By Laurie Cure

A question was posed to me this week. . . “How do businesses stay competitive in these rapidly changing times?” Competition assumes a variety of definitions and is often considered to mean your status or position relative to others who serve a similar market or have a similar product. While it is worthwhile to consider your “market” competition, in times like these, many businesses are simply searching for ways to achieve sustainability for their business entity(ies).

Maintaining a competitive advantage in the market is about ensuring an adequate customer base and business model to maintain a sustainable level of financial success. In our work with small businesses, I would offer the following “tips”:

  1. Know and understand your market and be ahead (as much as possible) of changing dynamics and forces.
    This can be challenging given the rapidly occurring environmental shifts. However, stay in touch regarding legislative trends, staffing and human resources changes, supplier adjustments and tax and financial implications. Follow various organizations on LinkedIn or Facebook and sign-up for email updates from professional organizations that have information you need. A couple of my favorites” include:  Small Business Administration (which may also include your local “branch”), Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Eide Bailly Financial Consultants, Harvard Business Review, and any specific industry organization you follow (restaurant, manufacturing etc.). I follow several specifically for consulting, organizational effectiveness/Organizational Psychology, and coaching.
  2. Use strategic scenario planning to outline and prepare for the most likely business market scenarios.
    Right now, preparation is key. Developing various scenarios allows you and your business to be agile and adjust quickly to changing conditions. Pull together several trusted advisors, either internal or external to your business, and discuss at least 3 likely scenarios for your business. Then, outline specifically what you will do should each scenario happen. This might be a financial picture which outlines what your options are if you lose 30, 50 or 75% of your revenue. Or you might consider scenarios that focus on exploring opportunities. What if you altered your product/service? What impact might various growth decisions have on your business. In considering various scenarios, I like to assess the 7s model, which allows you to consider shared values, strategy, staffing, skills, system, structures, and style. Working with a trained consultant can ensure you do not miss anything.
  3. Practice agility, flexibility, and broad thinking
    Ask yourself, “Where can I weave and what possibilities exist for my business outside of your traditional operating model?” This can allow you to think more creatively about what is possible. Often, our small business model is too narrow, and in changing times, we need to expand. Be open to adjusting and be flexible about what is available to you and what skills you have to support success.
    Remember: your best opportunities are in the space other people deem impossible.
  4. Understand your customers’ needs
    The pandemic has led to a deeper understanding of how various businesses meet customers REAL needs. We discovered early on that schools were not just meeting a need for education; they were also supplying a fundamental need for regular meals and safety. As you consider your business, what are the underlying needs your business is meeting and how might you address those in more creative ways? A restaurant owner we coach determined that his restaurant provided an experience and way of celebrating special occasions. Part of their changing strategy was to include gifts in their take-out packages that included candles, flowers, a small customized gift and other items for the customers to create a similar experience at home.
  5. Outsource wisely
    Finances are tight, and it makes a sense for small businesses to outsource services in many areas. You get a higher level of expertise for a more reasonable financial investment. The return on investment for you as a business might be cost savings, but it can also ensure you move forward more quickly, saving money in the process.