If You're Struggling to Get Ahead, Try This

Last Updated Sep 8, 2011 9:34 PM EDT

Whether you own a business or work for someone else, differentiation is tough. Local and global competition, coworkers, others in a similar industry... it's really easy to get lost in the crowd.
Here's a simple way out of the "similar" rut: Pick an always. An always isn't based on style; an always is something you will do, without fail, no matter what.

In time you will be known by your always -- and you'll start to stand out.

If you own a business, you can start small and decide you will always:
  • Respond to calls or emails within 30 minutes
  • Follow up the day after every sale
  • Suggest alternatives
  • Proactively caution customers about potential drawbacks or risks
Or you could go bigger and always:
  • Deliver early
  • Charge the lowest prices
  • Maintain the most comprehensive inventory
The always you choose is up to you; just make sure customers will value and appreciate the difference your always creates. For example, if I decide to always provide a formatted PDF along with every Word manuscript I send to clients, that's a nice but basically worthless gesture. But if I decide to always provide ideas for subsequent books -- not a bad idea, actually -- most clients will appreciate the fact I've given real thought to build on their current book to create future opportunities.

The same is true if you work for someone else. You could decide to always:
  • Be at work on time
  • Respond to emails and calls the same day
  • Attend meetings (this one would have killed me)
  • Praise others when they do something well
  • Say thank you
Or you could go bigger and always:
  • Be at work early
  • Stay until important tasks are complete
  • Respond to emails and calls -- even when you're off
  • Volunteer for the worst assignments
Again, the always you choose is up to you but must be based on what your organization values. If measurable output is more important than adhering to set work hours, deciding you'll always get to work early is much less valuable than deciding you will always outperform your peers.

It may take time, but your always will eventually make you stand out. For example, I've worried about whether a critical shipment would arrive; it's powerful when someone says, "Don't worry, it will be here. They always deliver on time." I've wondered if an important task was completed the night before; it makes a real impact when someone says, "Tom was working on that, so I don't even need to check. I'm sure it's finished." I've worried about whether an installation by a vendor would go smoothly; when someone says, "We'll be fine -- they would have let us know ahead of time if there were any potential concerns or pitfalls," that level of trust, based on an always, really stands out.

If you're struggling to differentiate your business or yourself, pick an always, whether large or small -- based on what your customers or your organization values, not just on what you value or want to do -- and deliver, every time.

Soon you'll stand out just fine.

Related: Photo courtesy healingdream and istockphotos.net
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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