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January 24, 2012

Be the First at the Party: Competitive Advantage – A SPN Exclusive Article

There are a lot of ways to make your small business competitive and gain an advantage over the other guys fighting for your customers. One of the greatest approaches is, when you have an innovation or strategy to offer consumers, be sure you arrive first. You’ll obtain a competitive advantage that will be tough to beat unless your service is God-awful.

The Back Applicator

As a young dude in my twenties, I’d been going to the beaches in Maryland each year looking for productive things to do, like party and pick up chicks (that is girls or women for the sophisticated yet unwashed masses). Most of the time you end up on the beach soaking in the sun and getting as dark as possible because of how intelligent it makes you look. But Houston, I had a problem. My ethnic background is German, Eastern European, and by now you know that if I don’t get the sun block on in a major way, my summer vacation goes up in the flames of red, burned skin– the anti-chick magnet.

Big problem: How do I get suntan lotion on my back at the beach to prevent burning while being a bit too shy to ask every passing female? It is an inescapable conclusion that, in public, your buds can NOT apply sunscreen to your back. Anti-cool points to the maximum, no chance with any girl within 5 miles.

No big deal, I believed, I am inventive and resourceful. I take a paint stick (unused) and superglue a foam pad to the end of it. I take it to the beach, apply SPF 15 on the foam, and proceed to apply sunscreen to my back like a champ, eliminating the burn and keeping at arms distance from my guy friends. A true win-win.

“Hey Karl, that’s a great invention dude, you should patent it. Chuck me another Bud Lite dude.” And so I threw the drink and forgot about safeguarding the concept. Go forward 5 years down the road, I am getting ready for a grownup holiday to the Bahmas in the winter by doing the intelligent thing: going to a tanning bed. I walk in and the first thing I see is “The Back Applicator,” a 18 inch long plastic stick with, get this, a foam pad at one end to self-apply costly tanning salon sun block.

I walked out, kicking myself for not getting rich on being the first guy with this plan, knowing the other guy or gal was a dang billionaire by now.

Another Big Idea

About 3 months ago my spouse presented me with an idea while she was two sheets to the wind on Chardonnay. I can’t tell you the idea because, in my view, it was a game changer. Literally, as I told her, something that we’d need venture capital to carry out but would change society as we know it if carried out. Stop asking, I cannot release the idea.

Well, we’ve been discussing it for the last 3 months. I helped out and did some investigation, and guess what I came across? Three other companies are test marketing this very idea, maybe not precisely but close enough for intellectual property sake.

Missed again! We’re describing a twist on the idea now that involves cell phones. What can potentially go wrong?

Our Little Beach

When my kid was four or five years old, there was a little strip of land about two miles from our waterside home via the river that we would take the Jetski to and relax. We’d cruise over with my boy in my lap doing about 10 miles an hour to keep his neck from getting whiplash and spend the afternoon there, wading in the water and drinking non-alcoholic beverages. Since we were the only ones there we named this little place “Jack’s Beach,” named after said kid.

My wife Lora gets a mural painter to paint Jack’s room that summer, and she in fact paints Jack’s Beach, with surfboards embedded the sand and a street sign marking the area. Pretty cool.

Now Jack is ten. We still go to Jack’s beach. I am not making up this next part, I swear it. We went there this year and there is an 8 foot high wood street sign embedded in the sand on Jack’s Beach, with absolutely nothing on it! We did NOT put this there, but it was just too poetic.

Well what do you think I did? I got a bottle of paint and a small brush, Jetskied over to the sign in broad daylight, and gave it the proper name. You could read my kid’s name from 30 yards in the water.

Two weeks afterwards we meet a couple of new friends while out for dinner in a local restaurant. They told us they take their boat to an exclusive little beach for fun and so do their pals. “Where could that be?” I ask, pretending interest. “Oh, it’s named ‘Jack’s Beach’ over on the other side of the bridge.”


Your ‘Get There First’ Competitive Advantage

Alright, I’m not selling tickets to Jack’s Beach … yet, but these three little vignets narrate a story. Don’t be the dimwit who didn’t defend his idea of a back sun block applicator to watch someone else get all the glory. If you have an idea, even a tiny one, that helps your customers or does something differently or better, make it yours.

Is it patentable? Find out visiting and doing a search. Invent a logo and copyright the art. Go get 5 sites that other folks might want to copy and market your concept with. Most significantly, don’t hesitate in taking action if you really think it’s a killer concept.

CLAIM THAT BAD BOY FIRST! Be the company that sets the new standard before your competition does. Ask yourself these simple questions:

The Innovation Acid Test

1. Do I see this around in the current market? (Internet search)
2. Can this really help my customers?
3. Is this cool and unequaled?
4. Can I visualize somebody purchasing this?

If your responses are N-Y-Y-Y (as in no-yes-yes-yes) to these questions, go claim that beach pal! If your concept is awful and no one copies it, you can still profit at it or at worst, you lost a few bucks and a little time. If you get copycats, you know you’re onto something. If you’ve done it properly and deliver value on the promise, your rivals will always be behind and you’ll be patting yourself on the back, with either your hand or your $10.99 Back Sun block Applicator.

Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.