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The future can be a source of tremendous anxiety for business leaders. There are just so many things to worry about: your competitors, your customers and, most importantly, your own business. Will you still able to work hard and come up with new ideas over the next few years? What will your industry look like? Concerns like these are perhaps the main reason that more and more businesses are increasing their utilization of data. They want to acquire as much information as possible so they can anticipate major changes before they take place.
But as vital as data can be, I’ve found through my experience as the CEO of an alternative business financing company that looking at numbers isn’t the only way to prepare you and your team for the future. What really used to worry me was my inability to answer just a few questions about the people who have the biggest impact on my business’s success: my competitors and my customers. Here are four things to do to give you a clearer picture of your business’s next steps and dramatically increase your confidence in the process:
1. Know your competitors.
At first, keeping tabs on your current competitors’ strategies along with new contenders sounds like a recipe for panic. But it actually does the opposite. Think about it: You probably wouldn’t have started your business if you didn’t believe you could do something better than anyone else in your industry. You likely knew exactly what kind of people you would target and why they would choose your business over a competitor. Well, monitoring your competitors shows you how to get even better at what you do and which strengths to emphasize to potential customers.
Yes, many of your competitors are probably very successful and are only gaining more traction. But they’re not you. This undeniable fact tells you that in the eyes of your target customer, your competitors aren’t doing at least one thing right. Rather than pointing out your flaws, studying your ongoing and new competitors will most likely remind you of what the majority of your industry doesn’t understand about your target customer and why you’re still the best at serving them.
I can attest that the majority of my newest competitors seem just as clueless about my target customers’ needs as my oldest competitors. This allows me to see which subjects my company should address in our marketing efforts as well as what we should improve to keep our customers and get referrals.
Countless successful businesses were started when their founders noticed increasingly common complaints about popular industries. The same concept applies to growth and your business’s future. In order to continuously satisfy your target customer, you must learn their general opinion on your competitors. The answer usually isn’t so obvious, because the actions of your competitors don’t always produce the desired result.
For example, in my industry, some of our biggest competitors have made their small-business loans increasingly easier to obtain. But after speaking with numerous clients of theirs, I discovered that some of my competitors are apparently supplementing their looser requirements by offering lower loan amounts. This information opened us up to a new group of potential customers. We now serve myriad borrowers who were short-funded.
3. Know you’re getting information from the right source.
You may have noticed an influx of articles recommending the guidance of a mentor. This isn’t exactly a surprise because a major benefit of having a mentor is knowing that this individual’s advice isn’t likely to steer you wrong. Without the certainty that a source is entirely credible, the information provided cannot be fully trusted. It’s safe to say that business leaders would be a lot less nervous about their future if they knew that they were only receiving credible information about their industries.
One can reasonably assume that one of the keys to being a successful news writer is relying on credible, up-to-date sources. All business leaders must do the same when it comes to gathering information about their competitors and customers. Once you’ve ascertained that the information you’re consistently receiving is coming from the right sources, you won’t have to question whether one of your competitors knows something you don’t.
4. Know your own business.
As you can see, a common theme here is using information about other things to know your own business better. Anxiety about the future is often rooted in a business leader’s lack of awareness about the true value of his or her company. In the first section of this article, I mentioned being able to do something better than anyone else in your industry. It can be easy to lose track of what that thing is over time. When you look deeper into what’s brought you the most success, you might find that your top skills have changed and/or multiplied.
If your response to this suggestion is “What I do well will only be relevant for so long,” you’re not looking deep enough. Successful businesses are often built on skills that transcend time because they can be applied to multiple types of tasks or initiatives. This is why I believe that accessing the true depth of what you and your team do best can protect your business from being left behind.