What are your competitors up to? 4 things

Whenever commentators mention entrepreneurs in Kenya becoming competitive, it is always in the context of export business. That is okay. Foreign currency is really good. But they should not forget most business people operate for the local market.

And great thing, there are over 50 million Kenyans right now. Yeah. Is that too much Kenyans for this world? Wait till you hear that, soon, there will be more Nigerians than there are Americans.

Population, market size let’s talk about that another time. Most of all small businesses in Kenya are ever told about becoming competitive is to have unique ideas. Okay. But that is only an opening move. I don’t care how good you are, you’re not winning a chess match in one move. You know you have to think, move forward, move backwards before you get to retire early as the successful business lady. Is there a shortcut though, to make this easier? Yes.

One thing (it’s really four) is to know what your competitors are doing behind the scenes. C’mon, we all want to know why he or she is on the podium, on the cover page and not me. Instead of buying into the rumors that they slept their way to the top, or whatever, you can peek behind the scenes to get clues and learn. But, obviously, competitors are harder to spy on than your current boyfriend, harder to stalk than your ex-boyfriend.

You’re in luck. We talk to successful entrepreneurs and they tell us things. Here are the four things that keep them ahead:

Being cheap

Business can be nuanced. When we hear cost, we almost always think of cost cutting. That’s late and reactive. All the fun your competitors are having is in cost control. This is one of the things entrepreneurs do better than many other people – support privatization of Government-run companies in Kenya.

As you know, increasing revenue is matched by increasing costs. If December is going to be good for you, you’ll need temporary employees you have to pay for example. This a clearly defined cost. Others, like depreciation, are hidden. You have to learn to slow down rising costs by measures like buying second hand, outsourcing and negotiating longer repayment terms with those pesky suppliers.

Being a keeper

Everybody wants to be wanted. Even entrepreneurs. These ones want both customers and employees to be ride-and-die for them. Your competitors have achieved this kind of retention. You have to give something back, though.

Business is too competitive to rely on one-off customers. Even if you are located at Tom Mboya street, after sunset, you’re still contending with new entrants into your industry daily. Who told you to tell unemployed youth to become “job creators?” You need to focus on increasing repeat customers. You also don’t want to waste time losing employees. For newer ones, you got to recruit well, train them and be patient for them to learn the ropes. I don’t care how nice you are. Meanwhile, your competitors are focused on the market – yet we’re here rooting for you.

Being better

Isn’t this why we hate them? Everything works out for them. They can even be implicated in the murder of a girl, and still get to hang out with the Deputy President. Like your competition, you should relegate challenges of running a business in Kenya, and appreciate the potential to grow that is infront of you.

That’s not enough. You should also accept that the payoff of getting better is ever reducing. Not that way. Every time you improve, it becomes harder and more expensive to find another level to move up to. Unless you’re a clique like Kenyan TV stations, you have no option but to push yourself to find that extra for you. Why? Your competitors keep finding it to stay ahead. What do they have that you don’t?

Being right

Okay, women entrepreneurs are always right. But some are more right than others. This is in how they manage their businesses. One mistake we make in Kenya, nowadays, is equate the MBA to management talent. Can we just agree our favorite President, Kibaki, called it wrong with free market type education?

Coordinating business activities is a skill in of itself. You may not quite have it in the right dose, so you get help. We know that entrepreneurs have different areas to be good at. For management, it isn’t just about being followed when you dish orders. There is always knowing what other problem is causing your prevailing problem. No, I refuse, it’s not the economy. It’s never and will never be good, except if you are rich 😉