If your competitor keeps you awake at night, you must read this now

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Noordhoek (Photo credit: Paul Watson)

I’ve just woken up in a strange place, tossing and turning in the dark with the autumn wind howling against the mountain side. I’m staying for a few days in a cottage high up mountain, next to a vineyard, with a view down below of the Atlantic Ocean.

In the night with the cottage creaking from the wind all the primeval fears come out. Winter is coming and there could be trouble the way the global economy is going. Business is down in this coastal town where I’m staying. Walk through the malls and main road and you see windows plastered in paper – several businesses shut down.

A business-owner I was talking to yesterday mentioned that a competitor was setting up shop nearby. Although some business owners simply brush off competition with “there’s room for us all”, it’s never a simple matter to decide whether competitive threats will make an impact or not.

It’s easier to explain what’s happened than to predict. When a business fails people want to know why. Was it the competition, the owner, the bank, customers, technology? One of the reasons or a combination makes sense. But it’s a lot harder to forecast, estimate, predict, divine what can and will happen in the future.

If you look at the advice small business owners themselves give to fellow business owners, you’ll find three main themes:

1 Ignore your competition and get on with obsessing about your business and customers.
2 Analyse your strengths and weaknesses. Identify opportunities and minimise threats. Differentiate with personalised service.
3 Make friends with your competitors, love them, unite with them, help each other.

Two main distinct groups here: the aggressive warriors and the relationship builders.

For me who has had “don’t just stand there, do something!” drilled into my early survival and witnessed many businesses successes and failures, I would keep an eye on them but keep stepping up my value for customers.

Did you know that the McDonald’s brothers started out in the drive-in food business? Stiff competition and their increasingly high-cost, labour-intensive format made them decide to sell their drive-in business and open a new hamburger restaurant in one of the new strip shopping centres. That’s where they began to develop the concept of speed, lower prices and volume. The system they were about to build and innovate would be the beginning of a revolution in food service.

Competition is good because it keeps you on your toes. But what’s far better is innovation – finding ways to look after your customers and attracting new ones even if it means a step-change in your entire business model.

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