It’s hard not to be jealous of some firms when you’re a small business owner. There are those companies, for instance, that seem to have achieved a level of brand awareness that they’re practically household names. There are others that seem to rack up sales so effortlessly it’s like customers can’t wait to part with their money, and then there are the ones friends and family talk about glowingly in terms of the friendly staff they employ.
Comparing yourself to others is usually not a great idea when the only outcome is a feeling that you’ll never measure up. The best entrepreneurs, however, go beyond superficial comparisons and keep constant watch for ideas and best practices from larger, more established firms -- as well as their key competitors. Even if their formal education ended in a graduation ceremony long ago, they tend to be constant students of the business world, looking to the best in their markets for inspiration the way you might seek out a successful individual as a mentor.
What may seem challenging, at least at first, is how to study other businesses and imitate the right tactics and traits to fuel your own firm’s growth. If you went to business school, the concept of using case studies to learn about success factors might already be familiar to you. Most entrepreneurs, however, might not feel they have the time amid their day-to-day roles to really look at other companies in such an academic way.
The truth is there are lots of quick, easy and even fun ways to “steal” from the best and make their way of doing business your own, even if you have far fewer resources or are working in a much different industry sector. Try some of the following exercises to ensure the imitation you do as a business owner is the sincerest form of flattery:
The best camera most of us own is now hidden inside the smartphones we carry with us at all time. That’s particularly handy when you’re trying to study the secrets of your favourite businesses, because usually those firms have mastered the art of using images and words to build a brand customers will recognize and connect with in a positive way.
As you travel from one meeting or another, or visit an industry conference, start taking photographs of any marketing content that reinforces that brand or helps it generate demand in some way. This could include:
When you have time, try to bring together as many examples of your own marketing content that matches these formats. Without completely ripping off the same imagery, text or other elements, what can you learn about the way this firm tells its story in a compelling and consistent way? What kind of common theme, mission or purpose does the content tend to evoke? What theme, mission or purpose can you align with your own firm to build your brand with the same kind of impact?
Some entrepreneurs use traditional paper notebooks to jot down ideas or make notes in meetings. Others use popular apps like Evernote. No matter which kind you prefer, try to leave a few pages or start a new section in your notebook where you can pinpoint some of the details that seem to enhance the sales experience that a company you admire creates.
If you’re one of the firm’s customers, for instance, keep a pointform diary of the various encounters you have going through the buyer journey and look for areas such as:
Be as detailed as possible and ask yourself: which of these elements really makes the difference in what it’s like to be this firm’s customer? Where can you bring similar attention to detail or establish a more data-driven way of selling?
Let’s say you just had a really positive encounter with a company after you’ve run into a problem or had a question. You might wonder, occasionally, if your experience was a fluke or if it represented the common practice of this firm.
It was once nearly impossible to get details on the quality of a particular company’s customer service capabilities if you were looking at them from the outside, but that’s changed now that so much commentary about a firm’s service experience is shared on social media. When you’re looking for good corporate role models, head on over to Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and keep attuned to:
These are the things you want to imitate. You can often save examples of these posts within a “favourites” area of your social account for later reference. Then, the next time you do a self-assessment of your own firm’s customer service prowess, look for how you might follow in others’ footsteps.
Imitation will only take you so far, of course, but there’s also no need to completely reinvent the wheel in terms of successful marketing, sales and service. Be sure to benefit from the companies that came before you -- and before long, the next generation of entrepreneurs might be trying to imitate you!