11 April 2007

Know thy enemy

Small business is competitive. We all know that, but sometimes we choose not to really acknowledge just how competitive it is because it can be a little scary if we do. The one thing I can guarantee right here and now is that the world is only going to become more competitive and as small business owners we need to be able to get our heads around this and use it to our advantage.

Firstly many business owners often drool about how wonderful life would be if they didnít have any competition. Imagine all of the business they would have? Well that isnít exactly true. Customers are much more demanding, resentful and conscious when they make a purchase from a monopoly, They generally donít have a choice and they know they are powerless which is a very frustrating feeling. Have you been to the Department of Transport lately? If this joint was run as a business with a real competitor up the road it would be broke in a week. Customers are smart Ė they know that a monopoly doesnít really have to try that hard. So the whole relationship is based on resentful acceptance because customers canít buy from anywhere else.

Anyway, back to competing businesses. Most of us have seen a huge growth in competition in recent years and this has been challenging. New businesses can be launched into the market with big budgets, big advertising campaigns and brand new premises. But remember bigger isnít always better. It is inevitable that when this happens some of your customers will go and investigate the new business. Why not? Itís their money and they like choice. And if this new business does things better than you, in all likelihood you will lose some customers. How many depends on how big the gap is between what you offer and what your competitor offers.

But we can manage this by being proactive about our competitors. We need to get to know their businesses almost as well as we know our own. We need to talk to people that shop with them, we need to visit their business and see what their customer service is like, review their advertising, the brands they carry or the services they offer, talk to suppliers and so on. We need to know all of this information for several very good reasons.

Firstly it can tell us where we need to pick up our socks. Is this brand new flash building showing how old and run down our building is? Do they carry a larger range of products that are better displayed? Are they cheaper? Is their service miles ahead of ours? You might end up being surprised and realise that your own business is in good shape. But you might realise that there are a number of things you need to do, and do quickly to at least put your back in the race.

Secondly, my advice is to not be intimidated by new competitors in the market. Keep one eye firmly on what they do and use it as your measuring stick. Keep the other eye fixed on your own business. The aim is to be able to clearly identify what makes your business different, enhance these features and tell your customers why they should shop from you instead of the bloke up the road.

Competition comes from many places, not just the obvious ones Ė remembering that there are lots of businesses trying to sell lots of things. So look outside the square when it comes to identifying just who your competitors are and remember competition keeps us all honest and it is as much of a tool to grow your business as advertising if used wisely.

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