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Entrepreneurs are often ego driven creatures. After all, it takes a certain amount of hubris to start your own business enterprise and offer your products and services to the world. While that ego has great benefit and can help one succeed in business, it is important not to let ego keep you from looking at lessons you can learn from your competitors. I have a client who started a business providing a utility service in an area where that type of service was new. There were a few competitors, but more than enough business to go around. My client and his partner were smart, educated, and full of energy. They should have been able to succeed at this or any other venture they attempted. However, their business failed. They failed in part because they did not look at their competitors as potential teachers. The competitors had been in the business a year longer and were successfully serving customers while my clients were wondering how to get clients and how to service the few clients they had.
When I suggested my clients talk to the competition or some of the former employees in order to learn why they were successful, my clients laughed and said the competition lacked intelligence and business savvy and that there was nothing they could learn from them. Interestingly, three years later, the competitors are still in business and earning a profit while my client, now former client, has now long been out of business. Ego should not prohibit us from learning from our competitors. As long as they are in business and serving customers, our competitors have things to teach us.
For most business owners, the business they are in is not a monopoly provider. This means that there are other businesses that sell or do the same products and services you offer. Your competitors will probably do things better or differently than you do. For example, if your competitors charge different prices or offer a different product mix find out why? Do they do things differently by chance or design? Look at how your competitors do things so that you can learn from both their successes and failures. It is important to look for opportunities to make competitors collaborators in our success. This is the idea behind chambers of commerce. Business owners get together to share stores, brag about successes and look for solutions for problems and ways to turn around failures.
Keep in mind, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. That is a mistake many entrepreneurs make. Instead of being innovative and creative, they waste time and energy by trying to create a new way to do things when current methods used by the competition, are in fact the best methods possible. If your competitors have created a method of doing something that works and you can safely, legally and morally copy that method in your business, copy it. For example, my former customer with the utility business mocked the way the competitors’ sales force sold service one size only and offered multiple units of that one size rather than custom making each order. What my client did not see is that the one size only method was easy for a newly trained sales staff to understand, sell and explain to customers. The one size method also made it easy to calculate costs, profit, and commission for the sales staff. Instead of seeing potential benefits of the competition’s methods, my former clients bad-mouthed their methods and behaved as if they were superior.
People often say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, when it comes to business, this is often not the case. I believe you can learn something new every day if you try. So, rather than taking the attitude that you have been doing something the same way since you started in business, stop and figure out if there is something you can learn from the competition. In conclusion, it is thrilling to know that you can take the mystery out of running your business by looking at the way your competitors do things. So, the question for you this thrilling day is, what can you learn from the competition to make your business better?