Jessica Wicks

Measure What Matters


If you’ve set SMART goals – let’s say annual revenue, but it could be anything from growing your email list to training for a marathon – you’re probably already checking in from time to time to see if you are on track. The ‘M’ in SMART stands for measurable, after all.

But what types of metrics actually need to be measured? We could spend all day processing data and still not have results to show for it. In the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney and Sean Covey explain that there are actually two distinct types of measurements you need to focus on to execute your plan and achieve your goals.

Measure what you’ve accomplished.

Throughout the year when you take a look at your current sales it feels like time for celebration if you’re meeting your targets. If you’re not, it feels like the mountain you’re climbing just got taller as you’ll now have to achieve more to get back on target.

These types of measurements – in this case current revenue – give you a benchmark to see where you are in achieving your goals. They are called lag measures and are incredibly important for checking in to see if you’re on track.

The problem with lag measures is that they are reported after a result is achieved (or not), when it is too late to make a change which will actually get the numbers you want to see on those reports.

Measure what you can control.

Lead measures, on the other hand, are more malleable and help you to predict a result. For instance, if you have a product or service you’re selling and you want to increase your revenue, you’re probably going to need more customers.

The number of customers you have is a lag measure – it happens after the fact. While you can’t directly control whether someone buys from you, you can control how many pitches and sales calls you send out and what rate of them are accepted.

If you pitch 100 clients and land 5, then you have a 5% conversion rate – which means to get 50 new clients you know you would have to make 1000 sales calls. You have control over how many pitches you send out in a given week to achieve the results you desire.

Measure often.

Lag measures are important and should be recorded at regular intervals – usually monthly or quarterly. They can help you see if you’ve been taking the right overall actions.

Lead measures need a little more attention, as you may need to change course based on the information you’re getting back. Daily or weekly is a good rule of thumb. Your conversion rate may decrease after you’ve exhausted the list of people you know were more likely to buy from you OR you may start getting a higher conversion rate based on the interest you’ve generated with your previous work. Knowing in real-time what is happening will allow you to course correct on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.

Don’t get stuck in the lag measure cycle.

Measuring our results after the fact is generally easier, so we are more likely to actually do it. After all, the whole reason you are taking action is to achieve the goals you’ve set – and those goals are exciting.

Fitness is a great example of where you can get caught up in measuring the wrong thing. If you’re deciding whether or not you’re taking the right action based on your weight or how much you can lift, you’re focusing on the lag measure – the result you want in the end. What you need to measure are the things that go into achieving that result – minutes run, calories eaten, reps with your weights.

Set your intention.

Think about your current goal – what are two or three actions you can control that will help you achieve it? Your measurement system doesn’t need to be fancy. Just tracking your effort and results for a couple key actions will change the way you see your results.

The three customer types you need to know


Instead of trying to sell to EVERYONE, think about simplifying your marketing messages to these three customer types. We’re not talking target markets, segmentation, or buyer personas. We’re talking broad strokes.

Customers who already buy from you.

That’s right, you need to keep on communicating and marketing to your existing customers. You may have heard the phrase “It’s easier to keep a customer than to get a new one.” Well, it’s not only easier, it’s cheaper too.

Here’s the thing: your competition is constantly trying to steal your market share away from you. They may be directly targeting your customers, or they might be more broadly targeting customer profiles that happen to include them. The truth is, your customers need help making the decision to keep buying from you. They need to feel connected and like your product or service is a better value for them.

Depending on what you sell, your existing clients may return to purchase from you regularly or they may just make one-time buys. What can you do to leverage that relationship and get them to buy additional products or services that they need?

Customers who buy a similar product or service from your competitors.

Now that you have a firm grasp on your own customers, it’s time to start thinking about getting some to switch from a competitor.

Here’s why: you know they want something you’re selling, and that they are already willing to pay for it.

Getting customers to switch can be tricky. You have to position your own product or service to be superior enough that they are willing to go through any pain or hassle involved in switching.

This means you have to understand what they currently believe about your business and your competitor. You need to understand and address any reservations they may have.

Potential customers who aren’t buying yet.

These are the people who have a pain that you can solve but haven’t taken the leap to buying from you yet. Generally, we call them leads. It’s important to remember that this is a specific group of people. We’re still not marketing to EVERYONE.

There is a specific process that people go through in making a purchase decision, so you may need to develop messages for people throughout this process:

  1. Needs recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluations of alternatives
  4. Purchasing
  5. Post-purchase behaviours

Identify what you can do to help them through each of the stages.

Apply your customer avatars and target market segmentations to the three customer types.

If you’ve already defined your customers through creating an ideal customer profile or segmenting with demographics, you can sort those groups into one of the three customer types to decide what you need to say to those customers.

Three questions every marketing plan must answer


Marketing plans can be complex. Like, really, really complex. Depending on the number of products or services you’re selling, the size of your market, the strength of your competitors, and the amount of time and money you have to spend, a detailed plan could single-handedly destroy an entire forest.

It can also provide you with a lot of insights to base your strategy on.

Luckily, we can simplify the entire process by asking just three questions. You can build the answers out as much as you want, but make sure you have answered all three to have the essence of your plan and a quick reference anytime you’re evaluating a marketing opportunity on the fly.

Where are you now?

It’s important for any plan to acknowledge what is currently happening in your business. Are your sales just starting out? Growing? Stagnant? Declining? Why do you think that’s happening?

If you offer multiple products or services, you might want to note what ones are your top sellers.

What is your biggest challenge right now? What’s happening in your industry that you’re aware of? Are there any opportunities you see, or is there a threat looming?

You should also make a note of who your current customers and competitors are, and any noteworthy trends that are affecting them.

Where do you want to be?

It’s hard to build an effective plan without a goal. If its SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), all the better.

You can base your goal around what you want to see change in your business. This might be more sales, more customers, or getting customers to spend more per transaction. You might be moving into a new market (either a new audience or a new product/service) or you might be focused on growing your online community through social media or email lists.

Not only can your goals be about moving toward something, they can also be about moving away from something. Looking at your biggest challenge, what is your resolution to that problem?

How do you plan to get there?

You have a point A and a point B. Now you need to find a way to connect them. What steps do you need to take? What has to happen before the changes occur?

How will you get in front of your audience, and what will you say to get them to make up their mind? What marketing channels do you own (website, storefront, signage, social media), and which ones will you need to pay for or earn (advertisements, events, media coverage)?


As I said, you could spend a lot of time getting into the details. A well thought out marketing plan that takes into account your limited resources and abilities is important to saving time and money, plus seeing real results when marketing your business. Even so, you should be able to share the core concepts of your plan with your team or outsourced help in about 30 seconds using the questions outlined above.

At its core, every marketing plan should boil down to the three essential questions: Where are you now, where are you going, and how do you plan to get there?

How to plan your marketing campaigns for the new year


One of the most important things you can do to prepare your business for a new year is to plan your promotional calendar. When it comes to marketing, there are ongoing activities and short-term activities. Today, we’re focusing on the short-term promotions.

What are you selling?

The first thing to decide when building out your promotional strategy is what it is you want to sell. This might be individual products and services, or it might be larger groups of what your business sells. Of course, we’re not going to promote every single item or service you offer, but you should have a good idea of what your top sellers are. What items would you like to sell more of? Are planning to introduce a new product or service this year?

What problems do you solve?

What are the problems that your products and services solve? When are your customers facing them or noticing them the most? Some problems may be concrete like needing winter tires, while others may be psychological like providing comfort or the feeling of safety.

This pretty much falls under the ‘who are you selling to’ category. Remember that you likely have multiple customer segments with different needs and expectations.

Are there any seasonal tie-ins?

If your business is naturally seasonal, this part might seem obvious but I challenge you to think outside the box. A ski resort, for example, often sells early bird passes in the early summer even though they operate in the winter.

Your promotion may tie-in to one of the four seasons. Official holidays, such as Christmas, Labour Day, etc., are another great tie-in option. Restaurants campaign for holidays such as Valentine’s day or Mother’s day every year.

Annual events such as back-to-school, tax season. spring cleaning, ect., are also times when people are looking to solve a problem. List out any special dates you can think of, then try to decide if there are any logical connections between what you sell and what your customers are doing at those times of the year.

If you have products or services that don’t tie-in to any events, you may choose to create your own annual sale. You can also schedule the item in to be promoted during a blank space in your campaign calendar.

How big is the decision being made?

The length of each of your promotions will depend on how much time your customer needs to make a decision. Is your customer is aware of their problem and looking for a solution? If so, you probably just need to give them enough time to compare your offer to others. If you are informing your customers of a new problem, they will need more time to decide whether or not they need your solution.

Some of your campaigns may be a few days or a week, while others may be a month or longer.

How will you create urgency?

If people know they can buy something from you at any time, they will be more likely to put it off. Creating urgency is one of the ways that you can influence your customers to buy now. Generally, it is created by some type of scarcity.

Scarcity can come in the form of a limited time offer or a limited number of items available. Not all promotions will require this sort of incentive, and you have to be careful of damaging your brand with too many discounts, but it is an effective way to build urgency.

Pulling it all together

With the information from the questions above, you should be able to pull together a simple promotional calendar for 2017. You should know what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to and why they’re buying it, when you’re promoting it, how long you are promoting it for, and if/how you will be creating a sense of urgency.

Remember that you don’t want to overlap any of your campaigns or exhaust your audience by always selling to them. Narrow your campaign calendar down to the number of promotions that you can put the time and resources into promoting and advertising.

Using your promotional calendar

Don’t let your promotional calendar sit around collecting dust on your computer hard drive. Add the campaigns to your computer calendar and print them out in a physical calendar. Be sure to schedule some prep time to create content or book any advertisements.

You can build out the rest of your content strategy, social media strategy and newsletter strategy around your planned promotional campaigns. Use the content you create for those channels to prep your audience and support your sales activities.

Your up-front planning for the promotional calendar sets the stage for the rest of your marketing efforts next year. Knowing what you’re going to sell and when will put you ahead of most small businesses in the marketing department.

Starting small is the only option


List building is a widely talked about topic in the online marketing world. Amidst conversations about the six-digit lists that the digital giants have, us mere mortals can’t help but feel ashamed of our small (or non-existent) lists.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s something that you and I have in common, and I hope it will help you move past any list building shame that’s holding you back from sharing your knowledge with the world.

Are you ready?

When I started my facebook page, I had zero likes.

When I created my website, I had zero visitors.

When I first began offering services, I had zero clients.

When I launched my email newsletter, I had zero subscribers.

Want to know something else? I started out the exact same way that everyone else did.

Everyone starts at zero.

You’re probably thinking: hello, captain obvious.

Rationally, we already know that everyone starts at zero. Unless you are the child of a celebrity, you’re probably starting with a pretty small list. Sure, your mother or best friend might subscribe right away, but in terms of people you actually want to build your community around? Zero. Zip. Zilch.

Yet emotionally, starting at zero makes you feel vulnerable – especially in the online space where the number of likes, followers, and comments you have is visible to the world.

One thing you have to remember to move past the insecurities is that unless you put yourself out there, that feeling is never going to change.

When I realized that, I finally took the plunge and hit publish on my Facebook page. I began sharing my blog posts on websites other than my own and interacting in online groups and communities, helping any way I could.

See, I had been feeling ashamed for years. Here I am, someone who has been working within the marketing world for seven years, and my list size is nearly non-existent. Who am I to tell anyone how to grow their community when I have just 17 Facebook page likes? My only newsletter subscriber? Myself. Trust me, it’s hard to put time and energy into creating content that no one will ever read.

I am qualified, of course. I’ve lead teams to build multiple four- and five-figure communities for my clients. I have a degree and graduate certificate. Maybe more importantly, I am passionate about continually learning. I just never wanted to publicize my teensy tiny numbers until they grew, but they couldn’t grow until I took the leap and put myself out there.

The one thing that you and I have in common with the biggest names on the internet is that we all start small.

List size isn’t everything.

OK, truth is, the size of your list does matter. It’s just not all that matters. The type of people on your list and how you interact with them count for a whole lot more.

When I was just getting started as a freelancer (in the early days of businesses using social media), I helped a client build a large online following. The numbers were good and the sales weren’t bad either. You know what was terrible? Community engagement. Customer loyalty. Sure we had built up a big list of people to sell to, but they weren’t sharing us with their friends or commenting on posts. You can bet that they would still shop around whenever they needed a product that we were selling.

As a result, there was no momentum to the list growth. If the client wanted to keep growing, they needed to keep paying more and more. Sounds great for me as the marketer, right? But the truth is, my team was bored and frustrated. I had done what I was hired to do, but knowing what I do now I wish I could go back and tackle that project differently.

I’ll take slow and steady growth over a flash in the pan any day.

When you’re focused on list building alone, you miss the importance of finding the right people and converting them into evangelists. What does that mean exactly? It means I’d rather have a small community of people who actually care about the content I’m putting out (and that I can learn from in return) than a bloated list of people who send my emails straight to the trash or hit unfollow when they see my posts on Facebook.

Does this mean you shouldn’t bother trying to grow your tribe? Heck no. Marketing is a numbers game, and part of being able to grow your business (and help people solve their problems) is having more people know, like and trust you. More people who love what you do translates into more referrals, higher conversions, and better sales.

The trick is to actually connect with your followers in some way.

A small list is an opportunity.

THIS is your chance. A small list gives you the opportunity to really get to know each person in your community – what problems they face, where they look for solutions – as they get to know you. Once it grows, it’s hard to get that same level of intimacy and provide the same attention.

You know what happens when you nurture those first few people? They continue to show up, and they help you nurture the newcomers as your tribe grows.

Join my list.

I’m not desperate to grow my list. In fact, I don’t even want you to join me if you care more about making money than running a rewarding, sustainable business.

If, however, you are a small- to mid-sized business owner who is looking to improve your marketing by actually rolling up your sleeves and doing some work – please consider joining me in one of the following ways:


Networking, Marketing and Sales… Oh My!


I, too, have been afraid of selling. To be vulnerable. To make the other person awkwardly have to say ‘no’.

You need to have your mindset in the right place to go out there and sell your products or services. I know a lot of us get a little weird when it comes to asking people to open their wallets. Yet how you feel about asking your customers for money comes across in every interaction you have with them. Online and off, sales-driven or not.

The shift you need to make in your business is switching your mindset from taking to giving.

Sounds simple, right?

Now, there are definitely “sleazy sales people” out there who will do or say anything to make a buck; we, as their victims, have learned that selling is an aggressive and awkward invasion of someone’s space. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not any of us. It’s like I always tell my son when we’re going over safety rules or he hears something scary on the news: most people in the world are genuinely good.

We want to be good people. Want to be loved. To do the right thing. We all make mistakes, too. But the point is, most of us don’t want our loved ones, our customers, or even ourselves to identify us with “the sleazy sales person”.

You don’t have to be seen that way. Every single one of us has a product or service to offer that someone needs. They might need it a little or they might need it desperately, but if you don’t let them know that you have a solution to their problem, you can’t help them.

Now, I know some of you are nodding along because you can see exactly how you help people, but some of you are thinking ‘my business doesn’t solve problems’. To you I say: you need to rephrase your definition of the word problem. Often, people aren’t even aware of a problem they have until they see a solution. You might be selling someone a product that makes their house feel more like a home, or writing a book that gives your reader a couple hours to escape into another world. People need all of these things.

Problems aren’t always obvious.

If you think about how non-profits raise money, it logically makes no sense for a person to donate. Think about it for a minute. If you’re a fundraiser for a non-profit, you need to be able to go up to someone and ask them to give you money when they will receive nothing in return. They know that part of the money they give you will go to the operation of the charity (including your salary), and the rest of the money is going to help someone they have never met. To solve someone else’s problem.

Asking someone for money and offering nothing in return is considered begging in most circumstances.

But any good fundraiser knows it’s not just someone else’s problem that the donation is solving. Some people – not all, but some – will give you the money. They do this because it solves a problem they have themselves. Maybe they’re feeling guilty that they have more than they need and that they just spent $5 on a latte when people around the world are going hungry. Or they could get a boost to their ego when they tell their friends they’ve supported your cause. They might wish they could quit their job and spend their lives doing charity work (or at least volunteer after work), and feel bad that they haven’t. Maybe they believe that the more they give, the more they will receive. Heck, they might just need a tax credit.

Selling isn’t shameless.

Actually, who cares if people think it’s shameless?

Amanda Palmer wrote a book about giving people the opportunity to help. She spent years as a street busker and crowdfunded an album after leaving her music label. This quote may be my favourite from the book:

[blockquote type=”type-1″ align=”align-left” sc_id=”sc1473547484210″]”People were calling me shameless, but I decided to take that as an unintended complement. Wasn’t shame bad? Like fear? Nobody uses fearless as an insult.” – Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking[/blockquote]

I will happily offer to help people without shame – anytime, any day.

Even I need a reminder now and then that it is OK to promote myself.

I’m an introvert, and with that comes some amazing benefits I wouldn’t trade for the world. Selling isn’t one of them. My particular brand of introversion also comes with an irrational fear of big crowds, talking to strangers and being the centre of attention. I like to think I hide it well, but it’s there.

Just a couple months ago, I attended a business networking event where I didn’t know a soul. I had moved across the country and spent months in a self-inflicted social hibernation. Now, being my typical wallflower self, I nearly didn’t go. I had been finding an excuse to skip these events for months, despite putting them on my calendar.

After locating the venue – a little bar at the base of an office building – I drove around the block a couple of times to calm my nerves. Finally parking the car about two blocks away, I shakily walked up to the pub. People were packed into the tiny room, overflowing into crowds outside the door. I pushed my way through the groups at the entrance. Taking one look at the crowded room, and made a beeline for the washroom. I locked the door, looked at myself in the mirror, and said out loud “Jessica, you are not here to ask anything from anyone. You’re simply here to learn about the problems people are having and let them know you if you can help.”

If you share what problem you solve with enough people, clearly and enough times, they’ll come to you when they need help. That’s the core of what marketing is.

I made a handful of connections that night – most that never responded to my follow-up emails – and someone I had met there ended up giving me a great referral about a week later.

There are worse things in the world than having someone say ‘no, thank you’.

Imagine that non-profit never told anyone about the work they were doing. That they never shared the stories of the people they were helping, never gave you the opportunity to solve your own problems by giving. How sad would it be if they were so scared of people saying no that they never put themselves out there and gave them a chance to say yes?

Next time you’re writing your sales copy, marketing your services, or attending a networking event in a crowded pub, remember your reason for selling: to give people to opportunity for you to solve a problem for them.

When you sell from a place of integrity, you can be fearless. You can be shameless and feel good about it.

‘Sell’ is not a four letter word…. not a dirty one, anyway.


Who will pay for your services?


You have an idea for an amaaaaazing service, and you have figured out your secret sauce. Now you need to know who would be interested in it and if there are enough people able to pay to make your new service profitable. You’ve gotta figure out EXACTLY who your dream clients are – the ones who want what you got and are willing to pay for it.

Sometimes you will have started with an audience in mind, and created a service that they asked for. That’s seriously great! You’re still going to want to think deeper about what motivates them to buy, and to think about secondary audiences that might be interested in it too. But sometimes, you have an idea and you’re just not sure who needs it. So this is where you start – you think about what problem your new service will solve. The problem might actually be seemingly unrelated from your service on the surface, but your service might be a solution that helps them solve it.

Let’s take a window cleaning business for example. On the surface, a window cleaner solves the problem of cleaning a dirty window. But we need to go a lot deeper than that. Window cleaners can easily narrow down their target market by deciding if they want to work for businesses (commercial window cleaning service) or if they want to work on homes (residential window cleaning service), and each market has a different set of problems they are looking to solve aside from dirty windows.

For a commercial window service, your client may fit into any of the categories below:

Customer-facing businesses

Businesses may need their windows professionally cleaned so that their store or office looks cared for. They don’t want to deter potential clients or customers from walking in their doors. They will likely need your service on a regular schedule, so you gain some consistency in your income. However, if you target retail clients they may be mostly smaller jobs (e.g. one storefront window) so you would need a large number of clients to make money. They may have dirty windows, but their real problem is getting more bodies through the door to sell their stuff.

High-traffic locations

They are located in higher-traffic public locations, which means they have more dirt, grime, and fingerprints to deal with than a typical home. Although their windows are within reach (thus the fingerprints), they just don’t have the time to keep up with it and might look to hire you as part of a regular cleaning service. If this is the work you are looking for, you may be contacting business owners directly or you might be better off networking with existing janitorial services to team up as a subcontractor. Their pain point is that they constantly have disgustingly dirty windows and no time to keep up with them.

Owner peace of mind

Psychologically, the owner may just like their windows to be spotless because it makes them feel like a boss. They take great pride in their business and are willing to pay for exceptional service. You might look for businesses with a great reputation, impeccable landscaping, and high-end furnishings. With these clients, you would need to present yourself professionally and explain why your window-cleaning technique is superior to your competition and how your professionalism will mean they get the type of service they are looking for. For these businesses, the owner needs to feel in control over the many aspects of their business to consider themselves successful.

Lack of tools and skills

The building may be much larger than a house or the windows more difficult to reach, so it may be a lack of tools and skill that causes them to hire a service provider. In this case, you may be cleaning windows, but you are also making it so that they don’t have to go out and buy specialized equipment or figure out how to operate it. Really, you’re helping these businesses solve a logistical problem – how do I get up there safely, how much time will it take, and how much will it cost?

Insurance issues

There may be insurance issues with trying to DIY their windows or having their staff clean them. Their windows need to be cleaned and they theoretically could have someone on staff do it, but your service is actually saving them a bundle on hiring and insuring someone for the task of cleaning windows. In this case, it’s actually a regulatory problem you are helping them with.

Cost effectiveness

It may simply be cheaper to pay for the service than to lose the hours of productivity for their staff. It’s not just the hourly rate they may pay their staff to get the job done they are thinking about, but the money that those workers could be making the business if they were doing what they were hired for. In this case, your service is simply cheaper than the lost revenue from having their skilled staff perform the task.

Commercial-residential situations

The business you serve may be a retirement care home or rental development who are looking to avoid complaints from their tenants, and who need to be consistently clean to attract new residents. In this case, having clean windows may be directly related to sales unlike with retail where it is a step in the sales process.

Your ideal clients may have a combination of a few of the problems you’ve come up with. Now that you have a good idea of the problems your service could help to solve, it’s time to draw some lines about the types of clients you don’t want to work with.

For example, you may not have the skills or the tools to handle high rise buildings, so write down that you only want to work on buildings that are three stories or less. And with those commercial-residential buildings, you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of small-talk if you are doing interior windows, so you need to decide if that is something you are OK with and how to charge so that extra time is covered in your price. Other considerations may be the time of day that you’re expected to work, how much set-up and take-down is involved, or the amount of travel you’re willing to consider.

For a residential window service, your potential customers will have a different set of needs or problems they are looking to solve:

Little spare time

If a homeowner has very little spare time after work and other commitments, they don’t want to spend their entire weekend washing their windows when they can hire a professional to do it in a matter of hours. In this case, you’re giving the homeowner back their leisure time.

Home value

If someone is selling or renting their home, clean windows will help play into the buyer’s decision to purchase and even the price they are willing to pay without them realizing it’s your sparkling windows that are doing the trick. In this case, you might want to get to know some local realtors and property managers to help them close the deal faster.

Restricted view

If someone has purchased a home with a view, they did so for a reason and likely paid a little extra for that view of the lake or picturesque landscaping in the backyard. Their problem is that they now can’t see as clearly something they already paid for, so they need someone to do the upkeep for them.

Keeping up with the Jones’

If most of the houses on Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s block have professionally cleaned windows, the Smith’s may feel the need to have their windows cleaned too. Don’t discount the need for people to feel accepted in their social circle.

Again, actually writing down what you will and will not deal with for your customers is key to creating a profile for your ideal clients.

These are all just examples of the types of problems a window cleaning service might help their clients solve. How many problems can you come up with for your service? What types of problems are they, and how much of an impact do they have on the customer?

Something to think long and hard about – is the reason someone is buying your service an investment? In other words, will they get something valuable (money/time/memories) back from hiring you? Can you actually write down on paper the steps that lead to that person getting a return on their investment (e.g. customers walks up to a restaurant, see dirty windows, assume kitchen is also dirty and walk away) so that you are able to see very clearly how much of a return the client is getting?

The biggest trick to defining your target market is looking for people who have a problem and are willing to pay someone to solve it. At this point, the problems that you have come up with are hypothetical. Next, you need to do some research on whether there are enough clients with these problems for you to reach. Then you have to figure out how they are currently solving that problem.

What’s your secret sauce?


It can be SO TOUGH to identify what makes your business different from your competitors. Coming up with a unique value proposition (UVP) can be challenging because it’s scary to draw the line in the sand and say “this is what we do different”. After all, doing something different MIGHT turn off some potential clients.

Not doing anything ‘different’ is worse.

When you try to compete against market leaders (read: the people or businesses everyone thinks of first) but have nothing to distinguish yourself from them, you end up making yourself ‘different’ in less desirable ways. You compete by offering lower prices or by offering more and more low-quality add-on services. Neither of these options are sustainable for the long-term success of your business. If you’ve thought about either of these – and we all have at least fleetingly at some point – you need a secret weapon to combat the ‘people aren’t buying’ and ‘I’m not good enough’ blues. You need a UVP.

Now, coming up with the almighty unique value prop’ might sound tedious, or difficult, or confusing. It’s REALLY not all that bad because it’s all about figuring out what makes you a special snowflake.

Your unique value proposition (UVP) is your ‘secret sauce’. 

If you own a burger chain and are competing against the other burger chains in the area, there needs to be a reason why *some* people choose you over the other guys. You’re going to need to know what makes the other guy special, too. McDonald’s has an actual ‘special sauce’. Burger King flame broils their patties. A&W uses hormone-free meat. Harvey’s tops your burger in front of you.

You could open multiple locations – more than anyone else – and make accessibility your game. You might offer more topping choices than anyone else, or use local organic produce for your toppings. Perhaps it’s gluten-free buns. Maybe it’s not the burger, but the fact that you offer two side dishes to make that fast-food burger feel more like a real meal (side note: I’ve been saying someone needs to do this for years).

The most important thing to consider when defining your secret sauce is to make it authentic to who you are, how you want to run your business, and why you do the things you do. You need to be able to stand behind it and proclaim to the world why your way works better – at least for the people you want to work with.

Some questions that will help you figure out your secret sauce:


Take a few minutes to think about why you are running your specific business. The reason ISN’T because you want to make money because you could do that in a lot of different, and possibly easier, ways. So what made you choose this? What is it that drew you to what you do? Was there an opportunity you spotted that needed to be filled? Was there a problem you thought you could solve? If you are running a business that is in the same field you studied in college, what drew you to that field in the first place?


What are you passionate about, both in and out of work? Do you make a point to support small businesses when you shop? Do you volunteer for a community group? Are you a health fanatic? Are your kiddos your life? Are you a party animal? If you had to cut everything but one service from your business, what would it be? What is one thing that you would happily do over and over and over again?


Who are your competitors and what makes them different from each other? Are they a national company or a small local business? Do they work with a lot of clients or just a few? Do they have a process that you can identify? Do they sell packages or use hourly rates? What is considered normal in your industry, and how can/do you do it differently?


What about your previous experiences make you uniquely qualified to do what you do? This doesn’t have to be a master’s degree or equivalent. Maybe you volunteered a lot when you were younger, and so you are well suited to working with charities. You might be great at handling emergency situations with calm focus. You might be great with people, listening and helping them to solve their problems. Or you could be a long-term planner, able to execute the long game to meet giant goals. Is there something that you do that your clients get excited about or thank you for?

Are you getting a little bit clearer about what makes you so incredibly special?

Your marketing strategy needs to start at the top and has to be a part of how you do business every day. Your corporate story is the what, who, where, when, why and how – but if you do everything the same as the other guy, it’s not going to be all that exciting of a story. We cling to ‘industry standards’ when we are feeling insecure or under-confident in what we do. I’m giving you the permission to dream about what your business might be like if you didn’t have to copy everyone else. What do you want to do? Who are the dream clients you want to do it for? Finding your ‘secret sauce’ will help you to set the foundation for the rest of your marketing efforts.

Next, you’ll need to figure out if people really need or want your sauce-omeness. Defining your unique value proposition (ie. secret sauce) and your target market (ie. dream clients) are two sides of the same coin and need to work in tandem, so don’t go telling the world what makes you different until you’ve read my next blog post.

By Invitation Only


There’s something about the hard-to-get that drives people crazy. It’s probably the fact that everything is so freely available these days in the so-called information economy.

Google has been utilizing “by invite only” for over a decade. I remember the first classmate I knew who had a Gmail account. At that time, I’d never heard of Gmail – I was on Hotmail which was freely accessible to everyone. In order to get my Gmail account, I had to apply. They did it again with Google+, where you could only join if invited by a current member.

So why all the red tape? There are two reasons that this method of releasing something is so effective. The first is the most obvious: people want what they can’t have. Excitement and buzz build when you’re forced to wait.

The second reason is a little vague but just as important. By relying on an ‘invitation’ to a product or service, the company is creating a community who in all likeliness already knows each other and interact with each other. When people can share with other people they know, they are more likely to use the service.

Personally, only a few of my close friends and family members have access to FaceTime, so I very rarely use the service although I own an assortment of Apple products. Instead, I rely on Skype for most of my video calling because when I joined Skype, I already knew many people on it.

I’m currently on a waiting list for Pinterest and just sent out a request on all of my social networks for an invite. Why? Because I can’t stand to wait. And in doing so, I’ve advertised the existence of the social network to hundreds of people who may not have heard of it yet.

Exclusive. Invite only. Secret. Private. Waiting list.

Just because these are the days when you can get so much for free doesn’t mean you have to give it away freely.