5 ways to set your small business apart from the competition

At my company, GreenPal, we’re always looking for new and different ways to build stronger connections with our customers and stand out from our business competition.

It has something to do with our unique business model. You see, we’re matchmakers between local lawn care professionals and homeowners.

We started as a local company founded on making it easy for landscapers to find new customers and helping homeowners get reliable lawn care in Nashville TN. Now we’ve expanded into several states. With that growth, we wanted to maintain our focus on showing customers how much we appreciate them.

We’ve always asked new customers if they have pets so we could make the lawn service aware of animals on the property. And one day while brainstorming ideas, it struck us that a deep love of their pets is one thing many of our customers had in common. To move on this idea required only one more simple step: asking the customer for the names of their pets.

Now when a new customer who owns a pet signs up, we mail a dog bone or some catnip in a small package addressed to the pet by name.

Turns out that people are thrilled when their cat or dog gets their own mail. We began seeing customers posting the pictures of pets with their package on social media. Some were even having Rover or Fluffy “write” us thank-you notes. We knew we had a hit.

This experience taught us five key lessons valuable to any small business.

1. Think beyond the ordinary

For a time, we sent T-shirts to welcome new customers. They appreciated it and it helped get our name out there. Still, at the end of the day, this is something many businesses do. People rarely tell their friends about a free T-shirt. Considering the cost involved, we didn’t see the return on investment. We continued to brainstorm. And we came up with a better and more cost-effective idea.

2. Look for the key twist

Our added twist was addressing the packages directly to our customers’ pets by name. We could just picture customers telling their pets they got mail and opening the package together. And then sharing the news with friends and neighbors on social media.

3. Start out small and build from there

We didn’t start by mailing out thousands of dog bones and catnip bags right away. We tested it on a few customers first to get a sense of whether it was connecting how we had hoped. We also handled the project ourselves in the early stages to continue tweaking the program and work out any kinks. Once we started getting good feedback, we expanded, established the program further and hired interns to help with the mailings.

4. Measure the results

Even when an idea appears to be successful, it can be hard to measure the results and return on investment. With this program, we saw evidence through Facebook posts, thank-you notes, and positive feedback from lawn care services who told us their customers were thanking them for the gifts. As a control to test our program’s effectiveness we stopped sending the pet packages in a few markets. And we saw retention among pet owners in those markets trailed behind the areas where we kept sending packages. This test indicated we were on the right track.

5. Don’t stop with one idea

There’s a fundamental challenge with our pet outreach program: only about 40% of our customers own pets. That means we need to connect with much of our customer base in different ways. We continue to test ideas that will make us stand out from our business competition. We haven’t nailed down an idea that’s as good as this one yet, but we’ll keep trying until something clicks.

Growing your business doesn’t mean you have to lose your personal touch. By taking the time to test some ideas and execute effectively, you can set yourself apart from your business competition.

Not only will you build your business, but you’ll also build lasting customer relationships that are as loyal as man’s best friend.