There are a thousand challenges that come with being a small business, and we’ve discussed most of them on this website before. In the advice that you’ll have seen in the past – both from here and from elsewhere – you’ll have been told about all the predictable pitfalls of business, what to do and what not to do, and what others have done to stay on the right track. All of that is terrific advice, but it also comes with a cost. That cost is your own individuality.
Because there are so many small businesses in the world, and advice is so easily accessible, there are too many firms following the same advice and ending up with the same results. There are firms who’ve accidentally become cookie-cutter copies of each other despite being in completely different countries. There are hundreds of businesses in a variety of sectors who all offer the same thing in the same way. That’s because they’ve followed advice to the letter, stayed safe, and presented themselves identically.
Obviously, one should always listen to advice when it’s given, and if it’s viable and sounds like it would work for your business, there’s no harm in taking it. At the same time, though, it’s essential to retain an awareness of your own individuality and your own ideas. When you were inspired to set up in business, you probably had a vision of doing it differently to everybody else. You’ll have had a feel for what would make your company unique, and what would set you apart from the crowd. In the interests of keeping a small business afloat, those instincts can be blunted in the search for safety and security. That needs to be addressed, because those same instincts might be what’s required to get you to the next level.
Always remember that the one thing your company has that nobody else can replicate is you: your original thoughts, your innovative ideas, and your vision for the company’s future and identity. Once you’ve established a safe structure for your firm, and you have all the elements working, it’s time to look again at those revolutionary ideas you used to have and see if they can be brought into play. To put it back in business terms, it’s time to identify your new USP. Often, that’s just a case of finding a new niche in your existing area of business. Here are three real-life examples of companies who’ve done exactly that.
- Niche Jewelry
‘I Do Not I Don’t’ is an online business that sells used jewelry. As you can probably imagine, that’s a crowded field. What makes ‘I Do Now I Don’t’ unique is the origin of the jewelry it trades in, and its specialty.
The story of the company is a famous one, and has seen its founder appear on the Glenn Beck show among other places. It started when Joshua Opperman was jilted by his fiance, who left and took all her belongings but returned his engagement ring. The ring cost Opperman $10,000, but when he tried to return it, he was offered barely a third of that price. Opperman knew he’d be able to get more for it if he sold it directly online, but suddenly realized that he wouldn’t be the only person in his situation. Dealing with refused or returned wedding and engagement rings had been something of a taboo subject in the jewelry world, so Opperman turned it into his niche. The website is now one of the largest traders of used jewelry in the world, but it’s the fact that they’re known as the ‘go to’ brand for unwanted wedding rings that’s been the backbone of their success. It’s a standard jewelry business; just presented differently.
- Niche Cleaning
The cleaning industry may contain more small businesses and sole traders than any other. There are probably hundreds of thousands across the world, all of whom offer the same basic service; they come into your home and clean it for you. As there didn’t seem to be a way for a business owner to differentiate themselves from the competition other than making grand proclamations about being the best, it usually comes down to a race to the bottom in terms of pricing. That’s until an upstart company in Australia had a better idea.
It may be a stereotype that Australians drink heavily, but it’s a stereotype that’s made a company in Perth profitable and famous. Styling themselves as ‘The Hangover Helpers,’ they set out targeting students and people having house parties; the ones where you desperately need to clean up the next day, but don’t have the energy. This is something any cleaning company would be capable of, but nobody had specifically marketed themselves this way before. As a result of the attention, the firm is now expanding, and covering more extensive areas of their home country with a franchise model.
- Niche Slot Gaming
Once upon a time, a slot machine was something that stood in the corner of a bar or casino, had a few reels with fruit and bell symbols on it, and flashed a few lights if you won money. Since the internet came along and slot machines became online slots, all of that has changed. Using the latest in graphics and the flexibility of the format, you can now play slot games with every kind of theme and symbol on the reels imaginable.
What sort of theme, then, do you imagine would attract players? Slots that tied in with the latest big movie? Official slots connected to major sports teams? Both of those variants are common and have been shown to perform well, but nothing like as well as the Fluffy Favourites UK slot. The slot game is the brainchild of Australian developer Eyecon, and features a range of characters based on cute, cuddly stuffed toys. They’re the sort of things you’d expect children to play with rather than adults, but the unique presentation tapped directly into a sense of nostalgia with its audience, and the slot was a smash hit. There was nothing else like it already on the market, and it stood out in a world full of games based on television shows or dated Irish themes. The idea of creating a slot game was far from new, but the theme made it feel completely fresh.
In all three cases, the people behind the product took something that already existed, and found a way to present it that hadn’t been done before. You don’t have to reinvent the sector or industry you work in; you just have to find a niche way to present it. Original thinking is the hardest form of thinking, but if you weren’t capable of it you’d never have started a business at all. So, think hard. Find your niche, and don’t be afraid to be quirky.