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Friday, November 06, 2009

The start-up marketing challenge (4) -- Uniqueness

Soda pop doesn't have much to do with construction, but when it comes to marketing, this video says more than most gurus can suggest. Note the passion which correlates with John Nese's business. Can you bottle this in your own enterprise?

I can't overstate the importance of "Uniqueness" when you are starting up. This is the differentiating, special quality that will cause people to take a risk on an untried business, and where price be secondary.

To explain the concept, I will tell a very (old) story but it may give clues to you about how you can survive the odds against in your start-up.

When I entered the publishing business 21 years ago, in 1988, several people told me: "You are nuts. Nine out of 10 publisher fail." But I also knew I carried some special qualities; a love for journalism, a background growing up in a home where my father had been self-employed, and a critical decision I made two years before launching the business.

This decision: I quite a secure, relatively high paying government job, to sell real estate. Most people I knew thought I was somewhat nuts (including the woman who later became my wife).

"You are not a salesperson," they told me. They were right. But if you want to start your own business, you are going to need to know how to sell.

In any case, I proved to be a modestly competent Realtor -- I could sell perhaps better than two-thirds of the people in the industry, enough to earn a reasonable living. But I knew I would not be happy continuing at this work; I realized this when I put together a deal for a commercial office building with some significance, and discovered I was bored.

Back to journalism: Why not start a publication for local real estate agents? I read the books on starting a business, and drew up a business plan. Trouble is, the numbers didn't add up. The market would be too limited and it would be hard to earn a living doing this work.

Nevertheless, I sensed I could make it work, and with a little creative interpretation of the rules for the Canadian Unemployment Insurance program (I had previously worked in the public relations department for the Employment ministry), set out in business with my first issue.

I decided I would only publish if I could sell enough advertising up front to put the publication out without any cash outlay.

I did -- much to the surprise of everyone around me. My first issue proved to be something of a barn-burner. Chaos ensued in the local real estate industry because no one had ever seen an independent journal covering their community. Indeed, I had passed the critical first tests for a new business. I had found something unique.

Now, in fact, the market really was too small for the idea, but one night at the Rogers Motel in Smiths Falls, Ontario, the next year, I realized that the construction industry might also be able to use a local publication. Uniqueness again, no one had ever published local construction journals -- at least in Ottawa!

I had my business. (Later, I discovered that no one had published a local construction industry independent publication in Washington DC, resulting in a rather dramatic internationalization of my business!)

In sharing these observations, I don't want to mislead you about my business success. I've made many mistakes over the years, and can claim to be one of the smallest multi-national entrepreneurs in the world.

On the other hand, I've remained in business for a little more than two decades, and my wife, I, our 12-year-old son and our dog enjoy a comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Your success in business relates to your uniqueness. Remember that, and you will do well.

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