By Jared Weitz, founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.
Entrepreneurs often emphasize the importance of building a business that is original and unique. Aspiring business leaders are told to stand apart from their competitors and disrupt their industries. This suggests that in order for a new business to be truly successful, virtually every element of it must deviate from industry standards.
While individuality is undeniably crucial for success, it doesn't mean industry standards should be ignored completely. I believe that many new entrepreneurs get so caught up in trying to be different that they neglect the risks that come with refusing to mimic their competitors in any sense. As the founder and CEO of a business financing company, I have learned that an integral trait of a thriving young business is the perfect blend between adaptation and innovation.
Rather than leaving all semblances of tradition behind, new business leaders should ensure they are incorporating certain values that have consistently proven to be essential for stability and growth. Here are a couple of business elements that should adhere to industry standards, followed by one that leaves plenty of room for innovation:
1. Offer competitive salaries and benefits.
Every day, you read about another startup that suddenly went from a tiny operation to a massive, multimillion-dollar triumph. The company's future seemed bleak beforehand, but employees stuck with it because they were so captivated by the business leader's vision and work ethic.
Stories like this give the impression that vision and work ethic are all a new business needs to maintain loyal team members. While the big, traditional companies are offering competitive salaries and benefits, startups are just too busy to consider whether or not employees are being treated correctly. Who needs a retirement plan when you can come to work in casual clothing and work from home if necessary?
This rebellious perspective might have been fun for a brief period, but we have since realized that not every hard-working entrepreneur with a brilliant idea is destined for success. Employees won't stay loyal to someone who doesn't offer competitive salaries and benefits. So, take the time to establish benefits packages similar to your larger competitors. My team members have repeatedly found that young businesses that get this process over with as early as possible have less trouble with recruitment.
2. Focus on practical marketing tactics.
Marketing is frequently advertised as an adventurous experiment that makes companies look less "boring" than their competitors. Developing ideas for new strategies can be exciting, but effective strategies usually aren't as bold or original as you might think. In most cases, smart companies simply examine what their competitors are doing and which platforms are gaining traction for their target audience. They tell a story, just like everyone else. The same concept can be applied to creating a new website: The content isn't a mirror image of a similar company but it follows the same general formula.
Financing marketing campaigns and digital makeovers are common projects at my company. In the eyes of my most experienced team members, such investments become a lot less risky when the borrower intends to do what makes sense for the industry, rather than ignoring the proven success of his or her competitors.
3. Save innovation for where it is needed most.
In my opinion, young businesses that want to be different should reserve this desire for elements like customer service, operations and the quality of their products or services. In many industries, the standards for all three elements are in need of serious improvement, especially in regards to the first two examples. The big players tend to have poor customer service and slower turnaround times.
New businesses can therefore stand out by incorporating tools and systems that challenge industry standards without jeopardizing their own survival. Unlike the elements mentioned in the previous sections, taking a different, more innovative approach toward customer service and operations is much less likely to backfire. The only real risk is whether or not you can maintain your strongest attributes as the business grows.
My company is living proof of the value of being innovative in these areas. While certain aspects of our business model and products may be somewhat conventional, we put extra effort into filling voids that were just too extreme to be ignored. Being different is almost a necessity when you can't get much worse than the industry standard.
Be yourself, but also be realistic.
New entrepreneurs have a tendency to be fairly unrealistic -- they're only human, after all. While opportunities to be unique will likely present themselves, recognizing what has worked for your predecessors is probably a much safer decision for now.
Jared Weitz is the founder & CEO of United Capital Source Inc.