From the day we are born we learn by watching others. We learn to walk and talk and eat by watching others. We mimic what we see, try it on our own, have someone help us when we fail, hug us when we cry, and let us know when we need to take a break and rest.
Starting a business can be a lot like the beginning of life. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you didn’t go to school for business or marketing. You might have a certification or a degree or a handful of letters after your name – but that doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the challenges of marketing and business planning and budgeting.
So you watch, and you learn, and you study what other businesses around you are doing. You keep an eye on your competition, you talk to local business groups, and you read blogs about whatever it is you’re trying to figure out this week.
But eventually, you get to a point where you don’t need to watch anymore. You don’t need to mimic and copy your competition because you know as much as you need to know. The only missing piece is – you need to test it on your own with your own voice, your own brand, and your own style.
Take the bits and pieces you’ve picked up over the past few years and use what feels the most comfortable. Pick one or two social media platforms – not four or five. Send a newsletter that is as long as you want it to be - don’t force an extra four paragraphs because “that’s what the other guy does.” Use your voice. Use images that speak to you. Price things where you feel comfortable pricing them and promote when you feel ready.
But most importantly, tell everyone what you do and why you do it. And then tell them again and again and again. Sometimes it'll feel like you’re repeating yourself to the point of annoyance. Trust me, find your message and stick to it. People often need to hear things multiple times before they ever pay attention. And, more often than not, they are not ready for what you have to share the first few times they hear it.
But the good news is that when they are ready, you’ll be there for them. You stayed consistent, front of mind, ready and willing to be a resource when they needed you.
Once you’ve been hammering home your own authentic, original message for a few months, its time for the tricky part. It’s time to listen to the feedback of your customers with open ears and an open mind. You’ll get some terrible advice. You’ll find people who love you and people who don’t. Somewhere in the middle are the great ideas on how to improve your business, your marketing, and your products. Take the feedback and improve what needs to be improved. Shift where you need to shift. Don’t be afraid to let go and simplify or expand.
Before you know it, you’ll be the business that the newbies are copying. You’ll be the inspiration, the model, the original.
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