Any of you who love a good David Attenborough documentary will know where I’m headed with this week’s blog right away. Even if you’re not an Attenborough fan, no doubt you’ll have been fed your fair share of Charles Darwin in school. So you’ll know a bit about natural selection, and the fact that the animals that survive to breed are those fortunate enough to be born with features that help them to exploit aspects of their environment and fare just a bit better than the animals they’re competing with. It’s survival of the fittest, and often the luckiest.
Business is a bit like that, although running a business on luck really doesn’t constitute much of a plan. The first step towards survival in business is recognising the most important fact about your environment – it’s always changing.
It’s easy to set about establishing a business, believe you’ll get your business working a certain way and that’ll pretty much be it – you’ll continue for the foreseeable future and retire satisfied, cosy and well-off. But it doesn’t work that way. If you need a reality check, just do a bit of research and you’ll quickly uncover a startling number of once high profile businesses and brands that had one thing in common…they kept doing things exactly the same way until they became extinct.
Depending on the business you’re in, you may well be able to meander along doing what you do without changing for years before competition, a changing market or other factors bring down the curtain on you. But that’s leaving it to luck, and the pace of business today is faster than it ever has been. Competition is fierce. The business world is full of eager animals looking for opportunities to prey on your customers and take over your territory. Here’s a cold, hard fact – if your business is doing well, it attracts attention and becomes a target. It’s worth learning quickly that the hardest target to hit is one that’s constantly moving.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging you to spend your business days zigging and zagging like a Hong Kong taxi driver. But it’s certainly worth building ‘review’ time into your week or month, and it should definitely be part of your Business Plan (You can get your hands on a basic Business Plan template HERE). Don’t ever get too comfortable sitting still, even if your business is doing well. Regularly take the time to look at what the market is doing and how the competition is operating. Step back and try hard to identify any opportunities you may be able to exploit.
Don’t know where to start? If you’re not already doing it, a fun way to gather some valuable information is to simply ‘mystery shop’ your competition. There’s nothing like some covert research to get the blood pumping! You don’t necessarily need a fake moustache and dark glasses to go undercover – just phone up your competitors pretending to be a prospective client and see what you can find out. Or if you’re confident of your intelligence gathering skills, have a suitably smart but anonymous person from your business front up at your competitor’s actual place of business, again posing as a prospective customer. You can learn a lot in a quick, ten-minute visit. Mind you, if your mystery shopper returns having actually purchased goods or services from your competitor, you’ll know for sure your competition is very smart indeed!
However you go about it, make a point of getting out of your business bubble on a regular basis to look more widely at the environment you’re operating in. Make it your business (pun intended) to know your competition very well (for instance, are you on their mailing lists?), along with the mood of the market. What I love about all of this research is that it’s refreshing. It takes us out of the narrow focus world we all get into when we run a small business, gives us a new perspective and a break from the very internalised day-to-day routine.
Start really paying attention to the market and your competition and I’ll bet that your business – and how you do business – will begin to change. It might be very subtle to begin with, but eventually you’ll see evolution taking place. When your business is properly connected to its environment, you will make pre-emptive moves instead of reacting all the time, running to catch up. Your business will lead, rather than following. And don’t be surprised if the products and services you offer start to change as a result.
To lean on the metaphors just one more time, there’s truth in the old adage ‘it’s a jungle out there.’ Survival of the fittest is all very well, but remember that in order to attack or defend in a timely manner, you must be constantly alert and aware of what’s going on around you.
Don’t fear evolution. It can bring new energy to your business, and the process itself is fascinating, engaging and often surprising. Why not get out there next week and start with a bit of undercover work? It’s a whole lot more interesting than becoming a fossil.
Wishing you the best for your week in business,