5 Ways Competition Makes Your Business Stronger

GrowthCoachBlog_competition“Competition in business is a blessing, for without it, we wouldn’t be motivated to improve.” – Nabil N. Jamal, author of A Harvest of Change

It can be nerve-wracking to have competition – especially when you’re a small business owner trying to find your stride. But rather than shunning your counterparts at networking events or stressing over their next big sale, take a moment to think about how competition makes your business better and your customers happier.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Everyone hates the age old interview question, “What’s your greatest weakness.” But that question is still as probing today and it was the first time you heard it. Identifying your greatest weakness – and being honest with yourself about it – is the first step toward making improvements. Sometimes it’s a matter of professional development and education and other times it’s about bringing in a new staff member to take on those roles for you, but you have to know there’s a problem first.

On the other hand, knowing your greatest strengths and being able to see how they make you better than the competition gives you an opportunity for grow. Improving your weaknesses while becoming even better at what you do best will give you a competitive edge with your key customers.

Keeps You On Your Toes

Healthy competition encourages change and innovation. If you’re the only business providing your particular goods or services, there’s no tangible reason to improve. That’s dangerous because it makes you complacent and gives other entrepreneurs a chance to step in and do what you’re doing – only better. Being neck and neck with another company and having to push to be better makes your business stronger and benefits your customers, employees and community.

Customer Experience

Competition is good for consumers not only because it makes companies offer quality products and services at competitive prices, but also because it means companies have to have the best customer service. When you know your customer can easily drop you and go with another business, you have to step up your game.

Get Specific

Having competition in the market can force business leaders to identify their customers and find better ways to cater to the group. That can turn into anything from providing more specialized products and services to ensuring your business locations are on target. Focusing on your key customers is a great way to build on existing business and encourage your customers to refer your business.

Also, when there are other businesses out there who do some of what you do or have a similar product or service, it allows you to target specific clients rather than trying to provide services for everyone. That means you can get better at what you do best rather than stretching to try to meet the needs of every potential customer, even when they’re not a good fit.

Professional Development

Great business leaders are always on the lookout for new knowledge and, often, expanded professional development for their team. The market changes, the customer’s expectations shifts, the technology improves, the products get better… if you’re without competition, what’s the point of staying on top of it all? Additionally, if your competition is doing better than you, that gives you the opportunity to learn from your counterparts and grow your brand.

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Why aren’t companies hiring older employees?

08347366-9f7b-41d2-b154-64e6d9d5564aIt’s a well-known stigma – getting a good job when you get older can be challenging. The positions you’d thrive in are more few and far between that they were when you were 30 and some employers are worried about bringing on more experienced staff.

But whether you’re looking for a job or you’re in the business of hiring, it’s time to ask yourself: What’s the real reason companies don’t want to hire older employees?

Ingar Grev, the managing director of the Washington D.C.-area office of The Growth Coach, recently published an article on this very topic. It’s been getting some serious attention on the Business Journal website, so we thought we’d share it with you. Are you ready to strip off the excuses and hire that person who deserves the job? Read the article here: http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/human-resources/2016/01/why-companies-dont-want-to-hire-people-over-40.html.

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Create Loyal Customers with Great Customer Service

shutterstock_288264365Creating loyal customers and keeping them coming back can be a big challenge for business owners. A study from the Harvard Business Review estimates that, on average, businesses lose 50 percent of their customers every five years. How does that relate to your business?

Whether you’re in your 5th or 50th year in business, look at your customer base and think about who keeps coming back and who you only see once or twice. What do you need to do differently with your business to grow your customer base, encourage those people to refer additional customers and keep people coming back? The basics come down to having a quality, fair priced product or service and providing top-notch customer service.

If you’ve been in business for a while – even if you have a turnover on clients – you probably have the quality and pricing elements figured out. What gets most businesses is customer service. In most cases, customers can get a product or service from one of your competitors just as easily as they can get it from you. Your first line of defense will always be the customer service experience. You have to create an experience that doesn’t just satisfy your customers, but exceeds their expectations. According to a guest blog we published a few years ago from Growth Coach Glenn Smith, that usually boils down to one of three things – having great employees who are polite, positive, caring and listen to the customer’s needs; identifying and offering the best solution for any issues and then executing that solution with quality, speed and excellence; and having a simple, clear problem resolution process.

For the next 90 days, challenge yourself to create a system of rating the experiences customers have with your business. Maybe it’s a survey, a follow-up email, a poll on your Facebook page… whatever avenue you take, make it a point to discover how people are feeling about your business and give them a chance to explain their response. Then take time to celebrate the great experiences and address the negative ones. You can learn from those mistakes and fix them in the future, but if you sweep them under the rug, you’re sure to lose clients.

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What’s Keeping You From Happiness?

“Stop wasting your time looking for the key to happiness… the door is open and unlocked… just walk through it,” – Dr. Steve Maraboli

Entrepreneurs, business owners and executives are busy people. Whether you’re launching a start-up or managing a corporation, it’s easy to get lost in the busyness of business and forget what we’re working for – a better life. Finding the ideal balance that makes you happy is challenging, but it starts with making the decision that you want to work to live, not live to work.

As 2016 gets underway, take a minute to reflect on the last year, the last five years and the last 20 years. What do you see? Are you happy with how you spent those days? How much time did you waste worrying and procrastinating? Now fast forward to when you’re 90 years old. What do you want to look back and see? Strong family? Great friends? Business success? Regardless of the specific elements of your life you want to be in place, I can bet that you want that reflection to be full of happiness.

So what are the big things in your life that are keeping you from being happy? And what decisions or changes do you need to make to live a better life? It can be scary to make dramatic changes, but you owe it to yourself to put your own happiness first. You have to be strategic about your life.

If your business is what’s keeping you from happiness, take time this week to evaluate what’s wrong and find solutions. For many business owners, that comes down to finding ways to step back and OWN the business rather than RUN the business. By creating systems and training your staff to run the business successfully without you, you can start taking off the many hats you’ve come to wear. Once you’re able to step back from the daily grind, you’ll be able to use that time to focus on improving your life. If you need help making that transition, The Growth Coach can help. Find your coach here: http://thegrowthcoach.com/find-coach/.

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Business Owner Challenge: Be the Least Important Person in Your Business

At The Growth Coach, we see a recurring challenge with small businesses – the business owner is the manager, lead technician, human resources person, marketing department, sales person and more. There are only so many hours in the day and no one can possibly be at their best when they’re spread that thin. So what’s the solution? As a small business owner, you need to learn to be the LEAST important person in your company.

A good way to become less important in your business is to think about what you need to do to SELL the business. Even if you aren’t looking to sell anytime soon, you should still be working toward that end wealth-creating goal. But what does that mean? In short, it means that the company needs to be successful AND function without you. So whether it’s because you need to step back to reclaim your life or you need to turn your business into a more stable asset, the answer is the same. You need to create systems that allow you to let go of the daily operations of your business.

Your business, long term, cannot depend upon your presence, personality, problem solving or perspiration for its daily survival.  If so, your business does not work for you … you work for your business. You’ll always remain a glorified employee and prisoner to your business. Instead, you need to create an independent, self-sustaining, cash-flowing machine.  Instead of having the business be dependent on you, have the business be dependent on the operations manual, systems, processes and people you have put in place.

Here is your wake-up call: a company is never worth its full value to a buyer if you (the current owner) have to come along with it to make it run.  No one wants to buy your JOB or a broken business. Or, if they do, they won’t pay much for it.

Rather than being the Chief Everything Officer, you need to put systems in place that allow you to be the Chief Executive Officer. As the owner, you should be a generalist and a leader. Provide the vision, leadership, business systems, and the passion, but not the blood, sweat and toil on a daily basis. Instead of working so much “in” the business, work “on” the business. Your job is to create jobs for others, not create and work multiple jobs yourself. You need to start thinking like CEO instead of a lead technician.

 

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Is Your Phone on Your Nightstand? Move It.

Most of us are glued to our cell phones. Even if we’re good about skipping that hourly email check when we’re home with our families or putting it on silent at night, having that little piece of amazing technology in our pockets, purses and hands for most of the day is exhausting. So why take it with you when you go to bed?

It’s tempting to lay in bed and read on your phone, check a few late night emails, play a little game, set a phone alarm… but how is having your phone right there impacting your sleep? Getting a good night’s sleep and taking on the day well rested is a vital part of business success – and yet we’re bombarded with technology literally up to the minute we fall asleep. Your brain needs time to turn off… and that requires turning off the distractions like your cell phone.

Even if you do a great job of leaving work at work whenever possible, your cell phone can still be hurting your sleep cycle. Waking up in the middle of the night is a terrible feeling and losing those minutes – or even hours – of deep sleep can have a real impact on how you feel for the day, so why chance having your cell phone beep, ring, buzz, flash or do any of those things that can startle you out of your dreams?

At The Growth Coach, we want to challenge you. Put your phone in the kitchen. In the living room. In the study. Even on the other side of the bedroom. But do yourself and your business a favor and move it away from your nightstand. Just give it a shot and see how if it helps you sleep better. Does your email really need to be the very first thing you see when you wake up? We bet it can wait until after your shower. If it’s an emergency, they’ll probably call you anyway.

And if you need a scientific reason to skip taking the phone to bed, a study by Harvard Health showed that the blue light emitted from your cell phone – and many other electronics – can impact your body’s production, which can impact your sleep and your health overall.

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Slay the Monsters in Your Business & Life

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” We’ve all heard that phrase in one form or another. It’s easy to procrastinate when there’s nothing bearing down on you and no one else holding you accountable. But when you’re in business, you have to hold YOURSELF accountable for the successes and failures of your company.

So ask yourself, what’s the one BIG thing you’ve been avoiding or putting off? Is there a big decision you’re unwilling to make? Is there a mess you’ve been dodging? Is there a broken business system you’ve been unwilling to try to fix? You have CHOSEN to ignore that one big monster and, although it’s going to be uncomfortable to deal with, every day you continue to ignore it, it’s going to get worse.

The real problem for most entrepreneurs and business owners is not the issue itself, but rather the refusal to deal with that issue. Every business runs into snags and challenges, but not working through those as they come up means there are issues festering in the undercurrent of your company. We all play the occasional game of denial – in business and in life – but we also all know how that case of denial can weigh down on you. That monster in your life is eating away at you, constantly picking at your brain, causing you stress, stealing your energy, hurting your health, impacting your confidence and costing you real money. As is always the case, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Here are a few questions that should help face your monsters:

  • What is the big decision you have been avoiding and afraid to make? The big decision or company problem that is eating away at you morning, noon and night?
  • What is the major “mess” in your personal or professional life that is unresolved, draining your energy, causing mental anguish, and needs to be cleaned up?
  • What are some of the tough, cost-cutting measures you have swept under the rug for months? What critical marketing or sales strategies have you failed to pull the trigger on? What personnel problems are you intentionally avoiding or denying?
  • What important meeting with a customer, vendor, supplier, banker, CPA, attorney, financial adviser, investor, partner or employee are you avoiding and failing to schedule?
  • What family/home issues or problems need to be discussed and addressed?

Of those answers, which one is the biggest monster? Decide which issue is causing you the most turmoil and costing you the most money and fix it NOW. The other items can be put on your schedule for December or 2016, but you need to set a deadline to fix that one big problem – and fast. Commit to fixing that problem within the next 7 days and schedule a time to make it happen. You must take decisive action to move forward! Once you slay that monster, you can move onto the next items on your list.

If you are having trouble making those adjustments within your business, your local Growth Coach can help. Find your coach now.

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Time is Money – Learn to Let Go

Benjamin Franklin coined the phrase “Time is Money” more than 260 years ago, but in a world where we’re constantly tied to our cell phones and seem to be connected to work almost 24/7, that phrase is more relevant than ever. If you’re a small business owner, you know the value of quality time. You didn’t open your business because you wanted to work 80 hours a week. You opened your business because you saw an opportunity to provide a better product or service AND have the flexibility to live a better life.

So take a minute to sit down and consider this… If you were getting paid a regular salary for your job, what would your salary be? When you think about the number of hours you work, are you satisfied with your hourly pay? What is your hourly rate? If that number is lower than you’d like, you need to cut the trivial tasks out of your day and focus on growing your business.

Have you ever taken the time to consider what your time is worth? Most owners never assign an hourly rate to their time.  As a consequence, they don’t value, respect or protect their own time … they spend it foolishly. While they work hard, they typically do the wrong type of work.  They seldom differentiate between the real value of daily tasks and end up costing the company money – and themselves some sanity.

Our coaches often run this exercise with their clients – asking them to assign a value to their hours. We know from experience that most business owners could safely double whatever number they wrote down and that would be closer to a true worth per hour number.  Because most owners are handling so many menial tasks on a daily basis, they undervalue themselves.

Whatever number you came up with at the beginning of this post, examine it, challenge it and revise it. Now that you have a solid number in your head, you need to learn to delegate tasks that are below the value you came up with. For example, if you’re working on payroll, ask yourself, would I pay someone else the amount I should be making to do this task? If the answer is NO, then you shouldn’t be doing that task.

As a strategic business owner, that task is not worthy of your time and odds are, others can do it better and quicker than you can.  The same goes when you do IT, paperwork, collections, administration, shipping, customer service, surfing the web, answering the phones, accounting, basic marketing and selling, scheduling, training, handling most fire drills, etc.

Whatever your hourly rate, start holding that number up to the value of the tasks you are doing on a daily basis and ask if that task you are about to start is truly worth your time. If not, delegate, outsource or eliminate that task.  Learn to value, respect and guard your time.

 

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Building Customer Loyalty in a Social World

The holidays may seem pretty far away, but stores are already putting decorations on the walls and wrapping paper on the shelves. Although it’s not even Halloween yet, families are gathering wish lists and checking out the shops.

With the holidays upon us already (whether you like it or not) it’s a great time for a little reminder about creating customer loyalty. Consumers today have almost endless options for most of the goods and services they want and need, so what sets you apart? Why do they come to your store for that special gift or call your company when they need a new roof? It’s all creating an excellent customer experience and building client loyalty. The art of premiere customer service is often lost in a world of online shopping, but it’s important to go out of your way to create an excellent experience whenever possible. That may seem obvious, but taking your service to the next level takes concerted effort from everyone on your team.

Business owners are also dealing with a whole new animal when it comes to customer service – social media. There’s an old saying that someone who has a bad experience will tell twice as many people as someone who has a great experience. In a world ruled by Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and other social sites, this is especially true and someone business owners have to embrace and handle bad AND good experiences appropriately.

When someone has a great experience…

Ask them to help you spread the word about your business! Consider asking them to fill out a quick survey, post a review on your favorite reviewing site, tell their friends (and TAG your business on social media), refer someone they know, join your enews list, etc. If they ARE willing to do at least one of those things, be sure to send a thank you.

When someone has a bad experience…

Fix it! When someone has a bad experience – especially when it’s an issue of time wasted or service ignored – they are going to tell their friends. If they’re really upset, they’re also going to take the time to post a bad review online. Bad reviews can haunt you for years! If someone has a bad experience, even when you disagree with the issue, you need to step in and make it right if at all possible.

When someone contacts you…

It’s more common than ever for potential or current customers to reach out to you socially. Whether they’re asking a question or requesting something special, it’s important to respond as quickly as possible. It’s OK if you can’t accommodate the request, but the fact that you took the time to reply in a timely matter shows that you care. Of course responding quickly and being understanding is just as important if they call or email you! Check out this great example: http://jackiehuba.com/2015/01/gaining-loyalty-sometimes-its-as-simple-as-responding-when-a-customer-reaches-out.html.

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Feeling Overwhelmed? Go Back to SWOT.

Owning and running a business is hard. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you’re constantly dealing with the competition, cash flow, employee issues, changing technologies, surprises, busyness… not to mention the economy and government interference. That kind of constant complexity is par for the course when it comes to owning your own business – but you have to learn how to manage it. Letting the stresses of business ownership get to you is the best way to burn yourself out. Owning a business – when done right – can give you a tremendous amount of flexibility, freedom, fulfillment and financial success. Aren’t you ready to embrace those benefits?

At The Growth Coach, we urge our clients and friends to do what they can to keep from being overwhelmed by the challenges of being an entrepreneur. After all, having these issues isn’t actually the problem. The real problem is when you don’t know how to HANDLE these challenges. You have to have a simple framework in place to identify and address business issues. You need systems in place to help you manage the ever-changing landscape of your company. You must be able to rely on an effective and consistent method to tackle problems and seize opportunities.

Let’s get back to the basics. You can learn to manage your business challenges by implementing a tried and true strategy – the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis. Rather than spending your days REACTING the issues with your business, put a SWOT Analysis plan in place to deal with challenges as they arise. Here’s a series of questions to help you with that analysis:

Strengths

  • What are your personal and company strengths, unique talents and money-making assets?
  • Which are the most promising strengths – personal and corporate – to pursue now?
  • How can you effectively leverage, maximize and multiply these strengths?

Weaknesses (Don’t spend too much time on weaknesses or they’ll just become strong weaknesses!)

  • What are your personal and company weaknesses and liabilities?
  • How can you effectively neutralize, delegate or outsource these weaknesses?

Opportunities

  • What are your money-making opportunities at hand right now?
  • Which are the most promising opportunities with the greatest ROI?
  • How can you go about effectively seizing these opportunities?

Threats

  • What are the greatest threats/dangers facing you and your business?
  • How can you effectively eliminate or minimize these threats?

Once you have this SWOT Analysis in place, you’ll be able to refer to it whenever you’re facing a business problem. Having this simple process at your fingertips will help you focus on the most important elements of your business without getting overwhelmed!

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