Make the Competition Irrelevant

I am a member of a photographer’s Facebook group where it’s very common for someone to start a panicked thread about a new competitor in their area and what that might mean to their business.  I recently read a book called Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne that says the key to success in today’s market is not to beat your competitors but to make them irrelevant by creating “uncontested market space”.  Or in other words find a way to set yourself apart. 
Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s vitally important to continually up your game and improve your work.  I also think it’s vitally important to know who your competitors are, what their work looks like and what they charge. 
My sales mentor used to always say that you could beat 90% of the people 90% of the time just by working harder than everyone else.  Depending on your business and market, that may mean working harder or longer or more efficiently or cheaper or building stronger relationships.  
For our national virtual tour business, that means continually listening to what our customers are asking for while sticking to our core business and principles.  The key to our success is that we offer a high quality product at a competitive price.  We aren’t usually the cheapest but we are darn good at what we do and we provide an exceptional value and service to our customers.
We have a specialized virtual tour business – we primarily photograph vacation rental and hotel virtual tours and residential healthcare virtual tours and while we have lots of competitors in just those two spaces, no one else offers the expertise we have at a price that compares.  Some of their work blows my socks off – there are some AMAZING photographers out there who make our work look like a child’s crayon drawing and there are some mediocre photographers who make our work look like Michaelangelo’s Sistene Chapel.  Sure, it’s cool to compare and it’s important for me to know my market but honestly, how does comparison change anything that I do to market our virtual tour business? 
My sales mentor also used to say that you can have the biggest house on the block by building yours higher or by tearing everyone else’s down.  We have chosen to build our house one brick at a time and doing so honestly takes so much of my time that I don’t have much left to worry about whether my competitor got a job I wanted.
The biggest challenge for most small business owners is confusing working hard with being busy.  We may work 12 hours a day but if I am not working towards building my opportunity pipeline and deepening my relationships with our customers, then those hours are wasted time. We may be offer the best product on the market but if it’s not priced at a point where my customers can see the value then it doesn’t matter.  Yes, I want us to get better at what we do but the most talented person is not always the most successful. 
Ask any artist or musician.