It’s tough out there.

Anyone who has started a small business knows that it’s not easy and the chances of success are small. Gallup gives a conservative estimate that 50% of businesses fail in the first five years, but others say it may be closer to 8 out of 10.

In an article for Forbes, Eric T. Wagner shared some reasons he believes businesses fail, with his top two being that entrepreneurs #1) don’t understand their audience and #2) don’t differentiate themselves.

I want to take this idea a step further and suggest that if don’t nail #1, you will never get #2.

Understanding your audience enables you to differentiate yourself. Forcing yourself to think about your audience helps clarify your purpose and demands that you discover what makes you unique. You need to have a clear and compelling grasp on your story in order to connect with the real people that surf the web.

Here are a few tips to help you go deep with your audience and gain the clarity to differentiate yourself.

DON’T Get the Cart Before the Horse

I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who haven’t done the work to really understand their target audience or their unique point of view. They may have a fantastic product or service, but they immediately want to jump to the promotion stage without considering the important foundations. If you are trying to reach everyone, then your message will be too broad, which means you probably aren’t reaching anyone.

Try this:

  • Imagine a person who is visiting your site for the first time.
  • What are they needing…specifically?
  • How do you plan to resolve their issue in a way that is different than the gal down the street?

If you can’t easily conjure up these images, go back to the drawing board. Take the time. Do the work. You will thank me later.

DON’T Write to Please Yourself

It’s all about them, not you. Let me repeat that: your website and marketing content must be about your audience’s needs and not yours. All marketing boils down to “What’s in it for me”, so you have to hit that theme every chance you get. Visitors have to immediately see themselves and their specific issue within the first few seconds, or they may be gone forever.

Try this:

  • Look at your web copy right now.
  • Are your headlines about you…your bio, services, prices etc? Or does your copy share the benefits customers receive or that you understand their struggles?
  • In the first 30 seconds of surfing your site, can a visitor determine what’s in it for them? Will they believe that you can bring them relief?

DON’T Assume You Know Anything

If ‘markets are conversations’, then we have to rethink how we reach our audiences. No more drive-by marketing bombs and dry, lifeless copy. And no more ad campaigns with no real data. You can’t presume to know someone you have never connected with, so reach out to your subscribers and customers. Shoot an occasional email message or pick up the phone and touch base. Nobody does this anymore, so imagine the impact it can have.

Try this:

  • Commit to contact 10 subscribers or potential customers this week. This one simple act will gain you  more useful information than all the brainstorming in the world.
  • Don’t always relegate your content to others. Your copy tells the world about you, so it should be a genuine reflection of your thoughts and ideas. Blog yourself for awhile and respond to every comment.

Ask. Listen. And be ready to take action on what you hear.

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