Finding your footing in a competitive marketplace is a long, hard slog, and reaching the point where you’ve established your brand with customers is no small victory. But it isn’t a final victory; our place is never assured, so long as we have competitors aimed at acquiring the same pool of potential customers shared across the market.
Competition is the driving force of many industries. Most founders are driven to start their business out of at least some sense of competitiveness — knowing that they have an idea better than the ones offered by the other businesses in that space and looking to make it a reality. And for those who are smart and driven and not the least bit fortunate, they are able to turn their ideas into a viable business that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those competitors, if not a bit ahead.
But those same competitors undoubtedly share the same drive and any advantages you may have been able to cultivate and exploit they will look to negate. Any new features or pricing that you introduce invites a response, one for which you should be prepared. It’s a chess match played out over months and years with multiple opponents, each trying to get the edge over the others.
Staying ahead of your competition is as challenging as keeping up with the needs and demands of customers, and trying to juggle both can feel near impossible at the best of times, and can feel almost like a secondary concern to survival during a pandemic. How can we ensure that we maintain our advantages over others?
Remain focused on what you do, less on what others do. While it’s good to stay aware of what your competitors are doing, you don’t want to devote too much undue attention to what they have going on. After all, you’re making a product for customers and not just trying to keep up with a rival. In trying to match your competition move for move, you’re allowing someone other than yourself to dictate your actions and planning. Worse yet, you’re straying from your own ideas in favor of trying to ultimately be second-best at executing someone else’s. The impulse to try and respond is understandable, and perhaps warranted in some cases, but be cautious against decisions that don’t make sense in the bigger picture.
Don’t be afraid to zig as others zag. Going against the grain is difficult, given not only the chance but also the manner of the failure; it’s easier to make the same mistake as a dozen other people than being the lone dissenting voice that gets it wrong. Being out on your own is nervy and uncomfortable, but it can reap huge rewards if you end up as the only one with the vision and fortitude to break from the pack and make a successful gamble. Ultimately, it’s about trusting yourself; it’s what you did when you decided to start your own business, and it’s what you should continue to do in the face of new challenges that arise.
Continue pushing yourself and your company. Complacency is the bane of any business and a sure path towards failure through irrelevance or obsolescence. As soon as you think you’ve made it and that you’re safe, you put your business at risk of getting outworked or out-thought by others hungry for the slice of the customer pie you’ve claimed. You don’t need to feel on edge all of the time — what kind of way is that to live, after all— but nor should you feel entirely comfortable. The best companies reached their spot by constantly pushing towards improvement and innovation so that their products remained the best, even in the face of new competitors. It’s not enough to say that the standards shouldn’t drop; you must be looking to raise them to meet your growing ambitions.
There’s no guarantee that your work will keep you ahead; sometimes others stumble upon great ideas and innovations that can’t be anticipated with any amount of planning or R&D. Today, beset by global events that reshape the world and marketplace around us, we’re simply victims of fate or bad luck or whatever you might want to call it. But deviating from the hard work and creativity and planning that got you to where you are is a sure guarantee that you’ll lose your spot and your market share to others who are eager and willing to put in the time and effort to win away your customers.#onwards.