By Cliff Ennico
Once you have identified the four different types of competitor (identified in last week’s column), you now have to develop a strategy for crushing each and every one of them.
No matter what business you are in, your success will come to some extent from the failures of others. And you can’t just sit around and wait for them to make mistakes. You have to put pressure on them until they do.
If you are looking to raise capital from investors, you will need to understand and clearly articulate your advantage over your competitors. Your competitive advantage should also be part of your “elevator pitch” and all of your marketing materials. Simply put, you need to be able to explain to people what makes your business better, different and more likely to survive over the long haul than other businesses.
Most businesses think they are better or different than other businesses, but you would be surprised: your actual advantage in the marketplace may be quite different than what you think it is.
Here are some examples.
A Better Product or Service. This is what people most commonly think of when they think of “competitive advantage.” Your product or service is simply superior to others’. This may well be true, but unless you have patent protection or there are “barriers to entry” (such as government regulations or a licensing requirement) for other people who want to get into your business, your success will soon spawn “copycats” who will eat into your business. To stay ahead of “copycats,” you will have to make constant improvements and changes to your products or services. Sooner or later, you will get tired, fall down and they will catch up and eat you.
Your Pricing. People do not want to pay “by the hour” or “by the day” anymore. They are willing to pay reasonable fees for services, but they want to know up front, to the penny, what these will cost. They want flat fees – write one check, and you’re done. Service businesses and professionals that can learn how to make money on flat fees will conquer their competition.
How You Deliver the Goods. People are also basically lazy. They don’t want to work to get your products and services. They want convenience. Give it to them, and you will beat your competition. If you are a local pizza parlor, offer to deliver every single order to your customers’ homes. On a rainy Friday night, people do not want to pack the kids into the SUV and drive to your store to pick up a pizza that’s already ice cold.
Not Requiring a Minimum Purchase. Deliver ALL the pizzas for a slight additional charge.
Your Location. Position your business so you are close to your customers. People will not travel more than 5 miles to attend a gym or buy a pizza. If the residential neighborhoods are located in the north end of town, don’t rent space in the south end of town where the other businesses are.
If you are an antique store, rent space in a mall where there are other antique stores. People like the idea of “one stop shopping,” especially for art and antiques.
Who You Are. Do you speak Spanish, Chinese, Polish or Albanian? Your community probably has numerous ethnic communities that are not being served adequately by local businesses because of a language barrier. Let them know you “speak their language” and you may find thousands of loyal customers your competitors can’t reach.
Here’s a trick question: What three words are guaranteed – GUARANTEED – to double your business if you add them to your business cards, stationery, website and other marketing materials?
The three words: “Se habla espanol.”
Your Personality. Your personality may be your strongest competitive advantage, especially in personal service businesses. People are often frightened of dealing with lawyers, accountants, architects, plumbers and other professionals because:
- They’re afraid they are going to be overcharged;
- They’re afraid the professionals will be looking down on them because they need their services; and/or
- They’re afraid the professionals will sell them services they don’t really need.
There’s an old saying among lawyers that “a laughing jury never convicts.” Any middle school student who was ever picked on by bullies will tell you that making them laugh prevents many a beating.
If you have the ability to reach out to your customers, invite them into your world, make them comfortable (or even laugh), and show them you put your pants on one leg at a time just like they do, they are much more likely to buy your services than your competitors’.
At the end of my law firm website at www.cliffennico.com, I’ve added a simple call to action: “Still have questions? Please call or e-mail. I don’t bite.” Yes, I know, it sounds really hokey, but I get tons of business because of it.
My competitors don’t.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of Small Business Survival Guide, The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book and 15 other books. Follow him at @cliffennico.