I’m sure you’ve heard it many times from many people: starting your own business and keeping it alive isn’t easy. Etsy and the markets are saturated, the internet is full of cheap knockoffs, there is no room for anyone else and nothing is new under the sun. Maybe you’ve even been tempted to believe it yourself at times. But none of it is true. The truth is that you get to decide who your competition is and succeed on your own terms. Here’s how.

What is it that you make? Go Google it along with your location and see how many hits you get. Terrifying, right? Might as well shut your shop down now and go back to whatever job you had before you decided to start a business of your own.

But before you do, answer this question: who are the other makers or businesses that you admire?

Who’s hitting it out of the park and dominating your local market and fair scene?

I will bet you a truckload of handmade soap that all of those businesses have plenty of competition. They probably have a fair amount of imitators, too. So how do they rise above the rest?

Handmade is not a Zero-Sum Game

There is no such thing as the “best” handmade anything any more than there is such as thing as the “best” sandwich. For example, if you are selling furniture your competition is, to some extent, other furniture makers for the business of people who suffer from lack-of-furniture.

So yes, you need to make sure that your furniture is good stuff that will measure up against what else is out there. But even more, you need to make sure that your furniture and your brand tell a story that is unique to you, and you need to make sure that the furniture-less people out there know that you are there to help.

You Need More than a Great Product

When anybody can copy a design they see online your story & your brand make your business viable.

You need to do more than make a unique, quality product. You also have to sell it—unless you’re the kind of person that students are going to be reading about you in textbooks in 200 years, buyers won’t automatically recognize your brilliance and pass by your competition to beat down your door.

Louis Vuitton isn’t going out of business despite the fact that you can get a $5 handbag at Walgreens, or a $25 knockoff that will fool just about anybody. Yes, they sell a very good product, but more importantly they have a very good story that everybody knows.

When anybody can look at a design online and make a passable copy of it (or pay someone overseas to copy it) your story and your brand are what make your particular business viable. Cheap knockoffs got you down? The copycats are not your competition and the people buying from them would never buy your stuff anyway, at least not at a price you can support. They are the wrong customers for you. Don’t waste your time trying to change their minds.

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    Again, a great product that you stand behind is a basic requirement, but it’s not going to get the job done alone. Your Brand and your Story give people a preview of what you’re all about and how you are unique from your competition. They help your future customers begin making a personal connection with your work.

    Why did you start your business?

    What do you do better than anybody else?

    What are the non-negotiable elements of your business’s values and culture?

    Those are the questions that you need to ask yourself, because your Brand and your Story are in the answers.

    Answering those questions honestly and openly is how you build a brand that isn’t bullshit, a brand that’s based on the reason you decided one day that you’d rather spend your life fighting to build a business of your own instead of collecting a predictable paycheck at a predictably boring job.

    And sharing these answers proudly is how you find your customers.

    If you need help sharing your company’s brand and story, send me a quick note—I’d love to hear about your businesses.