How can I make my business different from the competition?

Your question

I have decided to set up on my own to offer accountancy services locally so that I can work more flexibly from home. But I’m worried that there are a lot of businesses offering the same service, many of whom are very professional and well established. How can I differentiate myself from what is already out there?

Our answer

Very few businesses launch an entirely new idea, which means that the majority of companies are offering something similar to existing companies. There are however a few ways in which you can make your business different and help you stand out.

Do a SWOT analysis

To evaluate what is different about your business from a marketing perspective it is a good idea to complete a SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You know your business better than anyone else, so you are the ideal person to do this.

Strengths and weaknesses are internal to your business, so will be all about what you are good at or have an advantage over the completion such as your level of qualification or number of years of experience (strength). Likewise a weakness is where your business (or you) needs to develop, for example your sales technique if you are new to self-employment.

Opportunities and threats are about the wider marketplace that your business competes in, so are there any factors that could be good or bad news for your business. For instance, new transport links (opportunity) or greater regulation (threat).

Turn that frown upside down

With a SWOT analysis the challenge is to address your weaknesses so that you remove or negate them as much as possible. Do you need to do some professional training or put plans in place to ‘solve’ some of the weaknesses?

The threats are also to be turned into opportunities if possible. For example, in the SWOT template I’ve created for TLC members based on the question above, the example threat “changing tax regulations” could become an opportunity if you become an expert in those changes and sell your services on that basis.

Not all weaknesses and threats can be turned into strengths and opportunities, but as long as you are aware of them you can plan to minimise the risk they pose to your business.

SWOT your competitors

Now we need to understand how your business can be different from your competitors’ offer.

You have probably included some factors about competitors in your own SWOT analysis, but we now need to compare your business point by point with your competition. Go through the SWOT analysis line by line and note how your competitors fare on each point.

Is there a strength you have that they don’t? Do they have a weakness that you don’t? If they are more established Accountancy firms with swanky offices then your strength could be that you don’t have the same overheads, so consequently your costs could be lower.

What do your competitors sell themselves on? Can you match them or beat them on any of those points?

You should start to be able to identify some areas where you differ from your competitors and these become the points that you can sell your services on and stand out in the market.

Work out your Unique Selling Point

Very few products or services are truly unique, but you can still make your offer different to you competitors’. We still call this a Unique Selling Point (USP) even though it is normally not truly unique! Focus on the points you highlighted from your SWOT analysis and build on them.

Could you have a different pricing structure to your competitors? (A word of warning though – cheaper is not always better as people associate price with quality)

Could you offer a value-added service over and above the basic services? (For instance, giving customers a reminder when their tax return is due would cost you nothing but be of great value to your clients)

Could you focus on a specific niche market that your competitors don’t? (For instance, selling yourself as a specialist accountant for start-up businesses or high-growth SMEs).

Communicate your USP

Now that you know how you differ from the competitors you need to let your customers know.

This could be built into your company name – for example ‘Start-Up Accountancy Ltd’, or used as a strapline for your company name.

All promotional activity that you do should communicate your USP – repetition is good as it will help to create an identity for your business in the crowded accountancy market, and differentiate you from your competitors. Get your main message across and follow it up with the essentials that matter to your customers – your qualifications, your years of experience, your extensive experience with start-ups, for instance. For your accounting firm it could look like this:

Main message: Specialist Accounting for start-ups and high-growth businesses

Essential information to include:

  • Qualified accountant
  • 10 years’ experience with start-ups and growth businesses
  • Named, local contact for every client
  • Fixed monthly fees, so no surprises

Answered by our marketing agony aunt Roisin Kirby from Refresh Marketing. Download her SWOT template to get you started, and let her know of any marketing questions you need help with by joining her on Facebook.