For "solopreneurs," the cost to enter a business doesn’t have to be high, but the competition is fierce. When I left the tech field in 2015 to launch my real estate career, I knew there was only one Apple, but over 2,000 real estate agents in the Des Moines area alone.

As one of those 2,000 agents, I daily feel the pressure to compete and succeed. When you’re a solopreneur, you depend only on your own skills and efforts in order to realize a regular paycheck. The key to surviving as a solopreneur: knowing your "secret sauce." What’s your secret sauce? What is the characteristic or offering that makes you unique? Why will people choose you out of the hundreds (or thousands) of options out there?

If you want to perform marketing for clients, or consult on strategy, or become a massage therapist, you must think about what it is that defines YOU. Superior service? Lower cost? Responsiveness? Maybe it’s experience in your field? When you’re competing in an existing service, depend upon it that your prospective clients will know several of your competitors.

As you start out, it’s natural to have a vague idea of what your secret sauce is, or even no idea. When I started out as a real estate agent, I just started by talking to people and hoping to make connections. I didn’t have a secret sauce. However, as I continued to work with clients, I started asking for reviews and feedback. This really showed me what my clients valued and why they worked with me. Why are your clients working with you?

The next step is to also ask clients who go elsewhere why they went elsewhere. This one takes some guts (and I’ll admit, I don’t always have the guts to ask!) but can be so revealing. Are they seeing the benefits of your secret sauce as clearly as possible, or are they searching for a different sauce?

Once you’ve determined your secret sauce, your identifying characteristic, stick to it. It’s time to make your sauce not so secret. This can manifest itself in how you introduce yourself to new and prospective clients, how you post on social media, and how you conduct yourself every day. Your sauce is also related to your core values; it’s imperative that your brand, core values and identifying characteristic mesh well together. As an example, on social media I try to have fun, cheer for my community and celebrate my clients’ stories. While working with my clients, I focus on education over persuasion and long-lasting relationships over single transactions.

I see many solopreneurs follow competitors in their field on social media to be inspired. This is fine, but resist the temptation to be someone else. You don’t know their core values or overall business practices, so don’t change your social media strategy to match theirs. Alternatively, just don’t follow competitors at all unless you’re doing it to support them; you’ll be happier in the end by not comparing yourself to others.

Finally, once you feel confident that you know what you have to offer, and you’re offering it, relax! Stop second-guessing yourself; you know what service you

Nora Crosthwaite is a residential Realtor at Re/Max Concepts. She does business under Homes with Nora LLC, and specializes in educating her clients and inspiring action. Before becoming a Realtor, she worked in the software development field, implementing large-scale software, until she decided she wanted to make an impact on clients directly. Outside of real estate, Nora volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, is on the board for FemCity Des Moines, and trains in taekwondo with her daughter. She enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, and is a self-professed geek who catches all the "Star Wars" and superhero movies. Contact Nora via email.