3 Ways to Set Your Business Apart From the Competition

People are starved for personal connections; they want to know YOU, not just your company.

Alexa Carlin onstage during a pre-Covid Women Empower X event
Alexa Carlin onstage during a pre-Covid Women Empower X event

This past year we saw many businesses — especially in the meetings and events industry — forced to close, reinvent themselves or just hope to survive long enough to outlast the pandemic. But, as we all know, hope is not a strategy. 

Business owners and leaders questioned how to keep the doors open. Should they shift to a new business model, venture into virtual events, broaden their services? There were — and still are — so many unknowns. In a fear-driven or survival mindset, it’s extremely hard to come up with sound solutions that will be financially viable and be sustainable. 

I’ve Been There

Alexa Carlin graced the cover of the February 2017 issue of Meetings & Conventions.
Alexa Carlin graced the cover of the February 2017 issue of Meetings & Conventions.

My company struggled, too. Pre-Covid, Women Empower X was hosting events at convention centers across the country, gathering 2,500+ people per event. Once Covid hit, that fear mindset came rushing in. I began asking myself: What can I do to survive this? That was the wrong question to ask, I now realize. Instead of focusing on what you have to do, think about who you have to be. 

There are a million ways to succeed, a million paths you can take, and a million strategies you can implement. While the strategy (the what) is important, the person executing on that strategy will determine whether your business will survive and thrive. Once I began to realize this, I doubled down on the person I needed to be in my business. 

You Are Your Best Asset

Today, as you start to see some light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, tap into your most valuable asset: YOU. Right now is the perfect time to insert yourself into your community and go all-in on your authenticity. (I’ll be doing just that as keynote speaker for Northstar’s women’s leadership conference, WILMI, to be held at the Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami this month.)

People are starved for connection and transparency. Companies and leaders who can provide that as individuals will be the ones who win in the long game. 

Even as we see events starting to happen, cities opening back up, and the world getting a bit back to normal, life has changed, business has changed, and we either will be left following this change or leading it. I choose to be leading it. 

How do we go about doing this? I’ve discovered three key ways this past year to pivot with purpose and adapt to change — not the changes we’ve already witnessed, but the ones still to come. 

#1 Set Your Nonnegotiables 

Start by writing a list of nonnegotiables. These are the things you must have in your business model. For example, my nonnegotiable list is: 

  • Focus on empowering people to pursue their dreams.
  • Stay rooted in collaboration over competition.
  • Always over-deliver in value. 
  • Prioritize diversity and inclusion. 
  • Allow freedom for my personal life. 
  • Do work I feel excited about. 
  • Continue speaking and sharing my story.
  • Expect sustainable, long-term growth. 

After writing this list out I realized in-person events weren't listed anywhere. Events were the path toward fulfilling my business’s mission pre-Covid, but not necessarily part of my mission. This exercise really helped me pivot my business with purpose so the solutions we came up with were less in response to circumstances and more aligned with our purpose, mission and vision. 

Many businesses that acted in response to Covid realized their solutions were merely bandaids that didn’t stick for longer than a few months. Their leaders were no longer doing what they loved; they were working in survival mode. We must be prepared to adapt to changes we cannot control, but also remain committed to our core purpose and mission. Doing so will lead to sustainable solutions. 

#2 Tell Your Story 

People follow people, not logos. It’s that simple, yet so many businesses are still getting this wrong. Look at Elon Musk and Tesla, for example. Elon Musk has 52.6 million followers on Twitter, and Tesla has 9.2 million followers. Same for Richard Branson and Virgin, or Tim Cook and Apple. 

If your business is going to survive in the long term, you must have the courage to share your story and who you are. When you share your story vulnerably and transparently, the connections people form with you will naturally extend to your company and brand. 

This gives your company a competitive advantage, because when the consumer thinks about what businesses they want to work with, they will recall your story and are more likely to reach out to your brand. 

You can do this right now: Take out your phone, open up the camera app, and take a video of yourself. Say who you are, where you’re from, how the pandemic has affected you, and what you are focused on achieving with your community this year. Invite them to be part of your effort. Now, post that video across social media or even send it out to your email list. You’ll be surprised at the impact a simple one- or two-minute video can have.

#3 Cultivate Your Community 

Does your company have a community? I define a “brand community” as a group of customers who are invested in a brand beyond what is being sold. They gather somewhere to talk about the brand, connect with other community members, and become brand advocates for you. 

If your company isn’t investing heavily in cultivating your brand community, it will be extremely difficult to compete with those in your market that do have one. In today’s world, every single company should focus on nurturing and engaging with their customers to build a loyal following. Here are three easy ways to get started: 

  1. Create a place for them to go. This can be a Facebook group, forum, or even a branded hashtag discussion. 
  2. Regularly engage with them. Give your community a reason to stay involved. 
  3. Give them a voice. Ask for feedback from your community, offer an affiliate program, or implement an incentive program for inviting new people to the community. Show that you value them, their opinion and their loyalty to your brand. 

Your community will help you grow organically and remain a leader in your industry, even during times of change.

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve started a number of businesses that didn’t work out, and my community has followed me through all of them. It didn’t matter if I was selling them a cookbook, a bracelet or an event ticket, they were there to purchase and spread the word. That’s the power of your brand community: When you pivot, they pivot with you.

Give Them More

As we go into Q3 and Q4 of 2021, think about where you want to lead your company. This past year not only changed the business landscape, it changed society. People perceive companies differently; they want and expect more from them. You have the power to give that to them.

Alexa Carlin is a professional speaker and founder and CEO of Women Empower X, which creates diverse and inclusive communities of female entrepreneurs. She is the keynote speaker for WILMI, Northstar Meetings Group’s women’s leadership event, which takes place May 17-19, at the Kimpton EPIC Hotel in Miami.