Not long ago, having a storefront location was good enough for a small business to survive, but that is clearly no longer the case in today's society. Bottom-line fact is that if you do not have a website and, for certain companies, a mobile app, you are well behind the 8-ball.

The saying "location, location, location" has shifted from being about physical presence to being about where your business falls on search engine results and on mobile app rankings. I speak from experience as the owner of a law firm that operates out of my home, but is able to generate consistent business through online awareness, with few clients actually "coming through my door" in order to obtain my firm's services.

Today, service based companies seem to be retained lesser so because of discounts and store signage, and instead due to the way that they are able to effectively and succinctly differentiate themselves from competition and oftentimes become best of class within their given niche, promoting same through online efforts. The new buzzword is "relevant" and entrepreneurs have embraced these new ways of doing business.

Take a look at differentiating factors through mobile app creation.

So, how do you stay relevant? Take a look at your smartphone and check out the apps you have downloaded. There's a sea of choices under each and every category. For example, you likely have news, sports and weather apps at your fingertips. Each of them had something unique about them that caught your attention and interested you enough to add them to your home screen.

That's the innovation part of the equation. Peruse the top charts on the App Store for sports and you'll see common brand names like ESPN, NBA and MLB, but at #2 is something called GameChanger Baseball Softball by GameChanger Media, Inc., which is a free scorekeeping tool with advanced statistics, live updates and team management solutions. That it ranks above the multi-billion businesses of NBA and MLB is remarkable.

Alternatively, take a look at weather apps. There are far too many in the ecosystem, including one pre-installed on your phone, but it is yet another category that invites innovation. Something like the WeatherBug app provides alerts, 16 different map layers and coverage that extends beyond North America. It would be easy to just stick with using the pre-installed app, but its lack of updates allows for others to enter the fold and earn a market share.

The lesson for entrepreneurs in service-based businesses is to focus in on innovation.

So what exactly can small business owners use as the take away from apps like GameChanger Baseball Softball and WeatherBug? Be innovative, think outside of the box and give customers something unique. However, that 'special something' must be of value to the user. 

Even if you don't really need to post a newspaper quality game recap of your child's baseball match-up or know the air quality measurement where you live, you now have access to it, and in today's competitive marketplace, you have to stand out.

Importantly, resist the temptation to go overboard.

Where WeatherBug went with its product was to expand on the overall service the pre-installed phone app provides - weather conditions. Similarly an app like GameChanger Baseball Softball sticks in its lane of providing an interface for parents and fans of grassroots baseball. They have not ventured beyond that to offer information like scores for professional baseball games. In other words, the special features that have set them apart from all other apps are still relevant to their main focus. Entrepreneurs can gain great insight from this simple and useful concept.

Examine what your business focus is and try to feature different aspects of it without mixing non-related elements. One way to keep focus is to remember not to "muddy the brand."

Published on: Apr 23, 2018