It’s hard to believe we are already in the 2nd quarter of 2012! I keep asking – as I am sure some of you are – where did the last 3 months go? For some, business may still be tough, and for others the future looks bright; well done and I wish you continued success.
However for the rest of us who are feeling the increased pressure of competition in our marketplace, you may be considering giving it all up – yes even as a start-up. You may be thinking you could be better off packing it all in now and heading back to the sector/job you came from or just getting a job to pay your bills. Or perhaps, you are not quite at that point, but saying to yourself – “I knew it was going to be tough (everyone said so!), but not this tough” and trying to figure out what you could do differently to improve the current situation.
Whichever category you are in, I think you should give your business another roll of the dice; and hopefully some of the points here will give you and your business that much needed boost.
I know I go on and on about brainstorming, but it is a valuable tool for all businesses – start-ups or well established; and often wonder if people utilise it as much as they should because the results are always surprising. In one of the articles I wrote ‘Have an idea for a business? Brainstorm it’; I outlined three main benefits of brainstorming:
- Identifying a ‘gap’ within an idea
- Focus the mind
- Save money
While I was talking about brainstorming in the context of ‘getting’ started, it is a very useful exercise for taking things forward in an already existing business – small, medium or big sized – whatever the reason. For this article, I am only going to focus on identifying the gap; and as you read on, you will understand why.
If you are operating in a crowded marketplace – which is almost everyone these days; then this is the time to roll up your sleeves and take the fight back to the market with the sole intention of winning – winning new business and taking new grounds. The main questions you have to answer are:
- How am I going to establish myself differently to my competitors?
- How do you create a niche or further an existing niche for my business?
These are the top-level questions; and some of the answers can be realised from organising a brainstorming session. The objective of such a session will allow you drill down to the very basics, and give you some ideas you may not have originally identified. I have put the kind of questions you should be thinking of answering into four categories:
This may seem like covering old ground – especially if you are a start-up and had outlined those months ago before you got started. But remember you now have the experience of ‘being’ in business and really things have moved in one direction or another, so it is worth repeating this exercise.
- What similarities do I share with my competitors?
- What can I do differently from my competitors now and/or possibly in the future?
- How will I differentiate my business or offering? Will it be on the size of the market I target and or on price?
- What added value can I bring to the crowded marketplace that will enable me stand out? Can it be replicated easily?
I would suggest that you try and ‘disassociate’ yourself from your business during this exercise. This is difficult I know, but it is important to see things from your ‘customers’ point of view.
- What are my customers’ expectations?
- If I was a customer, what else would I expect?
- What else could my customers need? Should I add something else? Will it necessary, appreciated or profitable?
- Should/can I sell my offering to different people? Who are could they be?
- Should I sell differently to the same customers?
Predicting market trends is a difficult one, but there’s a creative element or two in every entrepreneur, so it’s a very useful exercise. You’ll be surprised what you’ll come up with when you do this. Just think about a lot of successful businesses today, most of them studied the market for a while and spotted a gap. It’s a bit like trying to spot the difference in two almost identical photos – you stare at it long enough and then you see something new. Also, try projecting and imagining what could happen – good and bad in your marketplace in the coming months.
- What are the current market trends? What are the external forces that could change the market place?
- Is the marketplace changing or is there stagnation? How will this affect me and my customers?
All small businesses are operating in a time where everyone can be a broadcaster -courtesy of YouTube. In addition, there’s Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, and the latest one to the ‘social media’ party – Pinterest; all free as you know, so providing a lot of scope and opportunity to be creative and stand out in any way or form you choose suits you and your brand at zero cost.
- How can I get the attention of other people who are not necessarily in my target audience?
- How can I build my brand further? How can I create brand ambassadors? Who will they be?
- How can I create a PR buzz?
Be very clear what you want out of the brainstorming session, so you can communicate it to the people you invite along – they will appreciate knowing ahead what their time will actually do for you. My suggestion would be to have a mixture of some ‘champion’ customers and others who don’t currently use your product or service for a balanced view on things. Think carefully about the incentive for them to invest their time with you. For example if you are a coach, you could offer a free session – both sets of people would appreciate it. And finally ensure you have someone else recording/taking notes of everything that’s said; you’ll need it for your future planning.
These are just some of the areas for you to start exploring; and if you are shaking your head and wondering where you’ll find the time for this ‘new project’ with your regular day to day work; the only comfort I can offer is once you have done it, set it up as a system and incorporated it into your every day activity, it will become a lot easier and you will begin to reap the benefits.
Finally, remember the marketplace keeps changing. There are customers in some sectors who know what they want; while others want to be told what they want. You just need to understand your customers and marketplace very well. If you can be in a position of targeting both types of customers, then you are more likely to significantly increase your customer base and profit.
As always, let us know how you get on.