This column will address two uniquely different but very important things. Both which I believe can be addressed by continually asking yourself if your business fulfills one very important question. But before we get to that let's discuss each on their own.

Differentiation is arguably one of the biggest deciding factors for the future success of your business. Now more than ever, every consumer has a great deal of choice. Consumers are no longer even bound by local choice. When I first began training oh so long ago only large companies had websites, today every single person has a website or maybe even more than one. Instead of hiring someone to design it there are now even companies willing to do it for free in an effort to earn your business off the maintenance fees for the new site.

So today Mary Jane housewife could see a local personal trainer but she may even be compelled by online remote services or automated online products from info marketers and large weight loss organizations on the other side of the world. You need a defined strategy to somehow stand out.

This can spell trouble for the small entrepreneur that doesn't understand differentiation; I mean let's be honest what you do and what the guy, girl, gym and dog down the street are doing are kind of the same. 

All the passion and caring in the world, doesn't make you different. So what does? We'll get to that.

Now, if you do manage to attract a few customers sooner or later you realize there's another problem that emerges. How long you keep them, and how you keep extending this retention period.

It's natural for every customer to eventually graduate, grow bored, no longer need, or no longer see or realize the same value in your service as they once did. The same is true for you and I and the services we use; and unfortunately there's only so much you can offer.

Fortunately because of the same reason that companies on the other side of the world can now compete for our service, as small entrepreneurs we have a unique advantage to create differentiation and improve retention in our business with the same action.

What do you (or your business) do that your customer perceives is something they don't pay for?

That's it, that’s the golden ticket to unraveling the allure of the multi-million dollar sports complex down the street, the latest high tech device, or that guy who seems to have every certification on the planet; it's your competitive advantage.

We're in the age of social currency. We want to continually feel valued and appreciated. In an age where the concept of a relationship is changing from what we knew to liking, commenting and sharing; we're starving for a sense of belonging.

Whether it's conscious or not I believe it's clear that we're made to feel that someone did something unexpected, or above and beyond we tend to latch on to it. What’s better we not only become loyal we want to tell others, we find ourselves liking, commenting, and sharing. 

Let me give you an example. Instead of adding yet another boot camp or training session on Saturday morning what if you just took your dog for a walk, I mean you have to do it anyways. But instead of spending just some one-on-one time with Fido you invite all your clients and their precious pooches. Soon a dog walk becomes an impromptu Fido and me fitness adventure. It's clearly not part of your regular service (or is it) so I perceive it to be of higher value and not that you're different. I also for some reason find myself wanting to workout with you more than at the snazzy new gym down the street.

If you can create that perception or feeling for your client that these things of value are things that they don't pay for (they should be different from your service and natural in an effort not to just feel like an added paid benefit) you have a potent differentiator, retention, and even better, referral tool!

After struggling for eight years as a personal trainer, Cabel McElderry challenged the typical gym setup and created quite a reputation for himself. His 7 figure studio, now five years old, has won multiple awards for business excellence. Cabel has been recognized as one of the top 100 fitness entrepreneurs in North America and is currently one of 50 nominees for Optimum Nutrition's Canadian Trainer of the Year. He now mentors fitness professionals worldwide in an effort to help them achieve similar or better results than his own. Cabel's advice and writing can be found amongst some of the biggest blogs online and he is constantly called upon to offer his advice and strategies at some the largest fitness events