Steps to Starting a Small Business: #7 Your USP – Unique Selling Proposition

No list which proclaims itself the key to “steps to starting your own business” can avoid addressing the topic of the USP – the Unique Selling Proposition.

While the definition of the USP is often draped in “mystery”,  quite simply your USP is the reason people choose to do business with you.

It sounds simple enough – doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, I’ve been seeing that this topic needs attention so I’ll begin with what a USP is NOT!

1.  A USP is not the price of your product or service.

“It’s cheap” is a poor imitation of a USP. That part you probably already knew.  After all EVERYONE knows that – except for the people I’ve been noticing lately who are trying to sell their e books by proclaiming that the reason to buy it is because it’s so cheap.  Free and cheap are both piss poor unique selling propositions.

2.  A USP is not the quality of your product or service.

Your USP is also not that you’re the best or most qualified.  Everyone’s the best – the fastest- the smartest – the cheapest – the finest.  People have a REALLY hard time judging the quality of a product or a service and they’re positively numb to exaggerated marketing declarations.

It’s virtually impossible to judge the quality of most products or services without experiencing the product or service in person.  That’s why ecommerce retailers are offering online reviews – to help buyers access the opinions of others who have previously purchased products or services.

Another reason it’s difficutl to just quality is that buyer’s PERCEPTION of quality often affects their judgment.    For example, researchers asked volunteers to judge the quality of different wines.  The volunteers were hooked up to monitors and the pleasure centers of the brain were measured as they drank the wine.  In the experiment, the participants were told that there were 5 different wines ranging in cost from $4 a bottle to $90 per bottle.  You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the participants enjoyed the more expensive wines much more than they did the cheaper ones.

The kicker – there were not 5 wines in the study but only three.  One wine was doing double duty – being served as both a sample of $4 a bottle and a $90 per bottle of wine.  The same wine actually tasted better when served as a more expensive impostor.

This should illustrate how important it is to properly brand and market your products or service – but don’t confuse applying the label of “the best” with a viable USP.

3.  A USP is DEFINITELY not the “uniqueness” of your product or service. Unless you’re offering sex change operations for chimpanzees – there is probably someone else who offers a reasonable facsimile of the good and services you have to offer.

If you are TRULY the only one offering a product or service in a free market – it means competitors don’t view your product or service as a viable business.  Initiation is the sincerest form of flattery and it’s validation you’re on the right track.

So what IS your USP?  What is your UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION?

Hang on to your hat because this may come as a surprise to you:

Your USP – like Soylent Green- is PEOPLE!

That’s right.  The REASON people choose to do business with you and your business is usually nothing more complicated than you (or your staff) are reasonably competent and cordial.  If a customer or clients feels BETTER when they hang up the phone or walk out the door than when they picked up the phone or walked in the door to your business, then that my friends is a USP that can’t be beat!

Yet many business owners are on a QUEST to REMOVE themselves and their people from contact with their customers.  As more and more businesses set up ways to automate communication, they unwittingly (maybe not so unwittingly) set up barriers that prevent customers and clients from connecting on a personal level.

I’ll never forget a situation several years ago that stays with me to this day.  I had a friend who purchased one of the earliest info products on marketing offered online. My friend visited the website several times and called to ask my advice a few more times.  As he moved closer to making the decision to purchase, he picked up the phone and called the author before he placed his order. All the info guru had to do was pick up the phone to close the sale.

Meanwhile, I was creating a website for a coaching client who asked me to remove her phone number from the website.  I replied by referring to the role having the phone number displayed had played for this info guru. I have to confess, I was stunned at the passion in her reaction to hearing this.  Seriously,  you would have thought I had asked her to include photos of her having sex with household appliances into the design by her response.   Apparently the thought of people calling her on the phone literally terrified her.

I’m not a coach nor a therapist, so it wasn’t my job to figure out why connecting with people who might want to hire her frightened her so.  I removed her phone number from the website design.

Which brings me to my favorite subject, which is why blogs are the cat’s meow when it comes to a web presence for service professionals.

Your blog is a great way to allow people to “get to know you” before they pick up the phone and call – or send you an email.  They can “sample” what it’s like to do business with you by reading your blog.  They can guage whether you know what you say you know.    They can get a glimpse of what it’s like without taking the scary leap of faith and actually contacting you directly.

If you think your Unique Selling Proposition is anything OTHER than the people who are part of your organization  – then you have a rude wake up call in your future.  Social media is all about people making connections and those connections form the most important part of any business USP.


  1. Hi Kathy – too many times individuals have entered my industry and the question, “what is your unique selling proposition” has stopped them cold in their tracks. They think because they are talented designers and like “to work with people” they’re going to make their first million in five minutes. Mention that they might actually have to go out and sell something and you get a deer in the headlights look. Good post!

    Betsys last blog post..CAREER RENEGADE

  2. Betsy,

    First million in five minutes makes me smile!!!

    Often what makes a business “unique” is the same thing that makes a blog “unique”… the people! I’m about ready to STOP patronizing a local business because they’ve hired a sour old woman who acts like waiting on customers makes her corns ache! I like everything else about the store – but when I see her behind the counter, I want to turn and run away!

    Talk about an ANTI-USP!

  3. Hi Kathy – people are important. It’s definitely an advantage when real people who are actually part of a business, answer the phone.

    And folk who actually work for the business – serve the customers, instead of a subcontractor, or some company the work has been outsourced to.

    I guess all that is becoming so rare that it could be a decent USP.

  4. Hi Kathy – Great post! I was reading this part, “As more and more businesses set up ways to automate communication, they unwittingly (maybe not so unwittingly) set up barriers that prevent customers and clients from connecting on a personal level.” and thought about how in my life offline, I encounter competitors of ours who use answering machines or some type of automated service to respond to their phone calls. I’ve lost count on how many calls I get (which results in business) from people who say, “finally, I got a real person”. Don’t businesses realize the public is totally put off by automation?

    And yes, in the blogging world, our readers do get an idea of who we are, based on our words. They say A LOT.

    Barbara Swafford – Blogging Without A Blogs last blog post..Be Careful What You Wish For

  5. @Cath,

    I agree it’s a sad day when treating people like people could be considered a decent USP.

    @ Barbara,

    I know – I know! On the one hand, I’m SO tempted to get an answering service to handle my calls – and on the other, I know it’s ESSENTIAL that people can talk to me and connect!

  6. hi kathy,

    I’ve been blogging for 3 years and I have to confess that words are everything… but trusting the blogger is the key to success!

    emos last blog post..Emo can be short for “emotional.”