Clarify Your Competitive Advantage

Article excerpt

Byline: SARA HOWARD

IDENTIFYING your competitive advantage a the one thing you do better than anyone else a is actually harder than it sounds.

In the end though, it really comes down to one of three things:

Process: Do you do things better than everyone else in an organisational sense? (If you run things more efficiently you can do things more cheaply than your competition, which means higher margins or lower prices. Or both. Streamlined processes may also enable you to deliver your products or services more quickly than your competitors).

Expertise: Do you offer cutting-edge services or products? Are you a thought leader in your area of speciality?

Relationships: Are you effectively a trusted adviser or partner to your clients?

Choose your focus

THESE are all things that you can do to differentiate yourself. But here's the big thing: you can't have a competitive advantage in all three. You can only do one of them really well.

If your focus is on relationships, you can really only manage a handful of clients. And that won't give you the low cost base that a process advantage needs.

Likewise, if you occupy the high end of the market with your expertise, you might not have the time needed to build intimate relationships with customers. You can't be on call for thousands of customers 24/7.

In effect, these three areas tread on each other's toes. You can be reasonably good at all of them. You just can't be the best at all of them.

We can't all specialise in relationships

I WOULD hazard a guess that most soloists would say that their strength is relationships. It's the nature of our business models. Because we're on our own we need to connect with others and build our networks and connections.

I've helped a number of small businesses articulate their philosophies, and they've all said that what makes them different is the time they spend listening to their clients and really understanding what they need and how they think. …