How many of you have read George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984? Makes you think huh? Obviously its plot is quite extreme and seemingly far fetched but is there an element of truth behind ‘Big Brother’ and how people, including prospective clients, use modern platforms, namely the internet, to find out more about you and your business?

I don’t mean that customers and future employers are going all PI on our behinds and donning dodgy specs, nose and moustache combos to stealthily obtain the ‘low down’ on us but they are becoming more savvy with the way they weed out the competition and make informed decisions about where they are going to take their business or who they are going to hire.

Business is what makes the world go round, but relatively speaking business connections used to be limited by distance and face to face meetings. But lo and behold, the birth of LinkedIn in 2002 has taken what was once confined and determined by logistics firmly in hand by turning the business community into what is now a relatively small place.

LinkedIn is a free tool that that works very much like a virtual C.V., accessible to anyone who knows what they are looking for. It utilises an online ‘link up’ facility to allow members to gain credibility and boost their profile whilst making valuable connections that otherwise may never have seen the light of day. That is why it is so important to keep your profile current, up to date and relevant. It also has an endorsement option where you can vouch for the skills of individuals you have worked with and in turn they can do the same for you giving you an immediate and public reference.

But this isn’t the only way to find out what people are saying about you. That’s right, there are some clever companies out there now that specifically measure your ‘internet buzz’ . In other words, what people are saying about you on the internet – directly or indirectly. So whether you are mentioned in comparison to a competitor or just as a passing comment, they will know and therefore prove almost indispensable as a PR aide.

Another good idea to gain a better insight into what you are doing right and how you can improve your business in order to climb the competitive ladder is to make a list of what you do and what your competitors do and how they compare. For example, do you offer free delivery? ‘Yeah, big deal’ I hear you say, ‘who doesn’t nowadays’ and you would be right, but do you offer next day delivery or a lesser service that may take four times as long? My point is, what are you doing that gives you the edge?

Who has copycat syndrome? Another indicator as to whether you are passing muster out there is if people are replicating what you do. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all and if you are trendsetting or pioneering in any way, others will want to follow.

Of course it’s not all spy work or, dare I say, espionage that will give you the competitive edge and drive others over it, sticking to good, ethical business practice speaks volumes and is almost as likely to gain you repeat or new custom through word of mouth as a flashy, expensive ad. But if no one knows about you how are you going to get off the starting block in order to show how valuable you are. This is where I hark back to good old SEO. Still a front runner in boosting your profile by where you rank, investing time in professionally done SEO offers massive benefits for companies both large and small.

It’s very much a ‘one shot’ culture out there, and with so many people doing something similar to you or on a larger scale, it is understandable to feel outdone. But my last piece of advice is perhaps the easiest to follow…use your biggest asset to your advantage and ask your customers for feedback. And remember, pride comes before a fall so always be humble enough to take criticism whether you agree with it or not, and learn from it. Remember, you are seen as a customer to someone!

Gosh, look at me getting all goody-two-shoes in my old age, next week I promise to not give a lecture but instead some fun and informative facts on customer service and how it can be your make or break. See you then.

Getting the competitive business edge
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