How to Start and Grow a Unique Small Business

I recently checked out a new sandwich shop downtown called Even Stevens. Oh boy, I thought, another sandwich place. What a unique idea for a small business. I was prepared to be underwhelmed. The shop was lucky it had a good location.

Turns out Even Stevens’ strategy completely altered my expectations. For each sandwich you buy, the shop will donate a sandwich to a homeless charity. My city recently shut down the homeless tent city. People were outraged at the shutdown, and Even Stevens picked up on that.

Any business can make charitable donations and write them off. But Even Stevens makes donating a part of its concept and marketing. In that way, Even Stevens is unique. And it’s doing well. Any small business that hopes to succeed in a crowded market must be unique.

Getting Started

A well-built business begins with careful attention to the basics—the equivalent of learning how to crawl before you start walking. The groundwork is encapsulated in Square’s checklist for starting a business:

  • Determine Structure. Your business structure has legal and tax implications; you’ll want to match structure to your business type; plenty of small businesses choose an LLC structure because of its liability and tax benefits.
  • Craft Your Plan. Your plan should look ahead as much as possible, asking questions about your competitors, how you’ll be unique, what type of marketing you’ll do, what funding you’ll need, where capital will come from, etc. (here’s a list of business plan templates).
  • Build Your Brand. Your brand is about your aesthetic and what makes you unique; it’s your name, your colors, and your images; your brand should reflect the needs and desires of your target audience.
  • Cover Your Butt. Follow the IRS requirements for starting a business, consult with an attorney if you’re uncertain about details, and get an accountant to make sure all your financial operations are streamlined and audit-proof.
  • Draft Your Team. You’ll need essential individuals in order to keep you sane as you tend to the higher-level thinking for your business; you can continue to build out the team as the business grows.

Nail the basic elements of getting started so you can focus on that special something to make your business unique.

Research, Research!

You won’t know what’s unique until you’ve looked into your niche. Check out the top performers. What do they have others don’t? Check out the next tier. Do some of these businesses have good ideas you could make great? Do you get any hunches about businesses poised to hit the next level? What are they doing well? What aren’t they doing well?

Look at branding elements. The top performers are constantly adapting their brand in various ways to take advantage of new trends.

Make Your Brand Adaptable

According to brand strategist and writer Rod Parkes, “The brand owner can no longer dictate the meaning of the brand—the customer defines this, and today’s customers cannot be so easily told what to think.” He points toward brands such as IBM and Microsoft, who had to adapt to consumers in order to stay competitive. At first, Microsoft didn’t even think it was all about the internet.

The customer will determine your brand’s effectiveness, which limits how much research you can and should do. According to Intuit author Andrew Storrier, focusing on research and planning is one of the common mistakes new businesses make. Having a firm deadline for launch will help you make choices fast. Once your product or service is on the market, you’ll learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

But when you’re looking at successful brands, ask yourself, what is it about the core concept that helps them win? What hasn’t changed since day one? For example, once Nike found the swoosh emblem, it never changed.

Grow Your Business

Your business is only as unique and good as your people. This is the main takeaway from tech company Appnovation’s article on how to be a hyper growth company. Focus on the “four pillars” of “human capital”:

  • Organization - Position your employees to optimize their talent.
  • Acquisition - After a new hire, maintain peak communication and follow-up to make sure employees settle in nicely.
  • Cultivation - As you continue to adapt, maintain training and keep challenging employees to cultivate their talent.
  • Retention - Small business is uniquely equipped to retain employees through social initiatives, rewards for loyalty, and a high level of communication and transparency.

Appnovation has experienced a 654% growth rate because of their emphasis on employees. It’ll be incredibly hard to adapt your brand and grow with a high turnover rate. The longer employees stay, the more equipped they are to represent the truly unique nature of your business.

Understand Customer Needs

This is the ultimate way to be unique. Because people are so unique, your sensitivity to their needs will make your business one-of-a-kind. You have a passion. It’s time to filter it through the lens of the consumer.

This can mean stripping things down, offering a low-cost version of your product or service. Think Tesla’s Model 3 sedan, scheduled for release in 2017. Compared to the Model S, Model 3 will cost nearly 40 thousand dollars less. Families need reliable, safe cars they can afford. Model 3’s lower price tag also includes an increased emphasis on safety—because that’s what families need.

The Complete Picture

In making your business unique, you’re combining three timeless elements:

  • A killer idea you’re passionate about
  • Solid, practical groundwork
  • Sensitivity to the market, your customers, and your employees

Sounds good on paper, right? Now it’s time to put it into practice. This isn’t easy. The majority of startups fail. Charge ahead fearlessly and thoughtfully. With your feet fully planted in each step of the process, you’ll bring people to the table.

How to Start and Grow a Unique Small BusinessDaniel Matthews is a widely published freelance writer and aspiring entrepreneur with a passion for studying what makes businesses great. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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