In this post I'm going to describe some parts of my business strategy. In particular, I'll explain why I don't think a USP (unique selling proposition) is particularly important, even though I DO have one - and I'll tell you exactly what that is and how it supports my positioning.
The starting point is my tag line: Results-Oriented Digital Training For Individuals and SMEs. That summarises my positioning:
What I offer is practical training, not (just) theoretical. In itself that's not unique, but my USP (see below) does, in fact, support that attribute in a unique way: it's not just a cute marketing phrase!
That summarises the subject matter very broadly. I do have a definition of the scope, but that's not relevant to this post.
For Individuals and SME:
That summarises my target market very broadly. I do have an explicit breakdown of the target market into 5 specific groups, but again, that's not relevant to this post.
In this earlier post, I described how I used Personal and Business Vision statements. There's another, more detailed document that I also created, which is my Business Definition Document - and it's in there that I outlined my Strategy. Here are some key elements of that
I included these these three General Principles for operating my business
- The business must be easily scaleable - i.e. revenue and profits should not be directly related to the number of staff or time spent working
- The business must be systems and process focused: this is closely linked with the need for scaleability, but also reflects my (perhaps overly extreme) obsession with systematization!
- The business must be customer focused: these days, that sentiment is a given, but what I mean by it more specifically is that the business direction and evolution will be driven by my customers. So, I am open to the business evolving in directions that I've not planned for - if that is driven by an obvious customer demand and it still allows me to fulfill my stated business and personal visions
Unique Selling Proposition
It's not uncommon for a business strategy to highlight what its USP (Unique Selling Proposition) is for it's offerings: what is the characteristic of the product or service that will make people want to buy YOUR offering as opposed to anyone elses?
Are USPs important in the digital technologies training niche?
Training related to digital technologies is ubiquitous, and much of it is free - so it might seem crazy to try and build a business around that niche. And yet, there are many examples of people in this niche who are highly successful and profitable.
Despite all the freely available content, people will pay (sometimes a lot - $497 or $997 or $1977) if they believe they can get the results faster, more consistently, and there is good follow-up support.
I believe the core elements of online success in this niche - indeed, in almost ANY niche, is to
- develop a strong online presence (social media, website, mailing list),
- be recognized as an authority, and
- build a reputation for creating excellent content
Now, none of that requires a USP, as such: none of that is unique. What differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful is that the successful people do all those three things, and they do them for long enough to succeed.
There is no real need for a USP because people end up marketing and selling to their "tribe" - people who know, like and trust them. At that point they don't need strong product differentiators.
Nevertheless, there ARE benefits to having USPs - and in my case it's going to be very helpful as I establish myself on third party training platforms (primarily Udemy) where the competition is fierce and differentiators ARE useful.
My Unique Selling Proposition
My USP is around the very idea of systems and process that I apply to my own business. My systematizing drive is stronger than most people's - as anyone who has worked with me will know. I'm not saying that to brag because, I'm perfectly aware that it can be overdone and I constantly have to strive for the right balance - and don't always get it right.
But given that that is how I am, I may as well take that aspect of my personality and emphasise the virtuous part of it.
So, when I create training courses, wherever it's appropriate, I will provide operational artefacts that my customers can use when applying and using the digital technologies that are the subject of my training. By that I mean (for example):
- Process documentation
- Record keeping artefacts
That may not sound unique - except perhaps that very few training providers think to include record-keeping artefacts. But my approach is to combine all three functions into one artefact - usually using a Google Sheet.
An example may help explain the idea.
Suppose I'm creating training about Twitter that covers creating, configuring and operating a Twitter account. (That's very likely going to happen, BTW.)
The first thing I'd do is clearly separate out the Setup training (creating and configuring) from the Operating training (all the ongoing activities to grow the account and use it for whatever business purposes it was created). In fact, that's something of a USP in itself: I rarely see training courses that make the difference between setup and operations explicit enough.
As with most training in this area, most of the material would be a video walk-through of all of the steps inviolved. That's fine and obviously very helpful and any half decent training includes that.
Better training will also include, for example PDF checklists and resource lists etc.
But, to my mind, the best training includes something more - and it's that which I'll include and which will be my USP. It's a document/artefact that
- Summarises each of the steps covered in the training in the right order needed to get the required result. Note that this is NOT a PDF document because you can't change that. This makes it easier to go back to the essence of the training without hunting through videos
- Allows you to tick-off each step as you complete it
- Includes all relevant links to supporting resources and websites
- Allows you to record relevant data right there in the same document. In the Twitter training example, this could include lists of influencers relevant to your niche which you may want to get connected to and interact with. This facility is important not just for general record-keeping, but also so that that information is available in the most convenient place when it's needed by later steps.
Such a document serves multiple purposes.
- It's a way of documenting your own business processes. And following on from that, it provides you with a way to improve upon and enhance those processes by updating the document. (You can't do that with a PDF checklist!)
- It's an artefact you can give to your staff or outsourcers which provides them with very explicit instructions AND a way for them to record the completion of each step for auditing purposes
- It's a record-keeping artefact
Much of these ideas come from what I learned and developed in an earlier existence as a knowledge management consultant.
This artefact that I'm talking about can be seen as a knowledge artefact in that it contains important business knowledge (i.e. detailed documentation of your setup and operational processes), AND serves as an instruction manual for yourself or others performing that process on your behalf AND it proves a mechanism to implement continuous improvement because you can easily capture what you learn from experience simply by updating that artefact. (Of course, you'll need a process for that!)
This isn't all theoretical, by the way. I've creating such artefacts for my own use, and I've included some in past products that I've created, and I've provided them on occasions as bonuses for affiliate products that I've promoted.
Does this all make sense? Does it sound useful? Have you created / used anything similar? Is this less unique that I'm assuming? (Yes, language pedants, I know you can't be more or less unique..!)
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Oh yes - and if you can think of a generic term for these operational artefacts that's a bit more meaningful and inspiring that "operational artefacts" - do let me know!