As an entrepreneur, I spent a great deal of time in the early stages of setting up my business looking at what my ‘competition’ was doing.
I also spent a huge amount of energy trying to figure out how to build constant and continuous growth into my business plan. How could I continue to expand, and keep up with all those bigger and more successful businesses out there? How could I increase revenue and profits, and lower expenses?
Somewhere along the way, I got tired. This constant expenditure of energy towards keeping up with my competitors, finding ever more inventive ways to expand and increase, and always worrying about the bottom line started to take its toll. What began as a means of expressing myself and my passions out in the world, and as a means of earning a satisfying living, became an unhappy burden that left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Current Business Model
Much of what is taught in business school programs, and everything we read and hear in business and financial publications, supports the view that business is dog-eat-dog. We must achieve at the expense of our competition, and success is about constant growth and an ever increasing profit margin. Producing more and more ‘stuff’ at less and less cost seems to be the pervasive model.
But this type of thinking leaves very little room or time for creativity and innovation, pleasure, sharing, human kindness, and genuine customer service. It also leaves very little wiggle room for factoring in concern for the environment, social equity or human rights (unless there is some profit or tax break involved). A big reason our planet is in the state it’s in is as a direct result of this type of thinking.
From Continuous Growth to Continuous Improvement
With self-employment and micro & small business slated to become the leader of the new economy, we as entrepreneurs, small business owners and even customers have an opportunity to create something new.
What if instead of constant growth in terms of stuff and profit, we focused on constant improvement – improvement in quality of life for owners and employees alike, and improvement in environmental impacts and social equity? What would that look like?
What if businesses, once they had reached say an optimal and sustainable profit to expense ratio, focused on making their employee program exceptional? And instead of constantly striving for higher profits for a few wealthy share-holders at the expense of the employees, what if a business invested a portion of existing profits back into making their product or service even better, more environmentally sound, more socially equitable?
If the focus for new businesses shifted from profits and continuous & never-ending growth to quality improvement and customer service, this would leave more room for many small businesses to co-exist, instead of a handful of mega-corporations dominating the landscape.
Non-Competition: Is It Possible?
I envision the new business model being one of non-competition. Of course, competing with each other on one level is key to innovation and improvement, and leaves opportunities for businesses to shine in customer service. But competition does not have to mean putting another out of business in order that just one succeeds.
It could instead mean communicating with our so-called competition and making them into allies instead of enemies. Imagine chatting with your competitor to find the best solution so that both of you can thrive and make a good living for yourself and your employees? Perhaps discussing different niches and angles that each could take, or sharing costs of goods and services to lower both of your expenses.
If businesses took a view to earn and retain the support of a customer base that could sustain a great quality of life for the business owner and it’s employees without sacrificing innovation, the environment, human rights or social equity, could they stop there instead of constantly striving for more – more money, more profit, more market share? Could we find that tipping point, beyond which someone or something suffers at the expense of growth, and just not go there?
Qualities largely absent in the current business paradigm include honesty, transparency and authenticity.
Those businesses that are demonstrating such qualities are finding a new customer base that is willing to reward them with their dollars and loyalty. Many consumers are feeling disillusioned by false advertising, corporate greed, human rights and environmental violations, and a general lack of integrity in businesses they once blindly trusted, and are choosing companies and brands that demonstrate honesty, authenticity and genuine care.
Imagine launching a small business venture or service that genuinely reflected who you are and what you value, and attracting just those customers who resonated with that message. Imagine creating a business environment where you, your suppliers, your employees and your customers all felt elevated as a result of the business transaction. Imagine everyone enjoying their slice of the communal business pie, and no one going without. I believe it is possible given a shift in our priorities and expectations.
As consumers, it may mean paying higher prices to support those businesses and providers who demonstrate values and ethics that match yours. It may mean going a little further out of your way to purchase from a business that provides genuine customer service, and that takes care of its employees as well as its share-holders and owners.
It may call for those of us in business and self-employed service to step up to the plate and choose improvement and equity over competition, and instead of automatically striving for increased profits and viral growth, to be content with ‘enough’.