In a business world filled with ever-changing technologies and practices, staying prepared for the future is an arms race. With competition tougher than ever, it's important to learn everything you can from observing your competitors. While it's never in a company's best interests to copy the practices of other businesses in its industry, carefully observing how certain businesses operate—and considering those operations in the context of your own practices—can be beneficial in the long run.
Every company is looking for ways to maintain or increase its relevance in the future, so take a look around your sector to scout for ways others are future-proofing their businesses. Some special areas to take note of are:
Spreading out business operations across several different fields is a classic way to help reduce risk in the long run. With that being said, it's not always easy to know exactly which other sectors to branch out into while maintaining the core that made your business successful to begin with. While branching out is a valuable way to prepare your business for the future, branching out into the wrong things can do more harm than good.
One of the best ways to learn from your competitors is to think as far outside the box as possible.
Take a look at businesses in every stage of the process of expanding: How are their sectors of expansion related to their core market? How has expansion changed their revenue? Their image? Taking stock of how growth and diversification have affected your competitors is a good way of understanding how they'll affect you as well.
Finding New Ways to Meet Demands
One of the most important aspects of future-proofing your business is innovation. In order to translate this idea to your own business, begin by figuring out what your customers really want.
It's up to you to come up with new ways to meet customer demand. Look at what your competitors are doing: Is it really innovation, or is it just improving on existing ideas? To truly innovate, UNA president Anthony Clervi—a mentor of mine—suggests looking for gaps. “Focus on the ways you can innovate that your competitors are neglecting. Often, the best thing your competition can teach you is what not to do."
Hopping on the AI Bandwagon
At this point, it's a foregone conclusion: Artificial intelligence will disrupt your industry, no matter what it is. The nuances of AI, however, remain obscure to everyone but the most technologically literate. It's one thing to know that AI is going to change the way you do business; it's another to know exactly how.
Take a look at some of your more tech-savvy competitors to see if (or how) they're using AI as part of their operations. While translating some of their practices to your own could be of benefit, also look for areas they might be neglecting. Finding a new way to incorporate AI into your business model can give your business a strong edge in the future.
Your competition doesn't just mean the businesses closest to you in style and proximity. Any business whose practices could inform or affect yours is your competition—no matter where it is or what it does.
One of the best ways to learn from your competitors is to think as far outside the box as possible. Look at companies in totally different markets in other parts of the world. Though they likely operate in many of the same ways you do, different national markets might maintain slightly different practices from your own. Look to diverse markets and unfamiliar companies for new methods of future-proofing you might not have considered before.
It's impossible to know exactly what the future holds for your business. Looking to the crowd, however, can sometimes be a helpful way of understanding how others are preparing on a larger scale. Getting a sense of how your competitors are preparing for the future can help you stay one step ahead of them as time goes on.
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