How to Compete With Yourself

If your business is feeling a little stagnant, taking a hard look at how things run may help you become tougher competition.
March 09, 2017

After we launched crowdSPRING, which connects creatives with buyers across the world, in early 2008, despite many early successes, we made a mistake many business owners make: We operated the business as though the competitive, technological and economic landscape was the same as when we started.

How can you avoid repeating our mistake?

Find a way to compete with yourself.

In early 2016, I took my senior team offsite for one week to consider the following question: "If we started a new business today to compete with crowdSPRING and our key competitors, how would we build it?"

We knew in advance that group brainstorms don't always produce the best ideas, so we implemented a variety of techniques recommended by brainstorming experts.

By the end of the offsite, we built a plan to completely reimagine our business. We called it crowdSPRING 3.0. We committed to changing every pixel, every line of code and every word of copy. We left nothing untouched.

We're several months away from launching the new product and I want to share four important lessons we've learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Empower each person on your team.

To involve everyone on the team, I split the process into logical pieces and asked every person on the team to own part of the process.

The person in charge of how we qualified designers and writers strongly advocated that we immediately close registration for designers and writers until we could completely reimagine and rebuild the entire process.

Registration remained closed for nearly six months while we gathered a waiting list of thousands of new designers and writers who wanted to work on crowdSPRING. (We've since qualified and processed every single person on that waiting list.) In fact, we applied these rules retroactively to all 200,000 creatives on crowdSPRING and required every designer and writer to reregister and requalify with real identification, contact information and work samples in certain categories of projects (logo design, web design and company naming). We wanted to be sure that the designers and writers we admitted to work on crowdSPRING met our standards for quality and trust.

Making every person on the team the CEO of something important empowered each person, and collectively, empowered the entire team in ways we had not imagined.

Every person on the team became a leader and this flattened our organization and has helped us to move faster and generate new ideas. For example, we implemented some of the offsite ideas immediately—we launched a resource center for entrepreneurs and small businesses, and started a video series on YouTube focusing on starting and growing your business. 

The team deserves all the credit for these changes. This is where some less experienced entrepreneurs and business owners can make a critical mistake that undermines many of the benefits of empowering their team. When people make great decisions, give them lots of public praise—and don't steal the spotlight. 

Lesson 2: Critically assess every person.

When we decided to reimagine our business, I didn't look as critically as I should have at each person on the team to decide whether they would be a good fit for where our business was heading. We were going to move in a different direction, both with our product and with the pace of our business. I assumed that everyone could easily adapt and evolve. 

Lesson 3: Have a Plan B.

I never asked the team in the early months to consider what we would do if the rebuild process took considerably longer than the three to four months we expected it would take. We didn't create a Plan B.

As a result, we created strategies and tactics for marketing campaigns we would launch in four months, deferred numerous campaigns and changed others and otherwise threw a wrench into our marketing plan in 2016. The launch date became a moving target and this meant that we could not effectively execute many of our planned campaigns.

Had we created a Plan B early in the process, we would not have lost important months of marketing time when we were holding many of our campaigns back because we thought our relaunch was imminent.

Don't be afraid to reimagine your business.

If you have a newer business not performing to your satisfaction or an older business that has hit a wall, you too may benefit from asking the question: "If I started a new business today to compete with myself, how would I build it?"

Photos: iStock