Know Your Startup Enemies

Do you know your company’s biggest rival? Can you describe your unique selling proposition? These are the questions your startup needs to answer before it goes to battle. And, trust me, the battle is at hand. 

Battle is the most exhilarating activity in which a human being can participate. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. I strongly believe this to be true for all businesses, no matter how many zeros there are on the bottom line. For small businesses and entrepreneurs especially, you must know your competition. If you don’t have an enemy, get one, get to know them, and race as fast as possible to get ahead of them.

Entrepreneurs know full well that great businesses don’t just come from great ideas. Sure, you need the idea to get the business going, but to play in this game, you need to launch an attack and compete. And to compete, you need some form of support. Where is your army? Who is in it? Will they be there on the front line with you as you prepare to engage in battle?

Here’s a hard truth: No decree in business ever aligns everyone around it. Prepare yourself for the naysayers and obstructionists, the people who think your way or your idea is the wrong one, even if they offer no good alternative. It’s great to have input from some people some of the time. But, in the end, someone has to make a decision, and that decision is best supported from the top.

You cannot hope to succeed if your team is not with you and ready. As a small-business owner myself, I needed to draw out a field map to ready my elite team to go to battle. Understanding the key fundamentals ahead of engagement is vital, and initiating them is just as important. Remember to approach your horses from the front. It’s about education and leadership. Investing in them in the beginning, being honest and open about your conditions of satisfaction, and reinforcing your trust in them will bring out their best during battle.

Now you’re on the front line, you have your army behind you, you’re preparing yourself for battle. Who are you fighting against? And do they know they’re going into battle with you? In other words, know who your competition is. In my first bestseller, The Mirror Test, I use Snow White as an example; she was more likable, had a more loyal community, and made her prince happy. The only thing she lacked to make herself apple-proof was awareness. She had no idea who the Queen really was. You must. I’ve heard business owners say, “I don’t worry about the competition.” That’s nice for you. But as Mark Twain said, “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.” A vital weapon in your arsenal to run the business gauntlet is knowing and understanding your competition.

So how do startups win the race? Finding your feet and gaining traction in your field will always help you drive the momentum that you need to face the gauntlet. Here is my formula for winning the RACE: Research, Action, Communicate, Evaluate.

Being in business is always going to be a battle, but better to battle the competition than your customers and yourself by thinking you know it all. This rule applies beyond crafts and trades: “Measure twice, cut once.” Take the time to measure what you truly know by asking yourself some questions. It makes no difference if you work for a multibillion-dollar company or a shoestring startup or anything in between, taking the time in the beginning will prevent you from kicking yourself down the track when you say, “Why didn’t we think of that?”

As George S. Patton said, no one should “fight a battle if [they] don’t gain anything by winning.” The best and only way to win in business is to have a strong tactical approach. Any leader has got to see that military tactics are the same as business tactics: The employment of units in combat and armoring your team with a strong tactical approach will empower them and drive home your success. Easier said than done, like all things in change. If we build it, will they come?

Defining and understanding your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) will help you differentiate yourself from your competitors. What sets you apart and makes you stand out? What makes you a better or more reputable or valuable business to the customer? Focus on what you’re good at; don’t place too many bets across the board hoping that one will work. Know where you can make your money and do it well. Now, understand what your customers’ connection is to your USP and how you sell it to them.

It does not matter what industry you’re in. If your quality is good, your message will resonate—so stick to your guns. Then you’re on your way to winning before you begin.