The path to starting a business is always fairly similar. You have expertise, you see a gap in the marketplace and you develop a plan to serve that market. It's what we all do afterward where we diverge.

You have to have confidence to start a business. That's inherent. But you should think about using confidence as your strategy. 

When I was building a small communications firm eight years ago, that's the one thing I wish I had figured out earlier. What does that mean? I'll explain.

Confidence can be used as a differentiator.

Guarantees are more than money-back propositions at the end of an infomercial or in the fine print online. Being able to guarantee your service, when others can't or won't in an industry, can be a competitive advantage. 

This obviously comes with risk. So do a quick calculation. How much more business can you close if you guarantee all of your results? How often will you fail? If the first is more than the second, it's a worthwhile tactic. 

It also depends a fair amount on industry. Some things are easier than others. In finance, some guarantees already exist so you have to up the ante. When Mitchell Wonboy left JP Morgan and Fisher Investments to create his own investment firm, SGIM, he offered something different. He doesn't get paid unless he outperforms market or portfolio benchmarks. 

Risky but it gets your attention. And the strategy is rooted in statistical models so Wonboy knows with a high-degree of certainty that over time it will be a net positive.  

Geico's 15 percent is a differentiator but it's not a guarantee, it's marketing. Every insurance provider says you are going to save, one of them has to be wrong every time. Both are effective but one is easier to establish. Creating a tagline that becomes a marketing tool takes years of consistent branding.

Confidence can start working overnight. 

Do a competitive analysis.

A couple years in to my business I looked at competitors, all much larger, and knew I needed a hook or at least something that would quickly define what I do beyond my work. 

75 percent of the battle is just getting a company or brand to try out your service. We all have confidence in what we do. So make that apparent immediately. 

In my industry no one was offering guarantees. It's not that they weren't capable, it's just that their clients had never asked for it. But you could see a pain point emerging. Paying every month for uneven results can be stressful or hard to justify to a Chief Marketing Officer the next time there is a review. 

So, I created a baseline for every month and said I wouldn't get paid unless I hit it. Now, I'm not dumb. I knew I would hit it 99 percent of the time. But that offer calmed any trepidation about giving a small outfit from the Midwest a chance to prove their model. 

Without it, I was just one of thousands. With it, I was worth taking a shot even if I wasn't proven. 

Create trust before you can earn it. 

Over time you develop a list of clients, references, call upon past work and all of that creates confidence in what you do organically. But when you're starting out you need a jumping off point.

I failed my first two years. It wasn't because I couldn't do good work or that I didn't know how to market things, it's that I always left a prospect with an easy out in the conversation. They could walk away because I wasn't proven and I couldn't prove myself.

It's that Catch-22 we all experience in the beginning whether we are fresh out of college or starting a business.

But the one thing you know best when starting a business is your industry. That's why you started the business in the first place. So use that. You know the landscape. You know how far to the edge you can get before falling off a cliff. Make that your advantage and give people a reason to trust you before you're able to build it. 

Published on: Feb 19, 2019
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