Competitive Edge is for Small Businesses too

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”.Jack Welch

As the quote suggests, competitive edge is that advantage which even small businesses must have. If your company / business is flourishing, is huge and well-known, you already have a bit of an edge. For small businesses to grow it is vital to gain a competitive edge by employing go-getter employees, have the best products in your segment, have a well-done website and a consistent customer focus that shows.  These may seem far-fetched for a small business whose main aim is primarily to get on their feet and survive in the aggressive market place. However, all the factors mentioned together will not only ensure survival but also help to gain a competitive edge for your small business. It is a fact that though competitive edge is for small businesses too, the challenges they face are greater. Along with the factors mentioned, they must also deal with having efficient communication and operating systems, be able to keep costs low and look at different methods to expand their business while keeping customer demands in focus. In my opinion, it is also harder to recruit high quality talent for small businesses as being associated with ‘big names’ is a status symbol and looks good on the resume too!

However, the task of gaining a competitive edge for your small business is not impossible. It would start by hiring people of similar mind-sets, who believe in the goals, share your vision and have the requisite skills to help your company and themselves move closer towards the goals, while improving their skills and knowledge as they go along. People just starting out on their career, those with fewer years of experience and some others who have a keen desire to learn and try out new things and are bursting with new ideas and different approaches, are the kind of people a small business should seek to employ. The crucial thing to remember is that customers will continue to have demands and would most certainly expect a high level of service and professionalism even from the ‘newbies’ – even a hint of negativity or lack of customer focus can create trouble for small businesses. Of course this is true for all businesses, irrespective of size but it is imperative for small businesses to guard against anything that could be perceived as a shortcoming during its nascent stages. Customers are different and their parameters for judging every business are different and small businesses must ensure that they know what parameters have been set for them. Know your customers and target customers well before trying to ‘provide irresistible offers’, ‘never before service’ and other such clichés that won’t hold for too long.

Gaining a competitive edge for your small business is a factor of a number of things – that would be obvious! Let us begin with what everyone knows to be the key differentiator for any company – content. To use the cliché ‘content is king’ – this simple statement translates to saying that sharp, crisp, informative and effective content will get your readers sitting up and taking notice. Many companies have gained visibility and their websites are getting ‘picked up and noticed’ by popular search engines because their content is fresh, updated and relevant. The relevance of their content through blogs and website information comes from not just being useful to the particular industry they operate in but also to other topics that could be of general use and interest to their customers and target audience. When content is relevant to a larger audience, websites gain more ‘traffic’ and people come to know the company and site as one that is focused on providing service rather than constantly pushing the company’s products with a view to sell. Great content builds loyalty and trust and customers and other ‘visitors’ tend to spend more time on websites and social media sites that have engaging content. As customers and visitors appreciate your efforts, they would be more amenable to not just listen when you to pitch to sell but will also want to buy from you – and increased sales and profitability is the end goal for any company.

Keep your customers engaged by remaining in touch with them. With time fast becoming a major constraint and yet face to face communication being the ultimate way to gain a competitive edge, companies should think of using virtual communication methods that not only save time and costs, but are an effective method to keep in touch with the customer. The customer too is able to gain all the information ‘face to face’ without any expense to them and both parties can ‘invite’ more than one participant on such ‘calls’ enabling brainstorming and a healthy sharing of views to take place. The other advantage of such virtual communication is that they can be held even on smart mobile devices – allowing more freedom to the users. The company can, without incurring travel costs and time, train the members of a customer’s team on the use of a product or service with visuals making the training more effective for both parties. This technology proves to be very cost effective over time and also helps small businesses come into the limelight and gain a competitive edge over their competitors – the fact is that anything that raises the standards of customer service and lowers customer effort will be advantageous to any business.

To gain and sustain a competitive edge, small businesses must, before they set up shop, look at cost effective ways to produce the offerings and also utilize the limited resources in the best method possible. Learning from the market leaders and also assessing what their nearest competitors do, is a great way to gain an advantage. When small businesses keep their costs down, they would be able to offer their products and services at lower prices than most and would not need to engage in the self-defeating ‘price wars’ that are commonplace when companies are trying to win over customers, especially from their competitors.

To gain a competitive edge, small businesses must actively look for customers and market segments where they would be unique and distinct. Also they can look at developing products that customers find most useful and vital and create a market and a niche for themselves with these certain products. It is about standing out from the crowd.

Small businesses, just like large ones, need to forge relationships and partnerships with other companies. Other companies that could be from the same industry or similar industries or even industries that could be indirectly connected or provide support to their business. Forming such partnerships strengthens a small business and each can stand to gain from the resources and expertise of the other – this not only helps to gain a competitive edge but also weakens the closest competitors.

Small businesses should not need to feel intimidated or powerless – it is just about analysing and putting your strengths to play. The leader / owner of a small business must first ascertain what will drive them, when they work best and the kind of people they work best with. Learning to schedule crucial tasks in the hours of the day when one works at the optimum capacity, think rationally and lead with clarity and focus will help your small business to gain mileage and make sturdy strides towards success. It is important to remain organized and disciplined – for example preparing a to-do list for the day ahead, keeping distractions to the minimum and treating the team with respect are some of the things that can lead to differentiation and a competitive edge for your now small business.

While it may sound tough to do because your business is in a start-up stage, it is actual quite crucial to take breaks and unwind. Constantly thinking about work will only serve to burn you out and drain you of the energy required for the next day. To keep your business competitive and sharp, you would need to start with you – a tired body and over-used mind cannot think straight or lead others to make a difference.

The need to gain a competitive edge for your small business is a full time job for sure but by using the right methods and optimally utilizing the resources at your disposal, this can be easier than you think.

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