Deciding to start a business isn’t just about introducing your brilliant products or services to the world, it’s also about entering a crowded and constantly growing marketplace where you’ll need to compete with other rivals who could (and most likely will) move their goalposts overnight. You have two choices: perceive this as a negative in which you consider your company as the one that’s always playing defence or catch up, or flip the situation on its head, accepting that business would be far less fun if it were a one-team game, and recognise the positives.
Consider Microsoft versus Apple, or Pepsi versus Coca-Cola; competition drives innovation, pushing companies to ensure that their standards remain high, and isn’t something that prevents you from smashing your business goals, but is in fact the very thing that thrusts you towards them. It also keeps any potential Dishonest Johns at bay because customers will flock from an insincere business to an honest, transparent one quicker than Donald Trump fled the White House upon Biden’s victory… Oh no, hang on…
Anyway, let’s have a look at some of the excellent benefits reaped from competition, both for you and for your customers.
It drives innovation
There’s nothing like the heavy breath of a rival company breathing down your neck to put a rocket up your arse, innovatively speaking, of course… The threat of having customers jump from your ship to another seemingly more buoyant one should be the only motivator you need for doing whatever it takes to stay ahead of the competition and preserve the loyalty of your customers in the process. It’s also a healthy game of rhetoric; without blatantly stating that you mean serious business (in more ways than one), you and the other companies who are competing alongside you will have no choice but to keep on keeping up with one another, thus creating a never-ending chain of glorious innovation.
It’s not the best idea to sit with your team and say “right, innovate! Off you pop!”, however, instead focus on a few ice-breakers to get the cogs turning and the ideas flowing… Some of the core ways in which companies innovate include: always questioning and re-evaluating their position, products and business model; finding new ways to understand both their market and where the company sits within that overall picture – have other companies surpassed you in any particular areas? Why? Do your employees have any observations on how the day-to-day workings of the company could be done better and therefore increase sales?; is your strategy working as well as it always has? Maybe it’s time to add service alongside products, or focus on an emerging market that’s not been fully tapped.
It keeps customer service on its toes
The biggest downside to competing with other businesses is that there is only one pool of customers, so that pool will have to be shared out… Or is it? OK, there may be only a certain number of customers to go round, but this should only encourage you, as a business, to make damn sure that the customers you do have are the happiest they can be, so that they can then go and advise their friends and family to also become your customers. As Aristotle himself said: “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and he’s still bang on the money – customer service is no longer the stuff of queuing up to battle with Carol behind the counter about the validity of your receipt, it is everything, so much so that it now ranks as more significant than price or even product when it comes to customers deciding on who gets their business. Delivering faultless customer service is all about taking a holistic approach – pay attention to each and every customer making them feel at ease to voice any concerns and showing them that you are listening to their questions or queries as opposed to batting them off with stock responses; communicate with crystal clarity – customers are entitled to know exactly what they’re getting for the precious pounds they are parting with; and train your staff thoroughly – if they’re familiar with the ins and outs of the business and can answer questions with self-assurance, that confidence will spread like wildfire.
It imparts credibility
The very presence of competition, particularly in more crowded markets, immediately drums up trust in customers as they rightly assume that there’s a high level of proficiency already been met by the company’s successfully competing. This isn’t to say you can’t build on this credibility though, which you most certainly can and most certainly should. Rule number one: be honest; overpromising and underdelivering is the very worst thing you can do here, so never exaggerate and always strive for full transparency. Rule number two: use customer queries and questions to actively show them that you know what you’re doing; don’t just ‘fix’ any possible problems, explain why you understand the problem and how you’re going to better it using your expertise and you’ll immediately exude poise and professionalism.
It’s the enemy of complacency
Resting on your laurels, dropping your guard, kicking back and relaxing… Call it what you will, but becoming complacent and too comfortable about how things are going can be a death sentence for any business. Not only is growth essential for your company’s wellbeing, but being aware of competition biting at your ankles instils a healthy sense of ‘could do better’ that will drive that passion to grow. There are tried and tested methods to kill complacency in every area of your business though. Firstly, make sure to include employees at every stage of decision making processes that affects their role directly so that they’re held accountable; accountability for both successes and possible failures along the way will not only increase productivity, but also make any constructive criticism easier to hear. Secondly, be sure to reward creativity. Having creative employees is a real gift as their brains automatically look at ways to shake up the status quo; rewarding those enquiring minds will only push them to come up with more original and inventive ways of doing things. Lastly, always look for opportunities to expand; sticking routinely to an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality won’t do you any favours whereas thinking about expansion – and embracing any unease that might initially make you feel – will force you to look at things alternatively bringing with it a variety of exciting challenges.
Always be mindful of how you stack up against the competition from a potential customer’s point of view, so you can identify what makes your company culture different, your brand individual and your products special, but be equally careful not to define yourself solely in relation to your competitors because it’s essential that you have faith in what your bringing to the table, too. Know your market inside out, always keep an eye on your ever-changing competition and think on your feet in terms of how to adapt to stand out and you’ll find the right balance when it comes to the ‘them and us’ in your industry; business culture is by nature competitive, but it’s important to collaborate with your competitors where possible to build a strong support network to learn from each other and share lessons learned for positive growth.
The corporate world is a pretty fierce one and competition is inevitable no matter how big a fish you are in your particular pond; even more so for a startup that, in the first year at least, will be doing its best just to tread water. That said, it’s the ability to strategise, and at best thrive, in a competitive environment that will keep you on your toes – punch above your weight with confidence (but never arrogance) and you’ll gain recognition and respect among your peers and the thousands of new and expanding businesses that you’re pitting your business wits against.