Are You a Copy or the Original?

I’ve been mentoring Luke, a friend of mine, who owns his own business. Luke approached me with a simple question about how to maximize the earning potential of his organization.

“When I started my business, I looked at what others were doing in that same space, and I tried to align my business plan against what worked for them,” he explained.

“So are you making money?” I asked him.

“Not really,” he complained. “And that’s what ticks me off. I’m doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, I’m charging less, and I still can’t seem to make a buck. Is it my marketing, do you think?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I shrugged, “But I don’t think so.”

I’m a visual person so I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of a stack of grapefruit I had taken the previous day.

“Which one would you buy?” I asked Luke.

“I don’t know,” he said after a few minutes. “What’s the difference?”

“That’s the point, Luke,” I told him. “They’re all pretty much the same. And since you’re copying what your competition is doing, you’re just a cheap substitute for something customers already know and trust.”

“Luke pushed back. “If I’m a little cheaper and have all of the same services and features they have, why would…?”

“I guess it’s up to how your customers define value. If they want cheap and a copy, they can come to you. If they are willing to pay a little more for the real thing, they should stick with your competition. Which is going to be crisper, the original or a photocopy?”

Luke nodded. “So I’m not doing myself a favor by copying everyone else,” he concluded.

You might see other people having great success at working their own game. They’ve found what works for them. But those same things might not work for you. Find what works for you.

Another friend of mine named Joe drives a cab, and he told me how he doubled his tips from his first year to the next year. He didn’t find and use a wormhole to shoot him from downtown Chicago to the airport in 4 seconds. Rather, he decided to have the cleanest cab on the street. It smelled good,  not like dirty feet, fetid goat cheese and belly button lint. He did not play loud music or the news as a courtesy to his passengers who wished to use their phones. In the back window, he had a box of tissues. On the back seat, he had a fresh copy of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Wall Street Journal. In the back of the passenger seat pocket, he had a variety of magazines.

Joe and every other cabbie has a mission: get the passenger to the destination safely. But it wasn’t enough for Joe to deliver on the end result. Instead of changing the destination, Joe put extra effort into making the journey memorable.

Find what you can offer that is unique to you. And then do it better than anyone else. Because a copy will never be as crisp as an original.

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