There are a lot of ways to make your small business competitive and gain an advantage over the other guys duking it out for your customers. One of the best approaches is, when you’ve got an innovation or idea to offer clients, make sure you get there first. You’ll gain a competitive advantage that will be hard to overcome unless your service is a disaster.
The Missed Idea
As a young man in my 20s, I’d been going to the beaches in Maryland each summer season looking for productive things to do, like party and pick up chicks (that is girls or women for the mature yet unwashed masses). Most of the time you end up on the beach bathing in the rays and getting as dark as possible because of how intelligent it makes you look. But Houston, I had a problem. My ethnic background is German, Eastern European, and by now you know that if I don’t get the SPF on in a main way, my summer getaway goes up in the blazes of red, burned skin– the anti-chick magnet.
Big problem: How do I get sunscreen on my back at the beach to avoid burning while being a bit too shy to ask every passing girl? It is an inevitable conclusion that, in public, your buds can NOT put sunscreen to your back. Anti-cool points to the maximum, no chance with any women within 5 miles.
No big deal, I believed, I am innovative and resourceful. I take a paint stick (unused) and superglue a foam pad to the end of it. I take it to the beach, spray SPF 15 on the foam, and proceed to apply sun block to my back like a winner, avoiding the burn and maintaining at arms length from my guy friends. A true win-win.
“Hey Karl, that’s a great invention dude, you should patent it. Toss me another Bud Lite dude.” And so I chucked the beverage and forgot about safeguarding the idea. Flash forward 5 years later, I am preparing for a grownup getaway to the Bahamas in the winter by doing the educated thing: Going to a tanning bed. I walk in and the first thing I see is “The Back Applicator”, a 18 inch long plastic stick with, get this, a foam pad at one end to self-apply overpriced tanning salon sunscreen.
I walked out, kicking myself for not getting rich on being the first person with this idea, knowing the other guy or gal was a dang millionaire by now.
Another Big Idea
About 3 months ago my wife introduced me with an idea while she was two sheets to the wind on Pinot Grigio. I can’t tell you the idea because, in my view, it was a game changer. Literally, as I told her, something that we’d need venture capital to execute but would change society as we know it if executed. Stop asking, I can not release the idea.
Well, we’ve been talking about it for the past few months. I helped out and did some investigation, and guess what I came across? Three other companies are test marketing this very idea, maybe not exactly but close enough for intellectual property sake.
Missed again! We’re talking about a twist on the idea now that involves cell phones. What can potentially go wrong?
Our “Hidden” Spot
When my boy was four or five years old, there was a little bit of land about two miles from our waterfront home via the river that we would take the Jet ski to and relax. We’d cruise over with my boy in my lap doing about 10 miles an hour to keep his neck from getting whiplash and spend the afternoon there, wading in the water and drinking non-alcoholic refreshments. Since we were the only ones there we baptized this little place “Jack’s Beach”, named after said kid.
My wife Lora gets a mural artist to paint Jack’s room that summer, and she in fact paints Jack’s Beach, with surfboards embedded the beach and a street sign claiming the area. Pretty cool.
Now Jack is ten. We still go to Jack’s beach. I am not making up this next part, I swear it. We go there this year and there is an 8 foot high wooden street sign stuck in the beach on Jack’s Beach, with nothing on it! We did NOT put this there, but it was just too poetic.
Well what do you think I did? I got a bottle of paint and a small paintbrush, Jet skied over to the sign in broad daylight, and gave it the right name. You can read my kid’s name from 30 meters in out.
A couple of weeks down the road we meet a couple of new friends while out for dinner in a neighborhood eatery. They told us they take their boat to an exclusive little beach front for fun and so do their buddies. “Where could that be?” I ask, pretending interest. “Oh, it’s called ‘Jack’s Beach’ over on the other side of the river.”
Create Your Own Competitive Advantage
Alright, I’m not promoting tickets to Jack’s Beach … yet, but these three little vignettes narrate a story. Don’t be the doofus who didn’t protect his idea of a back sun block applicator to watch someone else get all the success. If you have an idea, even a little one, that helps your clients or does something in a different way or better, make it yours.
Is it patentable? Find out at http://www.uspto.gov/ and doing an investigation. Invent a logo and copyright the artwork. Go get 5 sites that other folks might want to copy and market your concept with. Most notably, don’t be reluctant taking action if you truly think it’s a fantastic concept.
ASSERT THAT SUCKER FIRST! Be the business that sets the new standard before your competitor does. Ask yourself these simple questions:
The Innovation Acid Test
1. Do I see this out there in the current market? (Google search please)
2. Can this genuinely help my clients?
3. Is this interesting and special?
4. Can I imagine someone buying this?
If your responses are N-Y-Y-Y (as in no-yes-yes-yes) to these questions, go claim that beach my friend! If your concept is undesirable and no one replicas it, you can still make money at it or at worst, you lost a few bucks and a little time. If you get imitators, you know you’re on to something. If you’ve done it properly and deliver value on the promise, your rivals will always be playing catch up and you’ll be patting yourself on the back, with either your hand or your $10.99 Back Sun block Applicator.
About the Author:
Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.
Image: Steve Snodgrass / Flickr