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The 3 questions every small business must be able to answer

There’s a classic scene in Police Squad! where Drebin walks into a guy’s office while his back is turned. When the man realizes he doesn’t know Drebin, he says, “Who are you and how’d you get in here?”

Drebin says, “I’m a locksmith. And I’m a locksmith.”

It’s one of the simplest and best jokes ever, but it also underscores a point: When a stranger (you) walks into the room, you need to know who they are and the context for their presence. So “How’d you get in here?” becomes, “Why are you here?” or even better, “Why do you matter?”

If you can establish that, the only thing left is knowing how their presence is beneficial. They’re there because they want something, so what is it, and how does what they want comport with what you want? In other words, “How do we BOTH benefit through this interaction?” But since you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t benefit, only half that question matters: “What value do you provide?”

Everything else you want to communicate after that won’t matter unless you’ve answered these three questions to your client’s/customer’s/prospect’s satisfaction:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why do you matter?
  3. What value do you provide?

These three questions are at the heart of brand-building, yet the answers tend to be complex if they’re answered at all. The tendency is to rush into talking about your thing, whatever it is, before you even establish what you’re doing in their space, physically or just on the real estate of their computer screen.

Let’s break down these questions a bit.

Who are you?

It’s tempting to use your mission statement to answer this, but that’s too much in the weeds. It’s also tempting to reframe this as, “What do you do?” but even that is a step ahead. If “Who are you?” seems too big, then answer the question, “What do you care about?” In so doing, you’ll gain insights into the real question of who you are.

Let’s say you’re a small business that builds websites for other small businesses. That’s not who you are, that’s what you do. Who you are gets to why you have this business in the first place. Maybe you had a talent for web development and just wanted to be your own boss. Maybe you just enjoy seeing small businesses have a strong, compelling web presence. People respond to passion and dedication—admire it, even. That needs to come through immediately.

Why do you matter?

If passion and interest is at the heart of the first question, authority and marketplace relevance are at the heart of this one. You wouldn’t have started this business if you didn’t think it was unique and that you had the know-how to offer the services you do, so articulate that. We provide all-inclusive packages proven to help your entire digital presence drive more people to your door.

You might matter because you defined a category, are the market leader, or enjoy broad recognition in the markets you serve, but that would be rare for a small business. More likely, you’re one of a handful of businesses in your market that do approximately the same thing, like serve Asian cuisine. If so, don’t get too caught up in trying to figure out what sets you apart. Right now, you just need to know why you deserve a seat at the grown-ups’ table.


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