October 6, 2006
Specialist: Small businesses must be smart to run with big dogsWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. In the dog-eat-dog business world a Chihuahua has to be smart and aggressive to avoid being swallowed whole by a Great Dane, said a co-chairperson of Purdue University's New Ventures Team.
Small businesses and entrepreneurs must do their homework about the competition if they expect to survive and thrive, said Joan Fulton. She'll offer strategies and ideas during the New Ventures workshop series Bigger Profits Through Targeted Sales. The workshops take place in four Indiana cities this month and in November.
Competition is inevitable in business, said Fulton, an agribusiness marketing specialist in Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics. Whether the competition is direct or indirect, understanding the competition's strengths and weaknesses is critical for the small-business owner.
"Some people who have a new idea or service might think to themselves that they don't have competition," she said. "But in reality, you've always got competition. Even if you have a new product or service there are people out there right now already meeting the needs of your potential customers. That is your competition, and you've got to figure out how to meet the customer's needs better than they are."
Sometimes there are obvious competitors, and the competitive challenge can be greater for entrepreneurs, Fulton said.
"The competition that's out there got the first stab at the marketplace," she said. "For those getting into business it comes down to 'What kind of value can I provide to customers so that they'll come to me instead?'"
A key component in starting or operating a successful small business is establishing what Fulton calls a "differential advantage." She described the strategy as creating a clear-cut, sustainable difference between the small business and its competition that is perceived as important to a significant number of potential customers.
Differential advantages can be achieved through technology, special features, image and design, and service and relationships, Fulton said.
"Knowing your customers and being able to relate to them is one way to create a differential advantage," she said. "Wal-Mart and the big-box retailers don't know all of their customers, but they do have their own advantages through offering lots of products at low prices and making those products readily available maybe 24 hours a day.
"Small businesses can't compete like that. They have to offer something that a customer is willing to pay for, such as unique, one-of-a-kind products and excellent customer service."
Fulton's presentation, "Analyzing Competition and Creating Your Differential Advantage," is among several sessions planned during the Bigger Profits Through Targeted Sales workshops. Those attending also will craft a personalized marketing action plan for their businesses, participate in interactive exercises, receive one-on-one help from New Ventures specialists and hear from local business experts, such as "Inside INdiana Business" host Gerry Dick.
The workshops run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and include breakfast, lunch and an evening reception. Workshop dates and locations include:
Oct. 25: West Lafayette Purdue University Stewart Center, State Street and Oval Drive.
Nov. 10: Shipshewana Blue Gate Restaurant, 105 E. Middlebury St.
Nov. 14: Indianapolis Adams Mark Hotel at the Airport, 2544 Executive Drive.
Nov. 17: Evansville Bauerhaus Event Facility, 13605 Darmstadt Road.
Registration is $85 per person if completed at least two weeks before a workshop takes place, and $100 thereafter.
Register online or download a workshop brochure.
Purdue's New Ventures Team is a group of Extension educators and specialists who aid those interested in starting new business ventures or improving the profitability of their existing businesses.
Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Joan Fulton, (765) 494-0594, email@example.com
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