COMPETITION: FRIEND OR FOE?
Cynthia Cortina is the owner and creator of BEING organic and vegan bath and body products. We asked her for a little Expert Advice:
What advice would you give to someone who feels overwhelmed by the competition? First, let’s try to get over the notion that competition is scary. Competition is necessary for innovation and there’s a lot to be learned from your competition and how they react to the market. You can learn so much by how often they launch new products, how they use their social media platforms, what content they’re blogging about, and so on. Moreover, it’s a fact that there will always be someone better out there than you at something, and that’s OK. Once you accept this, you are ready to start thinking strategically and honestly assess what you can offer. You are a unique human being and no one else is exactly like you, and this gives you a competitive edge that no one else has. If you can’t provide a better or different product or service, think about your unique set of skills that can make your business as a whole outpace the competition. For example, do you have design or photography skills that you can use to design your products and website, cutting out costs and improving profit margins? Or maybe you’ve figured out a way to obtain the best performing keywords off competitors’ websites and can write your own blog posts that feature these keywords. Perhaps you are very personable and are adept at building trusting relationships with influential bloggers that can accelerate exposure for your brand while it might take someone else much longer. Figure out your thing and use it.
What top three tips would you like to pass along for those who have just started to use social media? 1) Don’t try to use every social media platform out there, just stick to the ones where your target market lives. 2) Something I borrowed from the programming world: always be shipping, which means – always put out content! Without content, you’re not likely to be trusted as a new brand because customers want to know what you’re about before committing. Content keeps you in the game. It keeps you relevant and gives you credibility. It doesn’t need to be polished or perfect, just authentic and appealing. 3) Pretend you’re at a cocktail party because after all, you are dealing with real people in the real world. Join conversations in a polite way with something relevant and valuable to add. Be approachable, answer questions, ask questions, offer advice, and remember, you’re at a party, so don’t make a scene! If someone else brings up issues in public, respond gracefully and ask to take the conversation offline so that you can better address the matter.
When you think of the best people to work with, what traits do they share? A love of learning. Curious people with an appetite to know more are the best at creative problem solving because they draw connections where none currently exist. Another trait I admire is someone who sees humor in just about everything. Not only is it a sign of a quick mind to make clever connections between the mundane and the hilarious; laughter is also medicine and it makes for happier work days.
Give a budding entrepreneur your best hiring and firing business practices. I can’t really comment on this area, as I haven’t hired or fired anyone yet. I’m a one-woman show for now!
Entrepreneurs often say that “you can’t do it all.” What three things do you always outsource? 1) Accounting. 2) PR consulting. 3) For technical things like website data mining, I work with virtual workers like Mechanical Turk.
What business book would you recommend to someone who is either about to launch or in the early growth stage? Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk. It features straightforward, no-nonsense, practical social media strategies from a popular expert who has created several successful businesses.
What are your thoughts on raising capital? This all depends on the type of business you want to have and on timing too. If you can afford it, I recommend bootstrapping and scaling slowly, as this gives you full control. Not every business requires external investment.
What piece of invaluable advice did you receive that you would like to pass on to women pursuing their dream? Don’t try to sell, find buyers. As wonderful as your dream may be, you need to position it in a way that will serve the people with the problem that your business solves. It’s much easier than trying to convince non-buyers that they have a problem. Find the aficionados and the fans and engage in conversations where they dwell.
My best advice to a woman launching a venture is… Don’t freak out. There will be days when you struggle to breathe because you feel drowned in work. You’ll look at your list of tasks and your brainstorm session drawings and forget how they’re all related. You’ll start your day not knowing what to tackle first. You’ll have your first critic on social media. Hang in there. Just embrace the bad day and move on. It’s like the learning curve of a challenging job but way more rewarding, and it does get easier. Besides, you’re launching a venture! How many people get to do that? Consider yourself lucky when you have those bad days and think “I could be feeling crappy working for someone else in a job I don’t like. Instead, I’m doing what I love.” You’ll feel instantly better.
What would your advice to your younger self be? You have everything you need to be successful. Stop making excuses and comparing yourself to others. You don’t need to be validated, you don’t need more education, more contacts, more experience, or more of anything. You’re enough! You’re smart and resourceful, so go get it.
Finally, please share your top five tips that would benefit an entrepreneurial woman launching or growing her business:
- Once you go live, you’ll get people coming out of the woodwork to get your business or collaborate with you somehow. Be very selective about whom you choose as suppliers or partners and truly reflect on whether or not you need them. In most cases, you don’t. Also remember that your time is more precious than ever now.
- Don’t take no for an answer. There’s always a way. Get in front of them. Keep doing it.
- Be prepared to answer all sorts of questions on social media you may have not anticipated. You need to answer truthfully and with poise, even if the other person’s tone is testy. Remember, the world is watching.
- Most everything is negotiable.
- Accept that you don’t know everything, not even in your area of expertise. Always take opportunities to learn more.
Image: [Matt Heitzenroder]