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You hear of seemingly strong businesses closing up shop all the time. One day everything is normal and the next they’re putting up the dreaded “Thanks for all your support over the years!” sign and locking the doors forever. I just saw it happen to my local bookstore a few months ago. For customers, the big “going out of business” sale might seem to come out of nowhere, but a million factors always come in to play.

In today’s rapidly paced business world, staying relevant and competitive is a big task. Sometimes it can seem like you’re always running uphill just to stay where you are. Many business owners don’t feel like they can keep up which causes them to give up the ghost.

It’s not impossible, however. You can keep up with all the changes in your industry while managing not to get too behind in everything else.

What do people care about?

Staying competitive means listening to your customers. They’re the ones who pay your bills, so their opinions are some of the most vital to your company’s well-being. You should listen to others as well including experts, colleagues, and other professionals, but your customers are the reason you exist.

So what do they care about? Not just in business, but in everyday life. If you’re not catering to as many of their needs as possible you’re going to lose them at some point. The business world is just as hectic for your customers as it is for you and they have a lot of other things to think about. Don’t let your company totally slip their mind.

One way to really get inside their heads is to survey some of your best customers. Ask them what they like, what they don’t like, even some totally non-business related questions to get to know them. You may think you know your customers but a simple survey may prove you wrong.

Local Networks

Somewhat ironically, as it becomes easier to order comic books from Japan and coffee from Peru, a “shop local” counter movement has developed. Instead of going to Walmart or eating at Applebee’s, customers are checking out Mom & Pop Home Goods and Bob & Tom’s Eatery instead. If you haven’t considered going local yet, now’s the time to try it out.

Instead of putting up billboards around town, though, try and establish a network of local colleagues. In fact, there’s more than likely a local network already set up. Check with your nearby SBA and see if they have anything on file. Or, if you know any local professionals ask them if there are any groups you could join.

Even if there is no group to join, simply networking with other businesses in your area can give you a world of insight. Try getting involved with a non-profit, or at least taking a peek at local non-profit sponsor lists. This will tell you which companies in your area care about the community and are doing well enough to donate to charity. Well-established companies that have been at it for years and can give you tips to what works and what doesn’t work when marketing to the locals.

Build Your Reputation

Some things are “rapidly changing industry” proof. Do you think Coca-Cola would go out of business if they didn’t have a web presence or engaged communities all over the world? It’s safe to say “no” – their sales might not be in the gazillions as they are now, but they wouldn’t become a thing of the past overnight either.

This is because Coca-Cola has built a strong reputation and identity over the years. People see the drink company as something that’s a staple of their lives now. How do you get your business to this same point?

There’s no magic bullet, but certain activities help build your reputation. For example, you should get on social media so you can talk to customers. If you’re already doing this, make sure what you’re saying is all part of a bigger message (emphasizing great customer service, or changing the world, etc).

On top of that, coming off as a sincere business owner goes a long way. Try to always keep your cool even in the toughest of situations – one slip up and you may end up all over the Internet in a bad way! If you can show the public you’re just doing your best and can offer them a great experience every single time, your reputation can easily grow through the years and build your business for you.

How are you staying competitive today?