This age old question will persist forever as new businesses, and therefore new competition,ares created every day. Regardless of how innovative your idea is today, by tomorrow 30 “me too” companies could pop up doing the same thing, maybe for less money since they didn’t have to “invent” it. Of course if you have some unique patented product or process you will be protected from direct rip offs for a while, but once there is a market defined, there will be players in it trying to steal your thunder.
So what so you do about it? First, understand that differentiation is not a one time thing. You have to constantly be evaluating your business, your model, your delivery system, your costs, and the value you bring to your clients if you want to stay ahead. Approach this on at least an annual basis by reviewing what you are doing internally and also with some key clients to see what you could be doing differently or better. Don’t take that last statement too lightly either because involving your customers is critical if you want to stay in the game. They are the ones that are hearing from your competition who is trying to steal their business. Find out what they have heard that they thought was interesting enough to listen to.
Once you go through this soul searching, try to figure our what the best ideas are that will bring more value to your customers. Remember, its always about your customers, not about you. You may have come up with some cool ideas that would be fun or sexy to implement, but if your target market is not interested, they are a waste of time and money.
Lastly, build a business plan for implementing these new ideas. Identify specifically who has what responsibilities, in what time frame and at what cost. Determine how you will let the market know about these new offerings and how they will benefit from them. You can even use those trusted customers that gave you the ideas as test subjects to perfect them before going to market if appropriate.
Remember, business changes fast regardless of what market you are in or who you sell to. Even if you think you have a monopoly in a certain space, if there is money to be made, someone will be along with a better mouse trap soon enough to take it from you (consider the dilemma the cable companies are in right now with streaming services taking their customers for a fraction of the cost). Evolve or die. That’s all there is to it in business. If you stay ahead of the trends, you can continue to differentiate yourself from others who are trying to be where you were last year.
Michael Giuffrida from Southington CT has been operating businesses since 1997. He is an experienced entrepreneur in business management, profitable growth, business valuation, mergers and acquisitions, and information technology managed services.