During the holiday season, I cook up a storm.

While I was looking for an old family recipe, I found some scribbled recipes from my old babysitter. They really weren’t recipes, but more a list of suggested ingredients. You see, my babysitter, who I called Hawthorn (her real name was Olivia Hawthorn), was an excellent country cook, but she never used a recipe. Nonetheless, absolutely everything she made was delicious. My mother’s versions of the same dishes were good, but never quite as good as Hawthorn’s. There was just a noticeable difference.

During a holiday break from college, I decided to ask Hawthorn if she’d give me a few cooking lessons. It would be fun to spend time with her, plus, I was certain I’d learn her wonderful secrets. We spent a couple of days in the kitchen cooking up everything from homemade pies and rolls to incredible fried chicken with cream gravy. Hungry yet?

When it was time to go back to school, I collected all of my hand-written notes and was ready to wow my friends with my culinary skills. While I undoubtedly learned a great deal from Hawthorn, my dishes never achieved her level of greatness. I realized the difference between being a good cook and being a great one wasn’t about the ingredients or following a written recipe.

The difference was about understanding the meaning of “just a pinch.”

I struggled to pin Hawthorn down on her recipes by asking her, “How much should I use of this or that?” She would always reply with one of the following responses: “Just a pinch. When it has the right texture. Until it smells the right way.”  It was frustrating because I wanted her to tell me exactly how to do it. But Hawthorn knew how to stay in tune with her product, constantly adapting until she had it just right. There is no blue-print to follow for that type of success.

The same is true for a small business.

If you choose to follow a written recipe, you’ll get standard results at best. Hopefully, your customers will enjoy your product or service, but if a competitor adds “just a pinch” more, you’ll find yourself losing business. That extra something special isn’t always definable, but it’s what makes all the difference in the world.

So as you’re whipping up your products and services for your customers, ask yourself if you’re simply going through the motions, following the directions, or are you adding “just a pinch” of something special that will transform your business from good to great. Create a noticeable difference for your small business.

Happy holidays.

About the Author: Susan Solovic is THE Small Business Expert. Sign up for Susan’s Success Tips Newsletter and get your free copy of “Smart Marketing Strategies for Small Biz” ebook.

What’s your “pinch” of something extra? You don’t have to give away the secret recipe, but share a little below.