QUESTION: My business is doing well but experience has taught me that I should not become complacent. How can one stay competitive and ahead of the competition?

ANSWER: It has been said there are only two things in life that one can be certain of…death and taxes.  I would add a third certainty…change.

 My grandmother was born before the turn of the last century. In her lifetime she witnessed the evolution of the Model T Ford to a man walking on the moon. Those of us alive today have witnessed the digital evolution which is changing as you read this column.

 In business, change is inevitable. There are many examples of strong companies who lost market share or went out of business because they failed to notice or misinterpreted innovations in their respective fields of endeavor.

 Kodak, founded in 1888, had a monopoly on camera film and developing, but failed to embrace the evolution of digital cameras. Borders bookstores also failed to embrace e-books and online sales marketing, and filed for bankruptcy. More recently we have learned the iconic Sears, founded in 1886, is one of the latest brick & mortar victims due to their failure to fully recognize the threat of giant, Amazon.com.

 As a business owner you must look beyond the current business environment and try to anticipate changes before your competition does. Here are a few tips you should consider:

  •  Talk to your customers – Are their needs changing? What is their competition forcing them to do                      and what needs can you fulfill? 
  • Talk to your suppliers – They are probably examining their marketing strategy too. They may be aware of innovations in the marketplace. You are their customer and maybe you can help each other.
  • Join a trade association – While their members may be competitors, you may be surprised how much you can learn from them in a social setting. Check out their press releases and websites too.
  • Talk to your employees – They deal with your customers daily and hear their problems first hand. Involve them in your decision making and acknowledge their contributions. This will improve morale and happy employees make for happy customers.

In closing, advances in technology will continually change how small and big companies do business. Anticipating trends is never easy, but it is essential to long-term success.

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Gray Poehler is a volunteer with SCORE Naples. Business counseling on this and other business matters is available, without charge, from the Naples Chapter of SCORE. Call (239) 430-0081 or visit https://naples.score.org/mentors .The SCORE business office is located at 900 Goodlette Road North, in the Fifth Third branch bank building. Office hours are 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.