Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

How to stay ahead of the competition

Imitation is the best form of flattery and in business it is unavoidable but it can be turned to your advantage

Most good business ideas get copied but that can be a useful spur to keep innovating. Getty
Most good business ideas get copied but that can be a useful spur to keep innovating. Getty

One of the drawbacks of coming up with a great business product or service is it can be copied. When a successful venture takes off, it’s common to see other competitors popping up, whether it’s a cupcake store, a burger joint or speciality coffee house.

When I went looking for a kaftan tailor in Bahrain, I came across one who had posters of Instagram posts by retailers. He unreservedly said he could imitate the creations for less.

The inclination to copy is arguably one of the reasons why many GCC-based retailers have set their Instagram accounts to private, restricting access to potential customers.

It certainly isn’t fair for someone to just come along and profit off your back when you have put in all the effort to create a brand.

But don’t waste too much time dwelling on the matter. Great businesses get copied all the time and as a business owner you need to make peace with that reality.

From the onset you should be resigned to the fact that there will be imitators who want to benefit from your idea. It happens to jewellery brands such as Tiffany & Co and Boucheron, as well as fashion brands such as Hermes and Gucci.

One way of protecting your business is through trademark registration, another is ensuring you have a copyright, or registering a patent for your creation.

Be aware there is no guaranteed protection. Some competitors don’t care, and will still find a way around it.

The best approach is to keep developing and innovating while having a close eye on the competition. Always aim to be a step ahead, with a view to having a unique offering that’s difficult to follow.

The customer is king. Attentive and responsive customer service should be your top priority. You need to stay close to your customers. Ask them for feedback. What they like? Is there a feature or service they need or is lacking? Taking their feedback into consideration will help you improve and maybe even introduce you to new ideas for products and services.

The upside to having competitors is they keep you on your toes. The need to be alert to developments in your field helps you provide an extra level of service. Keeping your eye on the ball stirs creativity and prompts one to look for new ways to improve service quality and product.

An acquaintance of mine was the first in her field of service in Abu Dhabi. As a result, she had a laid-back approach but everything changed when she discovered a competitor had surfaced offering similar service at competitive rates. That forced her to up her game. She revamped her website, improved customer service and became more active on social media to be more connected with her target audience.

Some entrepreneurs who have been in the business for a while make use of emerging competition. They offer mentorship, develop acquaintanceship and friendships, and also exchange knowledge and information about the sector.

Competition can be healthy and may lead to synergy. I happened to meet a founder of a marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi who ended up becoming a friend. Although she’s my competitor, there are services her consultancy doesn’t offer and we’ve agreed to have my company step in and assist her clients' needs. I also offer her some insights on the local market that benefits her business.

The bottom line is: as an entrepreneur, and especially, when leading a successful business, you can’t be complacent.

You have to always be ahead of the game.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi

Updated: April 20, 2019 02:26 PM