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Don't just do what I do, do what I don't!

25/02/2013  - Matt Chatterley


Better vs Different (no-one likes a copy cat)


Copy Cat! While talking with a friend recently, he alluded to the business he would like to run – if he were to leave his current job. This is unremarkable in many ways, except that he also commented that he felt it wasn’t feasible to make a profit – “At least, not here.”.

Excuse my vagueness, I don’t want to cloud the issue by diverging into a debate of the merits of one sector versus another – but I said that I disagreed – and that I felt it was possible to run a very successful business in the sector in question – by finding a niche and/or doing things ‘differently’ to the competition.

“You mean better” was the response. But I didn’t. I meant “differently”. Better is a bit too subjective – in much the same way that price can be. While “quality” (if it can be discretely measured) and “price” entice us to make a purchase, it’s really “value” that determines how we feel about a purchase after the fact – and thus the reputation which the business builds.

But I digress. My point for today is this: we worry too much about what is traditionally successful, about what is “the done thing”. Look at some of the really successful endeavours out there, they’re the ones that were (or are) quirky, which approached something from an unconventional angle – and it’s in the very nature of an entrepreneur (or should be) to be something of a mould-breaker.

Don’t just do what I do

You’re probably thinking that this train of thought didn’t spawn from a single conversation – and you’d be right. It’s something I’ve been pondering for quite a while. Since I found out that yet another “daily deals” site was starting up to service the market here in Jersey.

While there is certainly room in the market for healthy competition, I think we’re reaching (or have reached) the point where few of us want to sign up to another newsletter – or to have another facebook page waving amazing offers at us – but people seem to keep deciding it’s a good business to start. Of course, I might be wrong and they might be planning to ‘do it differently’.

It doesn’t tend to work is my point. Once the market is saturated, it’s saturated. And unless you stand apart from the crowd, you’re not going to succeed.

Our friend Adam over at Stable learned this to his cost a few years ago when he set up SSL Donkey, mimicking the model used by other SSL resellers. His rationale seemed sound – the profit margins were good, it was an easy concept to set up and could practically run itself.

Only it didn’t. It bombed. Luckily he hadn’t invested much money – just a lot of his own time, but nonetheless, it bombed and he ended up settling a lawsuit brought by one of the established businesses doing the same thing. In his own words: “Naivety meant I assumed that doing what the others did would rake the money in. It didn’t –I learnt that lesson the hard way.”

He’s dipping his toe back into the SSL market now with his new venture, Citadel – http://citadelapp.com, which I can safely say is a little bit different to all the rest (I’ve been peeking while it’s been under development).

Do what I don’t

So, how to stand out from the competition and make room for yourself in your chosen market? I’ve alluded to quality and price above (I could easily write a whole post about ‘value’ – and I probably will, soon), but I’d like you to think about being different. Today, at least.

Look at what your competitors do – carefully. But look at the things they don’t do even more closely. You’ll find some amazing things in the gap between “conventional” and “unconventional” – ranging from little ways you can go the extra mile all the way up-to major differences in approach that can really set you apart.

It’s the little things about a product or service which make you think, “But why don’t they..” which you need to look at.

There are some shining examples out there - such as Inamo, which as well as being a fantastic restaurant, has a marvellous computerised ordering system which creates a unique experience. I’d point to Argos, too. Yes, that’s right – humble old Argos – think about it for a minute and it’s very clever; it’s literally the catalogue shopping experience, but made tangible.

But little victories count too – the shop where they go out of their way to help you find what you’re looking for. The hotel or guest house where the service is personalised and you don’t feel like another nameless guest floating through the halls. The furniture retailer who deliver and assemble your purchases – and even take away the old stuff you’re replacing at the same time.

In short, if you’re going to pinch someone’s idea, at least do it justice and add your own value. Surely you’re aiming to out-shine them, not to sit in their shadow?

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