A friend who asked for help in publicizing his family’s’ new bed-and-breakfast business mentioned that he and his wife planned to offer an intimate setting.

“Do other B&Bs in the area offer intimate settings?” I asked. This friend had not thought about how to differentiate his business from what is seemingly an array of look-alike competitors.

B&Bs are a good proxy for accounting software vendors and accounting firms. They offer similar products and need to stand out. And there are a lot of different ways of going about delivering the service.

My reflection stemmed from spending a week in England and Scotland at four different B&Bs, which operated in distinctly different ways. In New Eltham, southeast of London, we were part of the family, knocking down scotches one night and talking politics with the houseguests and owners. North of the Lake District, our hostess retreated into one end of the house, emerging only to answer our specific needs. In Jedburgh, a couple who saved us from a serious booking mix-up, nevertheless appeared locked into running their operation like a hotel by the scale of their Victorian house. South of Ediburgh, we were guests in a country house—a fairly formal arrangement.

Each of these approaches has its merits. Not everyone wants to be part of the family. But whether these hosts all consciously decided on these styles or even realized they had a style is an interesting question.

When three or four MAS 90 resellers compete for the same installation, they all have styles and approaches. The same goes for accounting firms who are offering tax preparation services that, on the surface, pretty much look the same.

Many have probably never thought about how their style differs, or what advantages and disadvantages it carries. They have not thought about capitalizing on an approach that may have a more personal feel, or one that carries an air of high specialization and support.

Back to my friend: after a few questions, it became clear that he and his wife felt an intimate approach, making guests one of the family, is something that they feel they can offer that will set them apart from the rest of the B&B crowd. Now, it’s a matter of finding a way to deliver that story to customers.

Sometimes, standing out just takes a few minutes of taking stock, and realizing that standing out can be fairly simple, if you just think about it.

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