don’t think you’ve nailed your position. You can be getting clients for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with a strong position.
“So,” you may be asking yourself; “why worry about it then?”
Because if you’re like most smart entrepreneurs who are building a service-based business, you’re not in this to kill yourself.
I’ll bet one of the reasons you started your business is so you could create a great life for yourself and those you love.
You want to work to live, not live to work.
You bought into the whole “lifestyle” thing that draws so many of us into being self-employed.
But when you’re working too hard to attract clients and working too hard to get them to say yes to hiring you, that’s often a sign that you’re not positioned very clearly and you haven’t built a strong brand.
So when you’re looking to position yourself, here are 6 concepts that can help you do that.
Be first in a category. This is almost impossible to do and it’s incredibly costly in terms of time, effort, and money. I’ve had a few students who are trying to launch something so unique and so unclearly positioned that people just don’t get it. Another challenge to using this strategy is when you ARE first, the copycats are soon behind you. You could find yourself competing based on price and having to re-position yourself all over again.
Price. This is just a bad idea. It’s an option…but a bad one. Unless you want to be Walmart or you have some sort of deep understanding of the wealthy and why they’d want your offer, competing on price typically attracts price-driven (and usually price-sensitive) clients who don’t value your uniqueness. Your objective is to make the value you deliver so apparent and help the potential client connect that value to their own wants in such a way that they can’t consider another solution provider. It’s you or it’s nothing. Your price really shouldn’t come into it until they know they want you and they need to figure out how to pay for it.
The Outcome You Deliver. Now we’re getting somewhere. Remember how Domino’s used to promote their hot pizza in 30 minutes or less or it’s free? Or FedEx’s “when it absolutely, positively, HAS to get there overnight”? Those are positions based on outcomes. Of course we know what happened to Domino’s. The pressure to get pizzas to every customer in 30 minutes or less or give away their product led drivers to behave recklessly behind the wheel. At least one lawsuit and that was the end of that particular positioning strategy. So consider just what can you deliver that is highly desirable and that you can truly stand behind. But be cautious about it and think through the unintended consequences you may create.
Who you serve. This is a good idea but it’s something so many entrepreneurs resist. Maybe you’re a family lawyer who only handles divorces involving special needs children. Or you could be an accountant who only focuses on family businesses. Or a physical therapist who specializes in 50+ fitness fanatics.
Can you picture in your mind how easy it would be to refer a friend to one of those professionals? Positioning yourself around a narrow segment makes you easier to refer. It makes it easier for you to focus your attention and build a colossally strong expert platform. We all want to work with experts who get us; so if there’s an audience you really get then by all means serve then.
How you deliver your offerings. This can be part of an “exclusive” type of positioning in terms of how you enter into engagements or it can literally be that your delivery method is in itself differentiating. Like the mobile pet groomer or the window glass people who come to you.
This can and should include your unique process or some type of unique system. For example, my core offering is built on my Sales Success Investigation(TM). Every private client starts with that offering. So think about the way you do the things you do and perhaps there’s something there that’s clearly different and different in a way people are willing to pay for.
Another thing to consider about how you deliver your offerings is what is your competition talking NOT talking about that you think is important to your audience, or at least to a large enough segment of your audience that you can zero in on that and build your business with those folks.
For example, back in the early days of advertising and copywriting, legendary copywriter Claude Hopkins was working on a campaign for Schlitz. Schlitz was ranked 5 among nationally sold beer brands at the time.
Mr. Hopkins was on a tour through the plant and was struck by how clean the place was and how clean the tanks were.
He decided to use this unique element as a point of difference and to position Schlitz as pure when in fact every other beer manufacturer did the same thing. They just hadn’t thought it important enough to emphasize.
So if you’re in a particularly crowded segment or you’re in a highly regulated industry segment or one where there’s little variation (I don’t want my accountant using his own special technique for balancing my books, ya know?) then really think about what it is that sets you apart and how can you build your positioning around that?
Make up some gumbo. You know how lots of people in business use sports analogies? When I was working in New Orleans, I had a boss who used food analogies. His favorite was relating something to making gumbo.
There’s about a zillion ways to make gumbo, so that’s why I think the best positioning strategies are your own unique gumbo — a special combination of the things on the list.
So do some serious reflection and consider your unique combination of the elements, as well as how you mix them together with your unique personality, beliefs, and values. That will make the position you establish for your firm powerful and magnetic to those who want what you offer and in the way you offer it.
The most important ingredients in your positioning gumbo have to be authenticity and truth for you and the business you’re building. Your recipe needs to be something your competition either can’t duplicate or is so cost- or time-prohibitive that either no one will bother or they’ll be an obvious copycat if they try.
So remember the analogy of the gumbo. Identify those unique ingredients you love and add them generously. Then season it with those things your ideal client find tasty and worth much more than what you charge.
I was about 7 or 8, standing in the dining room and my mom was screaming at me about something I had done or hadn’t done.
I was looking down at the dark green sculpted carpet, just WISHING a hole would open up that I could crawl into; when suddenly, a brilliant idea popped into my head.
“I’m just going to be perfect from now on,” I thought. “If I was perfect, then she’d never have anything to yell at me about ever again.”
That was the exact moment when I became a perfectionist.
Finally understanding WHY I made myself nuts for the next 40-some years trying to never make a mistake is nice, but of course, it’s only partially helpful.
Perfectionism, as Dr. Brene Brown pointed out in her interview with Oprah, isn’t striving for excellence.
It’s an attempt to be invisible.
When I heard her say that I literally burst into tears. I felt SO busted.
That weight of perfectionism, isn’t just a heavy cross to bear. It’s what will hold you back from achieving the very success you say you want.
It’s what will keep you hiding behind your shield.
But you also punish those who you would otherwise serve – if only they could find you.
So if you won’t think of yourself, then perhaps if you stay focused on those who need you, then THAT will drive you to come out of hiding.
Unfortunately for perfectionists and those actively in recovery, one of the requirements for taking off the armor of perfection is exposure.
You’re just so OUT THERE for all the world to see.
They’ll see your imperfections….see your mistakes….recognize you’re not perfect….GAH!
And yet….as counterintuitive as it sounds….that’s just what people really do want to see.
They want to know you’re real. They want to understand why you’re the expert.
And believe it or not, you’re the expert because of your journey and because of the mistakes you make.
Part of building a group of followers – of being a leader today – is being transparent and authentic.
No one wants to learn from or work with someone who they perceive to be a true guru….someone on the mountaintop.
Think about it.
You don’t want diet tips from Cindy Crawford. You want them from Jennifer Hudson, or Marie Osmond, or Valerie Bertinelli. You want them from someone who struggled with and overcame a problem.
Part of raising your Know-Like-Trust Quotient (your KLTQ) is in letting people know you tried and failed.
I recently attempted to hold my first Google Hangout On Air.
It was a complete flop.
I had scheduled it as an event like one of the experts said I was supposed to. Sent out an announcement to my list of subscribers. Posted it multiple times on Facebook.
And subsequently I had a nice number of people sign up. And half of that number actually tried to get on the Hangout.
Notice…I said “tried.”
That’s right. It didn’t work. Not at all.
I thought I would die of embarrassment.
The fact that the event was titled “Prove You’re the Expert” only made things worse.
Thankfully it wasn’t “Prove You’re the Expert in Using Google Hangouts On Air”!
I sent out an apology to those who signed up and posted multiple apologies on Facebook and Google+. And you know what happened?
I got notes of thanks.
People thanked me for TRYING. They thanked me for being brave.
I had one person send me a 3 paragraph message thanking me for being a role model for trying new technology and for being so totally transparent about the whole thing.
I was blown away.
Here are a few lessons I learned through this.
So as you work to build your brand and your business, you’ll also need to do the internal work necessary to let go of perfectionism and get comfortable with making mistakes. They’re really the best way to learn anything when you think of it.
We all know about making resolutions — resolving to do something new or do things differently — but a trend that social media maven Mari Smith is credited with starting is identifying one word as a theme for the year.
I’ve made just a couple of resolutions (summed up by “take better care of myself”) and my theme for the year is “reach” because I want to grow my business and grow my contacts and communities.
So if you had to find one word that would be a good over-arcing theme for you what would it be?
I’m there on a pretty regular basis…generally several times a month…sometimes a few times a week.
They manage to screw up my order on a regular basis.
It’s either not ready when I expect it to be, or they can’t find it when I get there, or — the latest excuse — they didn’t get the email I sent.
Even though their system sent ME a confirming message.
As a former recruiter in high turnover industries, I certainly understand how hard it is to find good employees for minimum wage jobs.
Especially jobs that require a high level of emotional intelligence. Which seems to be in mighty short supply these days.
But you’re not actually hiring employees.
You’re hiring brand ambassadors.
Think about your own experiences. Employees ARE the brand to us when we’re buyers, so it’s no different when buyers deal with OUR companies.
Other than the decision to actually go into business, I don’t think there’s a decision with greater impact than who to hire.
I know it’s time consuming, frustrating, and a little scary; but’s also critical to the growth of your business.
As you grow the business, you’ve got to take off the hats you wear and give away the tasks that don’t require you.
But hiring them isn’t where it stops.
You’ve go to invest in them by providing them with the training and ongoing development they need. Especially if you’re going to choose a person who doesn’t have all of the skills needed to perform the job successfully.
You need to help them understand they’re the brand in the marketplace and help them understand the impact they have on the business. Help them understand the power they wield.
Teach them the skills they don’t have, help them polish the skills they do have.
And never forget that customer-facing jobs are stressful. Help employees manage their stress. Don’t expect them to know how.
At a minimum, encourage them to recognize when their stress level is getting a bit high and understand how to manage that stress level so they don’t take it out on their fellow workers or on the next customer they deal with.
As their leader, take the time to understand each staffer as an individual and understand what motivates each one of them.
This means understanding what your customers expect and hire people who can deliver on that expectation.
Play “what if” with your staff members. One of the great problems in service industries in general is getting employees to be comfortable thinking on their feet to effectively deal with a problem. The best way to develop that skill is by asking them what they would do “if” a situation like X occurred. Then coach them on their response.
Since the brain doesn’t really understand the difference between practice and reality it will help the employee subconsciously feel more confident in dealing with challenging situations.
The employee I dealt with yesterday at Staples looked as though he was trying not to yawn when I was talking to him about my problem. And his response to my statement that I was unhappy and frustrated was “Well, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Really? NOTHING you can do about it?
At a bare minimum he should have had enough sense to recognize he had an unhappy customer and he didn’t know how to handle it.
I proceeded to post about the situation on Facebook and generated somewhere around 20 responses. Most complaining about Staples and agreeing their copy center staff is terrible.
Here are 4 quick tips to take BEFORE you start hiring or before you hire your next staffer:
1. Identify the soft skills critical for success. These are the skills their parents, teachers, or guardians should have instilled in them. Face it. You do NOT want to teach someone how to be nice. They need to KNOW that. They need to BE nice. Ask them questions to tell you about a time that really tried their patience.
2. Identify what a successful employee acts like and what type of experience that person needs to have in their history. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior since most people don’t. (Yes, I know they CAN. Think about it though. Most people really DON’T change.) . People who thrive in customer facing positions tend to have experience in them. If you’re hiring an inexperienced workforce then ask them about activities they’ve been in. Ask about situations that are at least similar to the situations they’ll face working for you. If they can’t give you examples of relatively similar experiences then find better candidates.
3. Be clear on performance standards. From technical performance to emotional intelligence, you must be clear about what you expect. Don’t assume they’ll know. No, they won’t. And when you’re in the habit of telling everyone the same thing, you can be confident that they’re all clear on the same points.
4. Lead and manage. Don’t just complain about a staffer’s performance. Talk to them about it with no emotion in your voice. You’re not attacking them personally. You’re pointing out a performance issue. Be clear on what happened, what’s unacceptable about it, and what needs to happen instead. At home, it’s easy to engage in dysfunctional behavior thinking a family member should be able to read your mind and know what they did wrong or know what you want. Don’t do it in your business. You’ll be miserable. Your staff will be miserable. And believe me, your customers will be miserable.
Time and effort you invest in selecting, educating, and developing your staff will have a huge payoff to the business. Take that time.
She admitted she took every “no” very personally.
“I feel like every person who turns me down is rejecting ME,” she said.
It’s hard not to feel that way, isn’t it? Especially if you’re a solo professional or owner of a small professional services firm and YOU deliver the services.
There’s the old adage, that people do business with those they know, like, and trust.
So if someone tells you they don’t want what you’re selling, are they telling you they don’t know, like, or trust you enough to buy from you?
How can you not take that personally?
If they decide not to hire you or not to work with you it can mean any one of several things…
• They aren’t ready for what you offer
• What you offer isn’t right for them
• An unseen or unknown influencer nixed the purchase
• Their priorities have changed
• They don’t see the value of what you offer
• They don’t have enough information to feel confident enough to give you the job
• They were confused or overwhelmed in the process
And yes…you just might rub them the wrong way.
There are only 3 or 4 of those points that you have any significant opportunity to influence.
You can only directly control yourself. So the things you have the most impact on in the marketing and sales process are skill-based things that have to do with how you communicated and / or packaged what you offer.
While it’s disappointing and frustrating to lose a sale, it does not mean you’re a bad person. It does not mean you’re stupid. Your friends, family, and God still love you. YOU should still love you.
The problem entrepreneurs run into is when our self-image and self-worth are attached to every sale.
When you look outside of yourself for validation of your worth you will always be disappointed. Worth – and worthiness – comes from within.
When you were born, the Divine blessed you with seeds of greatness. Everything you would need to fulfill your potential was planted right inside you.
In his classic book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells the reader to “detach from the outcome.”
I must have read that book 10 times before I began to fully understand what it means to “detach from the outcome.” I thought it was impossible to do.
What Hill was saying is your identity — nor your value as a person — are connected to the outcome of the sale.
Once you fully realize that and truly embrace your worth, taking rejection becomes much easier.
So here are 7 strategies to help you stop taking things – especially sales rejections – personally.
Have a healthy personal life. That might seem like a blinding flash of the obvious but as a business owner it can be incredibly hard to separate your personal life from your professional one. Working at home, working with your spouse or children, being connected to technology 24/7 can all contribute to feeling as though work never ends. Create clear boundaries to give yourself time to recover from the demands of work.
Practice compassionate self-care. Listen to what you say to yourself throughout the day, but especially after a selling discussion doesn’t go your way. If you’re engaging in any sort of negative self-talk, you’re feeding the bad feelings. Do something that makes you smile. Even looking at positive images has been proven to improve mood. Go for a walk around the block. Put on upbeat music. Or take 2 minutes to leverage your body language and tap into your inner super hero.
Learn the skills and language of modern selling. Old-school sales was all about convincing someone that your offering was best. It’s why sales training emphasized ridiculously convoluted strategies that seemed designed to trick people. Modern selling and today’s client-focused, conscious entrepreneur is focused on sharing information that educates the potential client and helps them make the best choice among a host of options. It starts with being clear about and only talking to Ideal Clients so you’re preaching to the choir as it were.
When learning and developing your skills, be sure you’re studying with someone whose philosophy you share.
Then be sure you’re spending time to reflect on what you’re doing and modify it as needed. But please don’t beat yourself up.
Talking to Ideal Clients who you understand well, then creating a process that helps them make a decision are critical foundations to the process.
Create a process that helps potential clients decide. This starts with doing a good job of attracting and screening prospects so you’re only sharing your message with those who are most interested. When there’s more than one person involved in the decision process, do your best to present to all parties at the same time. Be sure to create simple, yet powerful leave-behind materials that reinforce what you said and help the parties involved become your internal sales team. You’re not actually doing the selling. They are.
Manage your ego. An attendee at a conference I presented at asked me to critique her process right in front of the class. She then started telling me what she covered in her presentation. She spent the first 10 minutes giving her and her company’s bio. I said, “You’ve lost them right there. That stuff got you in the door already. They don’t want to hear it again. Your ego wants to prove how smart you are. It’s looking for applause. You’re wasting their time.”
This doesn’t mean you need to underplay your brilliance, but it means you have to understand – especially when you sell to bigger small businesses or mid-sized company’s – those people are always concerned about someone making them look bad.
Make sure your offer is truly high value. This doesn’t mean undervalue yourself. It means to be sure you’re creating and communicating your offers so the value is clearly apparent to prospective clients and what you offer is connected to the outcome they want. Remember, nobody wants a hammer. They want to hang a picture to make their home beautiful and relaxing. The hammer helps them do that. Communicate with value-laden language and help them see how working with you will support them in achieving their goals. Or not. If they don’t think you’re right for them be glad they decided not to work with you.
Wish them the best. Oh this is hard. I know it can seem like they must be morons for not wanting to hire you. They’re not. They have their own issues. Reflect on what you could do differently the next time, wish them well (sometimes that means praying they get emotionally healthy), and let it go. There’s a difference between ruminating – making yourself feel badly by thinking about it over and over – and reflecting (considering what happened and determining how to grow from it). Always reflect. Never ruminate.
If you find yourself really struggling to detach from the outcome, ask yourself what emotional needs you have that are getting in the way. Typically, a need to be liked will trump the desire to get the business. You’re in business to provide a service that makes a difference in people’s lives. You’re not in business to be liked. That’s what you have friends for.