What is your competitive advantage?

Competative advantageIf you think you are the only one selling a certain kind of product or offering a niche services, then think again! If you look around you would see that there are many entrepreneurs and business owners that are constantly trying to do things differently, or trying to solve a problem in the most innovative ways. So how does one get an edge over their competitors in the market? Though you might be offering the same product or service, but how can you stand apart in the competition and also get noticed?

With the changing global economy, finding your businesses’ competitive advantage has become the most critical aspect and to add to that, the way you market that advantage will eventually play a key role in how you succeed in the market place. In simple terms, competitive advantage is something that occurs when a business develops certain attribute or characteristic that allows it to stand out and outperform its competitors. This unique advantage could be things like access to specific resources, skilled manpower a specific business model and/or technology. All of this could help in creating a unique product or service or even act as a competitive aid in the overall business process (for example, better identification and understanding of customers).

While identifying your advantage, try to divide your competitive strategy into three broad categories:

- Expertise: If you are a specialist in your field and think that you are offering a cutting-edge product or service, then expertise is something you would need to focus on while marketing your competitive advantage. Also, if you or your business has been involved in one industry for a number of years, you can add that to your competitive advantage.

- Business Process: If you feel you manage your business better than your competition then that is something you could show as your competitive advantage. Focus on your results based and customer centric approach by including testimonials and case studies in your marketing material. While marketing your business process you would need to always keep in mind that your high quality staff is the most critical piece to the success of your business.

- Relationships: If you spend the time making your customers feel special and understood, then focusing on your customer relationships might be the way to go. Though there are potential risks involved in this option because you would need to dedicate time and energy to these relationships and that may mean you can only take on a select number of customers at a time. However, it helps if you are able to build a good ongoing business relationship with your customers and market that advantage at the right time.

As an entrepreneur it is important to analyze your business and find that unique aspect that will make your product or service stands out from your competitors. It is important to always focus on one area or aspect and market it as your competitive advantage, rather than focusing on multiple advantages and marketing them all together. It is always advisable to start small and slowly penetrate the market with your uniqueness that would eventually offer you a long lasting competitive advantage.

Divide your market

PieChart-512Managing a profitable business is all about understanding your customer’s behaviors and needs and providing services or products that rightly fulfil those needs. As an entrepreneur it is important to notice the essence of valued customers and their different types. Having a holistic view of the business objective is important, but knowing your customers and how they form a buyer’s market is also important. Market segmentation helps us define this customer base in a market scenario. It refers to the division of a set of consumers into people with similar needs and wants. Market segmentation allows for a better allocation of a firm’s finite resources and offerings.

How are markets divided?
In a typical business set-up, markets may be divided into several sub-markets or categories based on several sources. For example, any market segmented into sub-markets on the basis of geographic location is known as Geographic Segmentation. Examples of such division are nations, states, regions, provinces, districts, counties, cities or even neighborhoods. Similarly, a market split into sub-segments on the basis of variables such as age, gender, sex, family, income, education, religion, culture, occupation, profession, ethnicity etc is known as demographic segmentation. There are many other categories and sub-categories that a market can be divided into, based on your business or marketing needs.

Customer behavior

While segmenting markets it is also important to keep in mind that your customer are just not numbers, but are humans and have specific needs and behaviors. For example, as you analyze your potential market you would notice that some users may be classed as heavy users of your product or service while others as light users. Some may be just first time user while other are occasional users only. So it is also important to keep the behavioral aspect in mind.

Segmentation with the help of big data

Technology has made market segmentation easier; however with the advent of the big data phenomena, businesses are finding it difficult to keep pace with the huge amount of varied information available. The big data technology is changing the way consumers comprehend brands, increasingly through multiple channels and in multiple ways. This, in turn is changing the way consumers interact with brands, and the way they share their experiences. Business owners have understood the importance of this new technology and are finding innovative ways of funneling out relevant customer information that will help them easily compartmentalize customers into different segments. It has now become easier to make detailed categories and sub-categories within a given market and segment the customer data into more detailed sections.

Segmentation is the first critical step in marketing, and the basis towards satisfying needs of your customer and gaining overall market profitably. It is often the mix of where-what-who and why (the benefit or need) which is driving the segmentation. The grouping together of customers with common needs makes it possible to select target customers of interest and set marketing objectives for each of those segments. Once the objectives have been set, strategies can be developed to meet the objectives using the tactical blend of product, price, promotion and place.

Mind your language

Mind your languageIn the advertising and marketing world its important to be cautious about the kind of language and tone you use while communicating with your internal and external customers. Any company or enterprise, irrespective of the industry, has to be aware of the fact that they have to maintain a consistent brand image. The language and the tone of communication plays a very critical role in defining and maintaining that brand image. Brand language is the body of words, phrases, and terms that an organization uses to describe its purpose or in reference to its products or services.

While defining a brand language for a company it is important to be careful about the choice of words and the tone used. Here are the 5 benefits of choosing the right brand language for your company:

- Its all about Keywords: Ask your customers this: What are the words that come into their minds when they think about your business or brand? For example over 80 percent of the world’s population directly associates “dreams,” “creativity, “fantasy,” “smiles,” “magic,” and “generation” with the Disney brand. So its important to carefully chose the words that you use while communicating with customers. Its like offering a visual cue i.e. the moment someone sees your brand or company, they should associate it with certain keywords.

- Build Relationships: Your tone will clearly signify how good you are with your own company objectives and the brand. Many brands use formal language, and that directly reflects in the way they deal with their customers. A more relaxed, friendly or catchy tone should be used if the company actually lives those values. So if your tone does not reflect your company values and your personality, your communications will always appear awkward.

- Be positive – The key to successful branding is to chose words and a tone that gives a positive effect in the minds of the customers. When positive words become strongly associated with particular brands, these words can become assets, to the extent that competing brands may find the words difficult to use. For example words used by brands such as Kellogg’s and Gillette i.e, healthy, masculine etc.

- Make it simple yet sharp: It is important to use a language that is easily understood by the masses but it should have sharp edges that cut across the normal patter of communications. Take your language cues from your company values, your brand personality and most importantly your customers. Listen to what customers say about their experiences and use those as keywords. With the advent of the internet, companies and brands have become extremely involved in social media and online listening and are actively monitoring the  most searched words, hashtags that people are interested in, most popular categories under a business and industry etc.

- Build a Perspective: It is not about what a company says, its about what your customers here or perceive. Words used should build a perspective in the minds of the customers. For example when we think of Kellogg’s we think of words such Breakfast, Snacks, Recipes, Cereal etc, but the perspective it offers to its customers is healthy and uplifting. So its important to always keep the perspective in mind while choosing the words to be used to define a brand, because at the end of the day its all about your customers.

Q&A with Rahul Varshneya

imageedit_2_6007827613Q. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

A. My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the fact that you truly define your success. You will grow as much as you really want to and that there’s no one else that controls your fate.

Q. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

A. Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest difference in my opinion is that Entrepreneurs get to define their own path to success. They go as far as they can imagine. Now one can argue the same for those who work for others, but those people most often don’t control the fate of the company directly. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking decisions that decide their fate as well as that of the company’s.

Q. What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?

A. The spark was fueled by a problem that I personally faced, or I saw someone that I was connected to, face. All the companies that I previously started were based off that and the same goes for the current business as well. The services arm (Arkenea) was launched to help entrepreneurs and businesses to deliver a fantastic user experience to their customers through technology and the product (Foster) helps these startups and small businesses to keep their audience engaged by sharing engaging content. The problem that Arkenea was started to solve was faced by my co-founder and I when working in our previous organization. And for Foster, the problem emerged when we were looking for a solution that could help Arkenea keep its audience engaged to project ourselves as experts in the industry, as well as help keep the brand alive in the audiences’ minds.

Q. How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?

A. This is the biggest challenge for most companies. There isn’t an easy solution or the right way to this. There are many things that send across a certain message to the potential employee as well as gauge their interest and culture-fit for the company. We spend a lot of time telling them about us, our values and culture to make sure they realize what they’re getting into. We lay a significant focus on getting a buy-in from the employee and we ensure these are the right reasons they’re joining the company for, by clearly laying out the growth path for the employee. Once the employee joins, the ‘care’ part is built over a period of time by engaging them in certain activities apart from their KRAs where they feel they play a role in the organization’s growth.

Q. How do you generate new ideas?

A. The best ideas come from problems. I look at day to day problems and gather information on how intrinsic or deeper it is. If it is something that someone would pay to solve, then I look for a way to solve that problem in the most efficient and user-friendly manner. That is how I generate new ideas.

Q. What motivates you?

A. The biggest motivation is knowing that what you do actually makes a difference to someone’s life in a direct manner. That keeps me going day after day!

Q. If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?

A. I’m not sure if you’d consider Steve Jobs as part of history, but the way I look at it, he would be one person that I would surely love to meet and talk. Steve Jobs somehow knew the pulse of the market and knew how to interpret insights into experiences for consumers. He had an eye for flawless execution and would leave no stone unturned in making every product clearly stand out in the market. Steve Jobs is my hero.

Q. What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

A. There have been many failures along the way of starting and running a few companies. Even with the existing ones, you keep testing hypothesis to see if it can get traction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails. But if I would have learnt one thing, that would be to be persistent. I love this quote from Albert Einstein, who said that, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.” If you stay with the problem long enough being committed to finding a solution that works, something that finally resonates with your customers, you will find a solution and find success in what you’re doing. Most often, people quit. Quitting, according to me is the biggest failure.

Q. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

A. There can never be a pattern or formula for becoming successful. If there were, wouldn’t everyone be just successful? One of the other things is that everyone’s definition of success is different. Would you call 1 million downloaded a success or the one that received $100,000 in revenues? Is making $1 million a year successful or making $1 billion finally called success? In my view, success means you enjoy every waking moment of your life doing what you love.

Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

A. The top three skills according to me would be Persistence – to stay with the problem long enough to find a solution, Focus – laser-sharp focus to get things done and Humility – to accept your mistakes and customers’ feedback, and learn from them.

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea LLC which helps entrepreneurs and businesses build engaging mobile apps. Click here to subscribe to his free email course on maximizing app downloads.

Find a Mentor

imageedit_2_7958483912You might have the greatest start-up idea or have strong financial backing to kick-start your business, and to add to that, you might also have the knowledge and industry experience to get started on your entrepreneur journey, but ask yourself this: wouldn’t you rather ALSO have someone like a guide who could help you, or support you through the whole process of becoming a successful business owner?

A good mentor is what you need! They help you think through the start-up phase with a more experienced outlook; suggest ways to do things the right way and sometimes also help you with necessary industry knowledge or know-how that you might be missing. A mentor is someone who understands your perspective or perhaps has walked the same path that you decide to embark upon. A good mentor will be there to motivate you and identify your achievements and also give you a cautious heads up when crisis strike.

Here are a few points to remember while finding a mentor:

Be ready to be mentored: This is one of the most necessary characteristics of a wannabe entrepreneur. If you have an “I know it all” attitude then you are not open for coaching or mentoring. If you want to learn and grow fast, then you should be willing to consider ideas that may not match your expectations or opinions. Your business ideas and approach might be perfect for you, but another viewpoint will help you get a broader perspective about the situation, and will help you make the right move.

Networking is Key: As an entrepreneur, networking should be your second nature. Your approach towards networking should not be just to build customers or associates, but to find people who you could learn from, people you think could be potential mentors for you. Remember, networking is not about sending bulk email or handing out business cards to people you meet at a seminar or an event, it’s about making the effort to connect with people, collaborating, learning and adding value.

A good mentor is someone who has had success as an entrepreneur: According to statistics, the very best mentors are usually those who have been or are entrepreneurs themselves. A good mentor is someone who has walked the path of entrepreneurship and has gained the required experience, which is not long ago. Such mentors have been through the phases that you are going through and genuinely want you to succeed as well. In a typical situation, you should be able to see yourself “succeeding” the same way your mentor is today.

Thank your mentors and Pay it forward: It is always important to acknowledge and thank people who have helped you. Generally a good mentor would not be in it for the money, but would want others to grow. It is important to find ways to thank your mentor for all the support and help they provide you. Last but not the least, try to pay it forward i.e. you may never be able to pay your mentors back, but you can recognize what they have done for you by becoming a mentor to others.

Project Management Tools

toolsProject management is the core functionality of any business or enterprise. In modern organizations, it is considered to be the highest responsibility task. Project management is used in any and all forms of projects, ranging from software development to developing hybrid robotic technologies.

All project managers and teams use certain highly efficient tools to manage projects. These tools can be specifically designed tools or customized productivity tools that can be adopted for project management work. These tools help managers plan, manage and track their projects more effectively.

Here is a list of the 4 most widely used project management tools:

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

WBS is generally used at the start of the project to break the project down into individual tasks and group these tasks logically. At a root level this is more of a deliverable-oriented decomposition of a project into smaller components. It represents tasks and resources more like a tree structure, with clear subdivisions of effort required to complete a project. This structure also provides the essential framework for detailed cost estimating and control along with providing direction for schedule development, management and control. One should treat creating WBS as a critical step in the process of project management.

Gantt Chart

One of the most popular and widely used projects scheduling tool, Gantt charts are used when the project is up and running to monitor project progress. A Gantt chart shows you what has to be done (the activities) and when (the schedule). Gantt charts illustrate the start and finish dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. They also show dependencies of tasks and relationship between activities. It is used on a day-to-day or weekly basis to show current schedule status using percent-complete shadings.

Network Diagram

These kinds of network diagrams are more like flow charts and are used to show the start of the project to chart how the work should flow and estimate how long each task will take to complete. Also known as the project network diagram, these diagrams are drawn from left to right to show the project chronology. The diagrams are more popularly used to graphically show a high-level project snapshot. In comparison to the Work Breakdown Structure that shows the “part-whole” relationship, network diagrams show a more “before-after” relationship for a project.

Earned Value Analysis (EVA)

This is more of an analysis of the “planned” to the “actual”. It is used when the project is up and running to compare budget forecasts with actual costs, and compare estimated progress with actual progress. With the help of this analysis, project teams can forecast future effort and cost estimations. With the help of this analysis, managers can create risk mitigation plans that are based on actual cost, schedule and progress of the work. It is an “early warning” project management tool that enables managers to identify and control problems before they become big risks.

Apart from the above, there are many more tools available on the web that can help in better project planning and management, but they all have their core function and methodology built around the above mentioned tools. The unique features about these tools are that they can be created on a simple Microsoft platform i.e. word, excel, projects etc. and can be customized based on any project requirements.

Customer Engagement is Key

Engage-CustomersGetting more customers means getting more business; this in turn increases revenues and profits. All forms of businesses are directly or indirectly dependant on building loyal customers and it is all about how we strategically plan our customer engagement plans. With changing trends and technologies, businesses tend to automate their customer acquisition and retention strategies, which eventually becomes a problem. The essence lies in making sure that the approach is more customer-engaging rather than technological centric.

Here are the top five tips on how to attract customers and also retain them in the current business environment:

Go Social:

Build your business as a personality and make sure you create and utilize your online social profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pintrest and Instagram. Give each channel a unique definition and strategy. The key is to post real-time behind-the-scenes content (photos, videos etc) to engage with your audience. Use these channels to inform customers of upcoming events, promotions and deals. Posting at least once a day shows that you are engaged. Your social media presence will help increase brand awareness for your business and will give a sense of reliability to your customers.

Go mobile:

The most important aspect of going mobile is building a responsive website i.e. making your website device agnostic, so that your customers could access it from any mobile device and/or operating system. This gives the ease to your customers to access your content from anywhere and everywhere. The second most important step is to partners with mobile search platforms that have the scale, reach and local search benefits to get your business found.

Get Loyal:

Loyal customers are all that your business wants. Focusing on loyalty can help you increase profits up to 80-90%. Initiating a loyalty program that rewards frequent visitors and encourages them to stay with you is the essence of any marketing strategy. Such forms of loyalty programs can encourage customers to spend more with each visit and with each positive experience they can also spread the word about your business.

Email Marketing:

Email marketing is by far the most important and powerful methods for growing business engagement and maintaining relationships with customers. Use standard email marketing tools to send alerts and campaigns to your customer that keeps them engaged. Try to do this at least once a month. Such tools offer email automation, with makes it very easy to send mass messages to customers, which are also traceable so you can measure results of the email click through rate and retention.

Manage Reviews:

All successful business thrives on reviews, so it is critical to have a presence on review sites. All businesses should take the extra effort to provide their complete information on these sites i.e. photos, descriptions, menus, hours and your businesses’ direct contact information etc. Displaying signs on your counter are also a great way to remind visiting customers to share their positive feedback about your great service. Now-a-days, 90% of customers state that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, so it is important to keep up with active reviews and comment politely to customers who have had a negative experience.

No matter how small or big your business is, these simple tips will help you organize, plan and kick start your marketing campaign with a fresh perspective and give a new outlook to your business. Try it and see the change.