When your business is in its start-up phase, there are numerous things to think about. Finances are often tight, employees may be over-worked, and it can sometimes seem like your product or service will never catch on.

The early days of a business are all about being multi-skilled and focussed on slow, steady growth, so here are four ways you can improve your start-up:

1. Embrace competition

While it can be easy to view competition as an obstacle, business owners that embrace it and see it as an opportunity will ensure they stay sharp.

Competition allows you to avoid complacency. When you know you have competitors hustling for your share of the market, you will keep focussing on innovating, building your brand, and assessing your strengths and weaknesses.

Competition also encourages you to differentiate and stand out from other businesses through your customer service, marketing, product quality, and solutions.

An often overlooked benefit to competition is the unexpected partnerships that can form. Like-minded businesses can actually help you to grow as you exchange tools and technology, cross-promote each businesses products and collaborate on research for customer education.

Your competitors also offer you an excellent opportunity to learn from the way they do things (both their successes and their mistakes), so you can apply these lessons to your own business.

2. Determine your brand

Once you’ve created a product or service that you think is brilliant, you need to create a compelling brand story, so that people will care. This means articulating how you’re solving a particular problem and showing how your business fits into the bigger picture.

Take a look at your competitor’s logos, blogs, customer service, social media, marketing campaigns and more. How can you stand out? Which qualities can you use (without ripping them off), and where do you think they are going wrong?

Branding requires you to research your market, your position in the market, and what you want to achieve. Your brand should set you apart from other companies with a unique offering, design, or price.

It can help to think about your brand as a person. If your business was actually a person, would they be male, female, old, young, laid-back, or elitist? Other brands could be more traditional, conservative or older, while you may be targeting younger audiences with a product that’s sleeker and more cutting-edge or vice-versa.

3. Market creatively

Most start-ups won’t have a large marketing budget, but it’s important to get the name of your business and your product or service out into the world. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can reach customers that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Content creation is a great way to do this, and providing advice for potential customers can position you and your business as a leader in the industry. By establishing yourself as an authority in your niche, you can gain trust, which means that customers are more likely to choose you over your competitors.

Social media has made it easier than ever to reach out to potential customers, however many people are tuning out the noise of advertising and brands constantly reaching out.
The trick is to create unique, interesting, and shareable content that will ideally “go viral”, and be shared throughout the social media channels used by your customers, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or LinkedIn.

One example of a successful and creative social media campaign is Save The Children’s “Most Shocking Second A Day” video which went viral on Facebook, reframing the situation in Syria in a Western light.

Another more light-hearted campaign was the Squatty Potty, with the weird yet brilliant video reaching more than 27 million views, catapulting the product to Amazon’s #1 Best Seller in its category.

Other great examples? GoPro’s skateboarding cat, the #EpicEstonia tourism campaign and Lululemon’s low-tech, tongue-in-cheek yoga videos.

4. Prioritise your Customers

It can be easy to focus all your energy on product development and marketing, however ensuring that your business is customer-centric will mean greater loyalty from customers and increased word-of-mouth. For start-ups, the way you treat your customers will make or break your business, and your reputation will determine whether customers are flocking to your business or avoiding it (and telling their friends to do the same).

Training employees to treat customers with respect and creating an environment where it’s normal for employees to go out of their way to deliver great customer service will give your business a reputation for putting people first- something that will have customers telling their friends about your product or service.