Developing a business Featured

12:35pm EDT October 29, 2006
To succeed in an environment that is often cutthroat and on the cutting edge, businesses need to be one step ahead of their competition. Through the latest technology, the most contemporary branding and creative marketing ideas as well as ongoing training, businesses can surpass their opponents in the marketplace, says Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix’s three local campuses in Pennsylvania.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about the critical elements that drive business development and assist in providing a decisive advantage over the competition.

What technologies give businesses an edge in the market?
With technology ever changing, businesses need to ensure they have the latest resources available to both employees and consumers. Employees want technology that improves efficiency. Consumers want quality, convenience and superior customer service. The challenge is meeting these demands while keeping within a budget.

A Web site — an essential tool for any business — can be inexpensive to build and maintain. It not only lets clients gather important research but also can serve as an interactive customer service instrument by gathering essential information on clients’ needs, likes and dislikes. Additionally, creating a Web-based business can grow your company through online sales. The key is to sell products online that vary from those available at retail locations so owners can expand their clientele base exponentially and reach consumers locally, nationally and internationally.

Using wireless technology provides your employees with the ability to take the company directly to your clients. From Bluetooth to wi-fi, employees can present products and visuals while providing overall customer service in an efficient manner.

How can marketing and branding play an integral role in distinguishing your business from your competitors’?
Branding influences the position a product has in the consumer’s mind and it explains how it is different from the competition. By creating and appropriately branding a quality product, business owners can ensure their products will be top-of-mind for consumers.

Once a business has successfully branded itself and its products, it can begin expanding with new and improved products, keeping ahead of similar offerings. Higher brand recognition leads consumers to sample or develop a preference of one company’s product over another.

Marketing products can be an expensive endeavor, but there are effective ways to get products to the public for little investment, including trade shows, leveraging existing relationships, and word-of-mouth or grassroots marketing. Attending trade shows can help identify and expand existing customer bases. In addition, participants are granted access to the competition. Leveraging existing relationships and creating word-of-mouth or grassroots marketing campaigns can be cost-effective and help you get the maximum value for your money.

Finally, a great sales team can take your products to the next level. Developing an ‘elevator pitch,’ a concise description of your products or services that can spark consumer interest, is essential. For most people, their first instinct is to decline anything new or unknown, but with creative pitching, it may be easier to persuade clients to purchase with your company.

What fuels a small business to constantly think out of the box?
Failure in small business is common. A Business of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages report published in Monthly Labor Review showed that 66 percent of American startup companies existed two years after opening and only 44 percent were still in existence after four years. Although failing is a frightening prospect, those who learn from their failures can help businesses progress with innovative ideas and stay ahead of the competition.

Fostering a risk-taking environment ensures that your employees are not afraid to be creative with ideas and solutions. Allowing employees to see management’s failures along with successes reinforces this supportive environment. However, be sure team members learn from their mistakes and labor diligently to find a workable solution.

What can business owners do to advance their businesses?
Ongoing training and education can propel your company into the future. From higher education and independent research to business-oriented seminars and clubs, it is important to be aware of the latest industry trends. In addition, look to attend a college or university that encourages the development of creative solutions to real-world situations and offers flexible class schedules, so it does not impede the progress of your business. Researching your target market and demographics by subscribing to trade publications and conducting Internet research is critical.

ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both campus-based and online programs. Reach Monday at elden.monday@phoenix.edu or by phone at (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131. Additional information is also available at www.phoenix.edu/philadephia.