When you’re first starting out in your business, it’s easy to get distracted and disheartened by all the competition that’s already out there. “There are so many others already doing this,” “There are no new ideas,” “It’s all been done before,” “How can I possibly compete when I’m just starting out?” The risk is that you don’t get started at all, or that you spend too much time looking at what your competitors are doing and forget to focus on driving your own business proposition. So how can you build a thriving business and stay ahead of your competition?
The first thing to do is recognise that competition is good! It means that there is a market and that there are people who are willing to pay for this kind of product or service. If there were no competitors, it’s theoretically possible that you would be completely pioneering and revolutionising the industry; but more likely it’s because the demand just isn’t there right now.
The second piece when it comes to your mindset is to refrain from comparing your year 1 to someone else’s year 5, 10 or 15! The famous names that you’re seeing pop up in the news or in your Facebook feed have been hustling away for years to get to where they are and, at some point, they were where you are now. Use their stories as inspiration but don’t give yourself a hard time because you’re not living up to an impossible ideal when you’re just starting out.
To stand out against your competitors, you need to know who those competitors are. Who are the big, established players? Who are the new disruptors coming onto the scene? Assessing what the existing landscape looks like will help you understand the rules of the game. You can then understand what’s working and how to play by the rules (or choose to break them with intentionality), and think about how you could position yourself and do things differently in order to win versus those competitors.
As well as knowing your competitors, you also want to know your customers. If you have an existing business, then ask yourself (and ask your current and past clients) why people are choosing to work with you, as well as asking the people you didn’t manage to convert why they chose not to work with you. This may give you new ideas about what the most important differentiators are for your business. If you’re just starting out, then understand your ideal clients’ wants, needs and fears and develop your solutions and offerings to answer those needs. Then delight your customers by over-delivering on their expectations.
What you don’t want is for your product or service to be a commodity, where it is fully replaceable by a similar product or service and people make a purchase decision purely on price. This is where building a brand for your business becomes important and, especially, where building your personal brand can be powerful. People buy from people now, and your personal story and mission is what makes your business unique. Be proactive about putting content out there, engaging with people on social media and building long-term relationships. Building your personal brand will reinforce your credibility and authority in this new field and create a platform that will last beyond any specific products and services that you happen to be offering today.
The biggest reason I see for why businesses fail is that the entrepreneur gives up too soon. I think they have unrealistic expectations about how quickly results will come, they lack a support system in the form of a mentor or coach and a community that will keep them going through the rough times, and they stop before the hard work they’ve put in has a chance to bear fruit. If you keep going even when you’re not seeing the results, if you show up consistently and stay resilient in the face of disappointment, then you are already way ahead of the game.
There are plenty of famous examples of big companies that were successful but didn’t evolve with the times – Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia – and you risk that happening too if you rest on your laurels. Don’t just find one product or service that works and then sit back and expect to reap the benefits for years to come. In order to keep ahead of the competition, keep your clients and grow your business, you have to be always looking for ways to improve, to diversify your income streams and to attract different clients with different offers.
It’s not just your business that needs to evolve but you as the business owner and as an individual. Don’t ever allow yourself to get complacent and think you’re fully taught. You must keep improving: listen to podcasts, go to conferences, invest in courses to upskill in new areas, and work with a coach to make sure that you’re bettering yourself and stepping into the role that you need to play for the next phase of your business. As the saying goes, “what got you here won’t get you there”.
If you want to work with me on how you can build your personal brand, differentiate yourself from your competitors and come up with an effective marketing strategy, then get in touch!