The Defining Dozen: #4 – What’s so different about what you offer?

Learn how to answer the fourth of the "Defining Dozen" questions – What’s so different about what you offer? – so you can write an effective business plan.

In Step 3 of "10 Steps to Open for Business," answering the “Defining Dozen” questions is vital to writing a good business plan. The Sloan brothers describe them in detail in StartupNation: Open for Business, their book. Here is the fourth of those questions, in a special book excerpt:

What’s so different about what you offer? To answer this question, repeat after us: research, research, and research! You can almost bet that someone’s going to come up to you as you’re charting a course to get into business and say, “Hey, did you know that XYZ Company does exactly what you do?”

If you’re prepared, you’ll be able to answer, “Yes, I do know them, but this is how we’re different.” You have to be master of your domain—the expert.

That’s especially important when it comes to warming up investors and selling to customers. Remember that investors will want to know why they should invest in your company rather than the guy down the street. But don’t overhype your differences. Pick the ones that you can really prove and substantiate. It may be that one simple but profound distinction will be enough to create a cha-ching! So don’t waste time drumming up weak distinctions—rely on the strongest and lose the rest. Also, remember that the differences don’t have to be rooted in a complicated technological advantage or some mysterious “secret sauce.” Often, a difference stems from simply executing better than anyone else. Take Peter Romero, president of Del Mar Environmental Services and a “Super Startup” guest on a 2004 radio show we broadcasted from center stage at the Fortune Small Business Conference in Chicago. Peter’s business is asbestos removal.

We asked him what was different about Del Mar compared to his competitors and how he had managed to be so successful in such a competitive business. Without hesitation, he answered with a siren song about customer service. “I love my business when I see my customers smile,” he said. And that’s Peter’s difference. He actually cares about the people in the houses and buildings he’s clearing of asbestos, and he lets them know that. That simple but powerful treatment of his customers gives him his advantage over his competition and has led to tens of millions in lucrative contracts over the years and many business awards in his community.

Excerpted from StartupNation: Open for Business Copyright© 2005 by Jeff Sloan and Rich Sloan. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Learn more about the Sloan brothers’ secrets to business success – buy the book StartupNation: Open for Business now.

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