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Eight ways to stay ahead of the competition

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 | By Marc Peskett
Marc PeskettMany start-up businesses have a single-minded focus to get up and go.

 

They often don’t consider the existing competition in the market that could counter their efforts and where that competition might come from.

 

Sometimes there’s a mistaken belief that there is no competition despite their business, idea or proposition being a good one.

 

The fact is there are usually competitors to you already operating and providing the same or a substitute solution. If you’ve had a great idea, there’s a sizeable chance that someone else has thought the same thing.

 

If there aren’t existing competitors and the business idea is a good one, then there soon will be. It’s a matter of how easy and fast it is for your competition to bring their alternative to market.

 

In this era of lean and fast start-ups, first mover advantage is not as strong as it used to be.

 

Big businesses have the ability to hire, acquire and introduce new products or services. These “Big Gorillas” can draw on their resources, relationships, customer base and established brand awareness, to crush a new start-up within a short period of time.

 

To counter this, it’s important to develop a strategy that capitalises on your strengths as a means to address your competition.

 

Here are eight tips for keeping ahead of your competitors:

 

1. Play to your strengths. What do you do best and how do your customers benefit from that? What is it about your business that makes you unique? Find the answer to that then tell everyone about it.

 

Use it as a means to differentiate yourself from your competitors in a way your current and potential customers can understand and value.

 

2. Know your customers and look after them. Don’t give your customers a reason to shop around or consider switching to a competitor. Consider all the touch points you have with them from pre-sale, during the purchase and post-sale.

 

Who in your business interacts with your customers and are they enhancing their experience or detracting from it?

 

What matters most to your customers and how do their needs and expectations change over time? Are you addressing those needs and evolving with them to remain relevant?

 

3. Use marketing to create awareness. Don’t be a well-kept secret. Many businesses assume the market, or even their own clients, know all about their products, services, benefits and features of them.

 

Put effort into telling people who you are, what you do and how you can help. Make it easy for them to share information and generate greater awareness through word-of-mouth.

 

Implement a campaign to constantly build on the knowledge and understanding clients and targets have about you.

 

Maintain that contact to ensure that when they’re ready to buy, they buy from you and not your competition.

 

4. Have a plan for growth. If you aren’t growing you’re dying and your competitors are increasing their market share in your wake. Have a clear idea of where you want to be in three to five years time and the action you need to take to get there.

 

How will you scale your business and sell more of your current products and services? Will you introduce additional products or services that complement what you currently sell?

 

Broadening your customer base and product or service offering also helps to spread your risk. What investment do you need to make, what resources do you need, what potential roadblocks could stop you?

 

If you have a plan of attack and monitor your progress regularly, you’re more likely to build a strong successful business.

 

5. Innovate to stay ahead of your competitors. Gather ideas about ways to improve your business. Ideas are everywhere. They come from customers, staff, competitors and suppliers.

 

They arise when you receive suggestions, complaints or make mistakes. Stop and think about whether you can improve a process to further enhance how you do things and what you deliver.

 

Is there a better way to achieve an outcome? How will that improve your customer experience? Will this attract new customers?

 

6. Be the employer of choice. Hire the right staff and then find ways to keep them happy.

 

The best way to step things up is to headhunt people already in the market, but make sure your competitors don’t do the same to you.

To protect your talent pool of people, take care of them, find out what motivates them.

 

What will assist them to do an even better job? Being a great employer with staff that care about the business will mean your customers are well looked after and that the business prospers.

 

7. Be flexible and ready for change. Everything changes with time. Customer needs and expectations, processes, materials, channels to market and your competitors, will all evolve.

 

If you don’t look around and keep abreast of what’s happening, you can loose your edge and the reason why customers currently buy from you.

 

Alternatively, if you keep ahead of developments and opportunities relevant to your customers, you’ll benefit from the exposure and sales that being a leader in your industry brings.

 

8. Know the competition. Find out who your competitors are and what they offer. What makes customers buy from them or stop buying from them?

 

Keep an eye on your competitors, but devote your efforts and energy to pursuing your own strategy and what you know works for you and your customers.

 

Marc Peskett is a director of MPR Group a Melbourne based firm that provides business advisory services as well as tax, outsourced accounting, grants support and financial services to fast growing small to medium enterprises.  MPR Group is a member of the Proactive Accountants Network.  You can follow Marc on Twitter @mpeskett