There are only two dependable ways to create a profitable business:
By being meaningfully different from your competition in a way that provides greater value to a specific set of customers (allowing for significant profit margins).
Or by being so streamlined, efficient, and operationally effective that you can be the cheapest option (and eke out slim but sufficient margins on higher volume).
Most of the business owners I speak to and work with don’t want to be the cheapest option.
Which means the only other option is to be different.
But being different feels bad!
It makes you stand out.
It makes you look weird compared to the sea of sameness of your industry.
It means you can’t just outsource your marketing to the same agencies everyone else uses, or just copy the techniques from blogs and best practices.
And it means you occasionally get strange looks or comments from your peers at industry events.
But the stunning fact about small businesses is that most of them are not profitable.
Not some. Not many. Most.
Which means, necessarily, that the path of profit is unconventional. Atypical. Untraditional.
In fact, being a profitable business can, at times, feel downright heretical.
Because to be different you must look different. You must operate differently. You must market creatively. You must focus intensely.
That means that while your whole industry prices their work in one way, you’re likely doing it a different way.
While everyone else offers endless services and products, you only offer one or two.
While everyone else spends a fortune on paid media, or spends all their time responding to RFPs, you get work based on your reputation and the slow, steady marketing of your differences.
And while everyone else complains about never having a day off (or brags about the intensity of their schedule), you work reasonable hours and take the necessary time to recover—because you’re thinking long-term.
But if you spend too much time worrying about what other people—people who are not your customers—think or say about you or your business, you will get discouraged.
You will start to think that it might be easier to just blend in.
To do what everyone else is doing.
But we’ve got to resist the temptation to cause our own suffering, or to take the conventional path of barely scraping by just because everyone else is doing it.
The two paths that diverge in front of us are profitable difference, or unprofitable sameness.
The choice between flying, or flailing.
Flying looks and feels weird when everyone else is busy flailing or failing.
But to be successful, we must be different.
And being different looks, and feels, a bit weird.
So lean into it.
And get used to it.
It’s the only way.