This year, over 100,000 people auditioned for “American Idol.” Every single one of them thought they were star material, but most of them didn’t even get to meet J-Lo. In a crowd of 100,000 it’s important to stand out, which is why so many people make fools of themselves in chicken outfits, American flag string bikinis, and shimmering Elvis suits. It’s easy to feel that same sense of desperation when you’re trying to compete in the small business world. But before you implement an idea that lands you on the small business blooper reel, try one of these stand-out strategies instead.

1.  Be a card

Unlike the corporate climbers in the movie “American Psycho,” your customers aren’t likely to be floored by your brave choice of a business card in “eggshell” white instead of “bone.” You’ll need to think up something snazzier if you want to grab their attention, and with all the new business card styles now available, there’s no shortage of ways to do it. Bright colors and bold patterns work wonders, but if you’re really adventurous, try a die-cut design in the shape of your product, or a QR code that, when scanned, will connect customers right to your website. When your card is placed side by side with that other company’s boring black and white card, there’ll be no competition.

2.   You’re so vain

Chances are there are a few people out there who you wish would lose your number – like your most recent ex or the girl who runs your high school alumni association and constantly tries to mine you for information that she can put in the newsletter. Your personal number is one story, but your business number is another – that’s a number you don’t want customers to forget. Vanity numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS are a great way to make both number and your business even more memorable. It’s a simple tool to help you stand out from the competition so that customers will call on you before anyone else.

3.  Service with a smile

Given the choice, would you rather do business with a stranger or a good friend? Taking the time to create personal connections can help you earn the respect and loyalty of your customers. While you certainly aren’t about to make house calls, attend weddings and personally call every customer to wish them a happy birthday, you can adopt a friendly demeanor that keeps them coming back. Practice active listening, and take the time to learn a little about your clients. The personal touch you provide will set you apart from your robotic and impersonal competitors.

4.  Know your worth

Knowledge is, hands down, the best tool for outranking your competition. When you’re in the know and they’re in the dark, you’ll be making the decisions that push you ahead while they fall behind. A professional business valuation can teach you your true value and can help identify areas that are ripe for improvement. While your competitors are relying on emotions and guesses, you’ll have a foundation of facts for making your business decisions, and that difference will separate you from the crowd.

5.  You’ve got personality

Being professional is one thing – being boring is another. Let your personality shine through a little and you’ll be surprised at how easily you stand out. If you have a grandma with a lot of gumption, let her write a guest spot on your blog. If you’re a New Yorker who owns a restaurant in Mississippi, give them a taste of your local color. The things that make you a unique and interesting person can do the same for your business.

You don’t need a big budget to make a big statement. These smart branding ideas will help separate you from the pack without separating you from too many of your hard-earned dollars. And remember, this ain’t no prime-time talent show – you don’t make it to the finals just because you’re sporting a Sanjaya fauxhawk. In life and on TV, the real finalists aren’t the ones who show up in full body paint or swallow swords just for the spectacle of it all. The real winners are the brave souls who have genuine talent and who aren’t afraid to let their unique voices shine through. Find what makes your own business sing and you’re sure to stand out from the crowd.

Dave Ashley is the CEO of Tele-Name. He created Tele-Name to bring the powerful advantage of vanity toll-free numbers to small and mid-size companies on a regional scale. Tele-Name helps local business dominate their market through the use of the best vanity numbers in the country. Dave is committed to helping small businesses everywhere succeed.