Each of us runs our business in the way we feel will work best. And as we do so, there are subtle things that make our business different from the shop down the road. But in the end, the shop next door and our business are likely providing the same key service. So, what is keeping your customers from going down the road?
When things are going well, we as humans tend to take on a superior complex at times. “My business is better than the others, so everyone will just choose me. I am doing well, so I must just be killing the competition.” This line of thinking often has the effect of narrowing our thoughts.
When we think we are better than another, even unintentionally, we tend to stop looking around us. Our path is perfect so there is no need to reflect.
Failure to reflect
No matter how long you have been in business, there is always room to grow. And the world around us is not sitting still. Every day things are changing and if we stop being aware or reflecting on what’s happening, we stop succeeding.
I hear this excuse quite a bit as I meet with prospects. “I don’t need a website; I get plenty of business by word of mouth.” Or “My products speak for themselves.” Sure, you may indeed be 100% right. There is no arguing that your business is successful today. But what about tomorrow?
Reflection allows us to plan around obstacles before they are even there.
Take the time to reflect on how your business is going. Find the weak links and work to patch those holes. Simple things like what portion of your revenue comes from a single source. What would happen tomorrow if that revenue disappeared?
We saw this during the middle months of Covid. Not all businesses that shut down came back. And if your income was based on one of those that never came back, you might be suffering.
Look at your surroundings
Just because you have one way of doing things does not mean you can’t learn from those around you.
In my wife’s candle business, we take the time to research the other candle vendors around us. Especially if we are going to be at the same event. By taking a little time to prepare ourselves, we can plan how to handle our marketing. We know what to say, or how to set up our booth to showcase our offer in the best way we can.
This little bit of research gives us an edge.
You can do the same in your business. Make a list of who your competition is. You can even rank it if there are a lot of them, so you know who is most important to watch, etc.
Once you have your list, go visit their websites. Check out their social media accounts. See how they talk to their customer base and determine where there is overlap between your base and theirs. Once you know what you are up against, determine if there is anything you feel they are doing well and see how you can work that into your business.
Do not copy them. Being a copycat won’t get you new business. It only makes you look fake. Instead, take the part that works well, or you like and make them your own. Perhaps they give a weekly tip that goes over well on social. How could you do something similar that would engage your audience?
If you need help finding your competitors, start by looking at what media your customers would use to find your business. Do you serve a local market or a global one? Is it common for people to shop around, or find a business they like and stay there? Does price determine a portion of your market such as high-end goods matching to high-income buyers? Give some real thought to where you would find your audience and use that same information to find your competition.
I know it sounds weird. Why on earth would I want to be friends with my competition? Or maybe you are thinking: “Ahh I get you, keep your friends close and enemies closer…”
The truth is, unless you offer the same service to the same people, with the same marketing, you each bring something different to the table. Stop looking at competition as something to fear or overtake but rather as someone you can work with to grow together.
Is there room in your market for you both to work together somehow? Could you be the other’s backup person so you both can take vacations?
Even something as simple as jewelry is such a personal preference to everyone, that you could both coexist in the same space and help each other. We have seen many times that someone will purchase from our candle business, and then purchase from the other candle vendor down the way. Each business offered something the other did not have, and the customer wanted both.
Make an effort to talk to your competitors. See how you can help each other. Maybe you could send each other referrals if the prospect won’t work for you. If you don’t feel like each other is a threat to kill off, then you can help each other grow beyond what you could individually.
Learning from others to grow
Since it’s very unlikely that you are the only one of your kind of business ever, you should seek out others to learn from. Join groups of like-minded businesses so you can learn from others who might have been in business longer or encountered issues that you could then sidestep.
Back when I owned my computer repair business, I became good friends with another computer repair shop across the county. We were far enough apart that we posed no threat to each other, and in turn, were able to learn and help each other.
Often if one of us encountered a problem, we could share ideas on how to solve it. It was a great relationship, and the friendship lives on today despite us both having moved on from computer repair to other things.
Our business will never go as expected. One minute things are going great. The next is a total train wreck, and you don’t know if you want to give up or just hide away from the rest of your life. Trust me, we have all been there.
But one thing I have learned (and still struggle with) is that when I am down, the very people I need to connect with or sell to can sense my mood. That negative atmosphere will only work to drive them off. Who wants to do business with a downer all the time?
Find a small positive spark that you can hold onto even in the worst of times. This will help you overcome the bumps and make those customers you have feel more at ease and content when working with you.
People are not numbers
The last thing that keeps you ahead, and customers coming to your door and not down the road, is treating people as people. It’s all too common in business for customer service to go right out the window. The customer becomes just another number, another task to be completed before you can sign off for the day.
Take the time to treat your customers with respect and treat them as humans. In other words, treat everyone how you want to be treated. Stop being concerned with lining your pocket and focus on their problems.
When you are genuine and care, they will feel it. And will probably be more likely to support you.
You can’t always keep your customers from going to the shop down the road. But I would be willing to bet that if you keep track of your competition and take the time to explore their offers, you can keep your business up with them. You might even take a few of their customers. Or take the high road, become friends, and help each other succeed. No matter what you choose to do, don’t go around with blinders on and let your business be swept off as obsolete.