Agility and Innovation – The Niche Market’s Advantage

In the traditional concept of economies of scale, larger companies squeezed out their competitors by offering convenience and better values. We have seen the retail giant Wal-Mart mow down its smaller competitors with lower prices and one-stop shopping. It has been a long held belief that BIGGER WAS BETTER! But, in many industries, this belief is being challenged and smaller niche businesses are winning the battle of “David and Goliath.”In high-tech, steel, airlines, automotive, and even retail industries, smaller niche companies are carving out a place in the market where their size is their advantage. A small business has the flexibility and agility to respond to the market with lighting speed and provide products and services that are specialized and unique to their industry. By not trying to be “everything to everyone” they have honed their products and services to answer a very specific sector of the marketplace. The key for small businesses is to find their niche and be the very best at it. This challenge is daunting and requires persistence and creativity. Many small businesses go through adaptations and changes as they search for their unique place. Often even the subtlest variations upon an established concept can create a niche.It is the truly curious and relentless mind that finds these “vacancies” in the market. In retail, it may mean researching products that are in demand but large retailers cannot offer in complete variety. An example is the scrap- booking market. Large retailers sell some scrapbooking supplies but space and price limit what they can offer. In response to the growing demand for greater variety and add-ons like clubs and classes, an entire class of retailers was born. These small and specialized stores can respond to trends like popular film characters supplies to meet demand. This is a good example of a small niche company beating the competition simply by using size and specialization to its advantage.But what if all the good ideas are already taken? Well, that is never going to happen. There are always more good ideas because the market place has infinite variations. It’s finding the idea that’s the hard part. The major business publications should be on every entrepreneur’s daily agenda. These should be read with scrutiny and an open mind. Look at what’s working and where trends are leading. Look at every trade journal in whatever industry you are interested in and you will find a wealth of information and raw data that can guide you in your search for that great new idea. One very valuable section is the letters to the editor. Contributors often ask questions and make comments that highlight “holes” in the industry’s offerings.Remember, the key to a niche market success is innovation. What can you do differently and what can you do better than anyone else? Because you’re small you can offer customized services aimed at a specific segment of the market. Find a group of customers whose needs are focused and particular and look at the businesses who service them. Can you form a niche by offering a select service or product that will meet their special needs better than a large and multi-service/product company can? It you study your demographics carefully you can find that missing link in what a large company can do and what your small company can do better and cheaper. This is where persistence comes in. You have to do your research and consult with other business professionals to find the right formula.The agility and innovation in the small and medium size business market is winning the battle every day and you can be one of those winners by being thorough, creative, and persistent. Don’t be intimidated by large competitors. Remember that business is much like the car you drive. You want something that is fast, economic, attractive, easy to park, and gets you where you’re going every time. In business and cars, the smaller you are the more often you win the race.

Conversations With CEOs – Why Business Savvy Counts

“But I know my profession inside out,” says my next door neighbour. “I don’t understand why this particular contract eluded us.”

Most of us can checkmark the long list of reasons why clients do business with us. Besides establishing rapport and long-term relationships, providing excellent quality of service and technical accuracy, often there is one important criteria that hasn’t been given consideration. This is most true when dealing with senior executives. Decision makers gravitate to professional experts they trust to understand their business and the particular industry issues that can make or break their success.

They appreciate that you are an expert tax advisor for example, and wouldn’t see you if you weren’t. However, they are most interested in how you can help them navigate industy issues inside and outside of what you do as a professional. What do you actually know about business and particularly theirs? How conversant are you? Can they introduce you to their investors? Their Chairman of the Board?

Now you ask, “How can I keep up with all the nuances related to a multitude of industries when I can barely keep up with all the ongoing changes related to my own profession and staying at the top of my game?”

Here’s a few suggestions:

I. Identify the industries your top 20 clients and top 10 prospective clients come from?

II. Start with prioritizing a few industries to learn more about based on who you do profitable business with now.

III. Keep files of newspaper and magazine articles, industry journals and anything else you can find that’s pertinent for easy reference as required. Read them, think about them, make connections to your services.

IV. Ask clients about their industry issues. What level of knowledge would distinguish you from a competitive service provider and why is that important to them?

V. Finally, as you learn about the top issues currently affecting your clients, explore your expertise can help turn issues into opportunities rather than threats. Quantify how your services can minimize risks and make a difference in the achievement of the client’s objectives.

VI. File your stories, either your own or those that you hear about. For example, if you have a client who was able to retain one staff member that saved them $200,000. in recruitment and training costs, not to mention preventing loss of knowledge and clients, as a result of your consulting or coaching services, then be sure you find a way to save that story. Get a testimonial or at least be able to talk about the bottom line results that your client achieved as a result of working with you, Business Savvy Professional Extraordinaire!

VII. Have fun – part of lifelong learning is getting outside of our own boxes and jumping into other’s now and then to truly empathize and problem solve with clients.