by Vanessa Torres
Often times, the first instructions you receive as a budding entrepreneur is to make sure you've done your research on what, if any existing competition is currently in the marketplace. Right here is where I bet a lot of you get discouraged. Step 1. Finito.
Recognize the competition, but don't be afraid of it:
Remember that most ideas are not original. However, that doesn't mean they are any less valuable. If you discover that there are five other companies/individuals doing what you'd like to do, don't automatically shut the lights and go home. Maybe you have a different spin on something that's already hit the marketplace. Maybe you'll be serving a specific geographic region; or offer a product for much less money than anyone else. Regardless, don't let the fact that Idea or Product X already exists discourage you from trying to do it your own way. But remember, "your own way" must stand out from the crowd. If this means re-tweaking your original idea, don't be afraid to do that. Don't be stubborn and insist on sticking to your original plans if that's no longer the best way to go. Flexibility is one of the most important characteristics of successful people and successful ventures. Plans change. People change. Money ebbs and flows. Learn how to roll with the punches or you'll get knocked out in the first round.
If it means waiting a bit until you find what your "hook" will be, don't worry, that will be time well spent. If it means reworking your logo because it looks too much like something that's already out there, then rework it. Put your head down and think. Think about what makes you special. Utilize your natural skills in the way you present, plan and sell your ideas/products. This will automatically make you stand out from anyone else out there. For better or worse, you're the only you. Use that to your advantage.
Examine and Analyze:
Figure out the difference between competition that's not really relevant and businesses that are. Some projects are on such a smaller or larger scale than you are planning for that it's completely irrelevant right now. Acknowledge and move on. However, if you come across something that seems not only like a similar idea, but one created in a similar spirit, pay attention. Instead of thinking competitor, think companion. How might you two work together? Is there a way for you to complement each other, share resources or otherwise serve each other? I've had great (and surprising!) success by reaching out to people who might have been perceived as my direct competition. However, I chose to look at their presence in a different way; instead of trying to beat them, I tried to join them. It's been a remarkable way to expand my network, and double my resources, with almost immediate results. Many of the relationships I've forged were not at all a part of my original plan, but I was open to the fluidity of my project. My passion was great enough that I believed that there was room for all of us. I now have several projects in the pipeline that I never anticipated, but are available to me because I saw competition as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.
Don't Get Bogged Down in Minutiae:
Okay, I'm revisiting the concept I introduced earlier about rethinking your original business plan or reworking a logo. That concept is "don't get bogged down in minutia." It's important to draw a line between reworking and obsessing. Who cares if your website is a little "too red?" Can you read it? Is the content good? Does it clearly express your mission? If so, make it live and move on. You may find that in 6 months you need a whole redesign anyway, so don't obsess over it now.
Don't stay up nights wondering if you should have put your name in all caps. Whatever. Don't worry what your grandma will think. Chances are whatever you are doing will not be appreciated by your grandma. That's OK, she still loves you anyway.
Don't rehearse your pitch too much. Make sure you know what you're about because it's who you are through and through, not because you're a good memorizer. Then put on a great outfit and leave out all the fluffy adjectives. People will remember you.
Vanessa Torres is the founder and president of www.ThatHappenedtoMe.com