How to Set Your Business Apart — Learning and Investment

Mar 7, 2023

Business owners in every industry are always on the lookout for the “next big thing” that will give them a leg up on their competition.

Especially in “red ocean” markets — where competition is fierce, and your offering is slowly being commoditized — differentiation becomes a HUGE priority.  In a saturated market, every little bit counts.

…But, making a slightly better widget doesn’t really appeal to most entrepreneurial business owners. If you’re only slightly better than your competitor down the street, it will only be a matter of time before they figure out your “widget strategy” and catch up. 

When faced with this dilemma, most business owners and their teams will turn to a SWOT analysis to figure out their best next steps.

SWOT is an acronym representing the core strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your business. Figuring out these aspects of your business will narrow down your focus for the next three to twelve months. And, it helps define how you stack up against the other businesses in your area. 

During these kinds of sessions, many teams will focus on the “opportunities” section.  Opportunities are the most exciting to think about — they’re aspirational and forward-thinking, and they hurt less to think about compared to weaknesses or threats. (Plus, if things aren’t going well for a company, the prevailing thought, albeit flawed, is to try something new!)

It might be a new piece of expensive technology, better software, expanding to a new location, or revamping the company’s website… These are all potential opportunities that can make an impact.

The problem is that they are “low-hanging fruit” ideas.  Chances are, your competitors are thinking that the exact same opportunities will give THEM the advantage.

So, how can business owners create true separation and differentiation in a contested market?  What is the strategy that will consistently widen the gap between average and exceptional?

Invest in a Strategy that Will Impact Your Weaknesses, Strengths, and Opportunities All At Once.

It’s easy to think of a SWOT analysis in a compartmentalized way. But, a company’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are not siloed from one another: in many cases, a company’s strength can also be one of its weaknesses!

If your company has a world-class Google Ads strategy — a true strength — the hidden weakness is that your company may put too much need on that ONE marketing channel to produce leads, leaving you with a single point of failure. 

A strength and weakness.

By saying yes to a project that drives a strength, by nature, you will be removing focus from a project that addresses a weakness. Most small businesses with two to ten employees don’t have the bandwidth and personnel depth to have competing focus points.

What’s the solution, then?

There is one competitive advantage that has stood the test of time and likely always will. It is available to every company at every stage of growth…

Staff development and training.

I’m not talking about the four weeks of “onboarding” that you provide to new employees, nor am I talking about the handbook that gets looked at once and put on the shelf. This can hardly be called “staff development.”

Staff development, mentorship, and training is the most overlooked competitive advantage in business, and it just so happens to provide exponential growth when applied correctly.

Plus, there’s a strong chance your competitors “don’t have the time” to invest in their people. 

Take it from Steve Kotler, who is a leader in coaching business leaders and athletes for achieving peak performance. He focuses on the importance of “flow,” and he writes that “the ability to learn faster is the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Why is staff development, coaching, and training the best competitive strategy for your company?

Staff development and training addresses weaknesses, strengths, opportunities, and reduces threats all at the same time!  Talk about efficiency! 

What would be the impact on your business if all your employees were 10% more skilled, more confident, more focused, and more invested in your business?

That impact would be massive.

Here’s the thing. Most business leaders logically understand that staff development could catapult their business success — but, they can’t seem to justify the TIME they’d spend on coaching and mentoring.

And I get where that mentality is coming from. When new sales opportunities are coming in, or when marketing collateral needs to be created, why would a company invest time in training?

Reading this, you might recognize how illogical that line of thinking is, but look back on your last six months. I bet you can find many instances where you pushed “training” to the side when other business “needs” came up.

That’s exactly what your competition is doing. Chasing the next sale and the next customer. 

You have a chance to do things differently.  Stop seeing mentoring and training as a “cost” and start seeing it as an “investment.”  Play a longer game than those around you, and you’ll win. 

By creating a culture of personal and professional growth, you will not only attract A players to your team, but you’re also likely to hire people who will stay with your team for longer. When you prioritize building a foundation of developing people and leaders, over time, you will realize you are in a league of your own, with no competition in sight.