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I often meet people who want to go into the private sector and they ask: “What kind of business should I set up?” A good question, but where to look for the answer? More often than not they will choose to do something because they have seen somebody else apparently being successful. As a result we see many attempts to copy businesses. Not only is the business being copied, a similar name will be used and the preferable location is next door. Better quality or services are not necessarily provided. They are also copied. While this kind of competition is still legitimate, I also know of cases of clear sabotage and boycotting. And in between we find opportunists who simply steal designs of genuine producers. In the absence of effective copyright and patent protection it will not be easy to close this loophole, although the Ethiopian musicians seem to have been successful recently. Other sectors may learn from their example of putting their hands together for a common interest. In any case, customers seem to benefit from competition as they now have a choice, not too far away, with a chance to bargain for a cheaper price. Where there are too many who offer the same services, businesses may suffer however, as they really have to compromise their prices and thus their profit margins.
So, is there another way? Is there a way, whereby both customers and businesses benefit, whereby there is a win situation for both? The word competition itself means that different actors compete with or against each other. This implies that where I win, the others loose. Or when somebody else wins, I loose. In other languages, competition is sometimes more described in terms of concurrence or existing alongside each other. From this point of view, businesses can actually co-operate and support each other, rather than fight each other and be in each other’s way. We see the formation of associations, where common interests are advocated, defended and protected. Issues may be related to legislation, standards, information, policies, etc. Here business owners support each other in developing and protecting their sector. Within a sector, members of an association will encourage each other to uphold standards and quality. And where there are others offering similar services, you better be good or otherwise customers will go elsewhere. In this way competition serves as a motivator to perform better, a healthy situation.
Nevertheless I see many business owners being afraid and suspicious of others who operate in the same sector. And yet this is not really necessary, if we try to turn our attitude towards competition around. Why worry if you know that you offer good quality and services in the first place? Secondly, consider yourself copied the moment you bring a new product on the market. Just make sure you are not sitting still and that you are already working on your next product or design. The copies may never reach the same standard as yours and you will have already moved on by the time the copies are available. Be a leader in your field. Keep moving on. Standing still is in fact loosing willingly as you allow others to overtake you.
Except making sure that what you offer is good and developing new products & designs, there are other strategies to remain ahead of the competition. In the first place you can consider your prices, offer deals and provide extra services. Secondly, you can attract your customers by using different marketing strategies. Advertise, use commercials, offer season deals, include little giveaways in your packaging.
Instead of spending negative energy to take each other to court, a small toy or an extra free item may really boost your sales. Take a look at the big companies. There is no reason not to do something similar, be it at a smaller scale.
In conclusion I would like to make the following suggestions:
When you intend to start a business, be motivated by what you are good at, what you like and what the needs of the market are.
Don’t copy a business and expect to be successful simply because somebody else is.
Find your own special service and customers within a sector and define your “niche”.
Keep developing your business and be ahead of the rest. Be proud that others are trying to follow you.
Work together to develop and protect your sector. Realise that you need each other here, that you are interdependent.
Develop an attitude of concurrence, existing together. There is room for all.

Ton Haverkort
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