Tuesday 15th October 2019

How to make your business competition ready


Picture this.

You’ve spent the best part of your career as a fisherman, building a solid brand as the go-to local supplier. You deliver a great service to those who rely on your skills, and over the years you’ve recruited more fishermen to cope with demand. Organically, word spreads about your product; business is on the up.

Life is great. It’s good.

And then, life isn’t so good.

The area you’ve been peacefully fishing in, unrivalled, has been spotted by other fishermen. Not altogether bad, not altogether unexpected either (it’s brought you a decent income after all), but then they arrive, and people begin to talk.

Their ships are bigger, their kits just as advanced, and it seems that they (or so a few of your customers have brought up once or twice), are able to underprice you.

Now, as much as your customers have appreciated your services throughout the years, the promise of receiving better value for money has made for good bait, and so the new fishermen have anchored.


Step One: Know your market

No matter what line of business you’re in, competition is impossible to avoid. Some markets are oversaturated when you begin, and other market gaps that seem untapped at first, may eventually crowd once cracked (take the above fishing business, for example.) Either way, competition is not necessarily a bad thing and nor does it mean automatic unravelling when it occurs.

According to recent research that asked SMEs to consider their biggest concerns, competition ranks third on the list (just behind Brexit uncertainty and increasing operational costs). Now, whether you’re a company looking to stand out from the crowd, or to simply do what you’re doing but better, making sure you know your market inside out is vital.

This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how so many companies fall short on solid lead opportunities by shelling out money on advertisement space before identifying first WHO their target market is, and then WHAT their needs and buyer motivations are.

It would be great if what you’re selling simply sold itself, if a straightforward description of the features of your product/service was enough to bring regular new customers on board, but in a competitive industry this rarely happens. If your competition’s service offering is identical to yours on the surface – let’s use the above example and say that a fisherman anchored in the same waters is catching the same fish as the neighbouring boat, then it’s time to go deeper and explore what’s unique about your company and why potential customers should choose you over your competitors.


Step Two: Choose the right platform to promote

81% of UK SMEs believe marketing is ‘critical’ to their company’s growth, reveals data from Royal Mail MarketReach. However, despite the expansion of marketable options brought about by advances in social media, many companies struggle to effectively showcase their products to consumers. Once you’ve identified your target market and explored the customer needs that your service solves, it’s time to research on which platform you’ll best find your audience. Here, 3 questions are key:

  1. Is what you’re selling B2C, B2B, or a bit of both?
  2. What’s the main demographic of the potential customers you’re trying to reach?
  3. What do you want to get out of your social media presence? More sales, better brand awareness, etc.

Your answers to these key questions will help you decide where best to begin building your online social media presence.


Step Three: Invest your energy where it matters

One of the great perks of being a small business is that you have the ability to engage with your customers directly, human to human, in a way that larger businesses struggle to. It’s one way to stand out from the crowd. One way to strengthen the staying power of your customers: reputation.

Ask yourself.

  • Do your customers feel looked after?
  • Do they speak highly of the service you have offered?

Now, although smaller businesses often find this easier through their more personalised service, it still remains the case that making your customers feel special is more demanding on time and energy. Larger corporations have the advantage of additional manpower; in many cases, roles created per skill required, even full departments like customer service, for example, or compliance. For small businesses this is rare, instead staff are called on to wear many hats – the guy hired as product manager, who is good with numbers might also find himself filing staff payroll, for example, or picking up calls on the office line.

Generalist roles are not an issue, in smaller firms they are essential, but when weighing up task delegation it’s important to consider how many hats you expect each staff member to wear, and whether certain asks are actually negatively impacting job performance.

In a recent study, alarmingly over 85% of employees stated feeling overworked. The study further revealed a resulting dip in productivity, with the same employees reporting that not only did they feel overwhelmed by being too thinly spread, but also lacking in sufficient ‘headspace’ to do their jobs – citing the ability to do their actual jobs well only 51% of the time.

In these cases then, it’s important to consider which jobs must crucially remain in-house, and which ones suit the business better by being further recruited for or simply outsourced. In the above fishing example, would it make sense to outsource the training of the young apprentices… probably not, as your ship has a certain way about it, a certain culture that you want to encourage and so the more experienced hands are a more sensible shout.

However, what about the first step: recruiting your new crewmates in the first place? This takes time, advertisement, and to get the best selection of apprentices, takes regional and industry knowledge. Therefore, finding a recruiter (in other words, outsourcing) might prove more beneficial to your business than adding the job of recruitment to another crew member’s task list.

You will see this as you begin to go through all the duties that make up your company’s day-to-day. The more corporate side, often administrative like Recruitment or Payroll, Pensions and the like, often take up more time than they’re worth, more money, because of the governing laws that insist they’re carried out correctly.

Governing bodies like HMRC and the Pensions Regulator are known to throw out heavy penalties for errors. Strategically speaking, for a small business looking into alternative routes such as outsourcing can be a great way to keep your company in the clear from huge fines. Not only does it minimise the risk, but has the added bonus of getting your company competition ready, giving your team the time back into their working day to focus on the more client-facing tasks that have a larger bearing on the profitability and success of the business.