Even the most prolific entrepreneurs can’t do it alone. Consider serial founder Elon Musk, whose endeavors include Tesla, SpaceX, the Boring Company, and now the brain-machine interface (BMI) effort dubbed Neuralink. One person can’t compete on so many fronts at once (effectively, anyway). Musk relies on a network of some of the most talented minds for help.
If an individual as self-confident as Musk taps others to help keep his companies at the forefront, you should follow suit. Maintaining a competitive edge in your industry, it turns out, is a team effort.
1. Develop a network of people who both challenge and support you.
When you keep company with successful people, they both consciously and subconsciously push you to be your best. Jim Rohn is often quoted as saying, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” With that in mind, surround yourself with people — friends, family, colleagues — who feel comfortable being honest with you. Whether they lend a sympathetic ear or challenge your outdated or misguided ideas, you’ll gain valuable perspective.
To maintain your advantage, lean on mentors. They can prevent you from spending too many resources on the wrong project or help recognize when an innovation is a worthwhile investment. Businesses with mentors experience greater revenue increases than businesses without, according to MicroMentor.
To develop your network, connect with old classmates who caught the entrepreneurial bug or find mentors through programs like SCORE. Keeping your business ahead can be stressful and lonely, but only if you try to go it alone. Build a network of supporters you can lean on in tough times and bounce ideas off when inspiration strikes.
2. Keep your employees happy and engaged.
Research has found that happiness fuels employee performance, which will result in the edge your company is after. In fact, happy employees are up to 20% more productive, while happiness among sales staff boosts sales by 37%. If keeping your team happy conjures images of bonuses and expensive pay raises, you’re missing the mark. Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing people with public shout-outs or thank-you notes that express your appreciation.
Engagement is another vital facet of employee happiness. When employees are engaged, their companies experience 21% higher profitability (how’s that for an edge?). Yet Gallup research found that only 34% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. Involve your team members in key decisions or strategy sessions so they know they play an important role in defining the company’s overarching goals and objectives.
Another way to involve employees deeply in your company is by giving them concrete ownership. Leaders at King Arthur Flour implemented an employee stock ownership program, mainly as an exit strategy they felt matched their company culture. Yet the company found the ESOP increased employee engagement as well. “The pride that people bring to their work…whether it’s the coffee they’re making, the baguettes they’re shaping, the boxes they’re shipping, is incredible,” notes co-CEO Suzanne McDowell.
3. Leverage business partnerships.
Mentors and employees are important players in your competitive efforts, but don’t forget a third: partners. The idea of teaming up with another business is often overlooked by independent-minded entrepreneurs who strive for self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, these leaders miss out on valuable opportunities more than the sum of their parts. Partnerships provide a competitive edge by giving participants access to resources they wouldn’t be able to utilize on their own.
Consider the partnership between Evergent, a revenue and subscriber management solutions provider, and Synamedia, which helps service providers deliver, protect, and monetize video content. By partnering, the two companies created a joint direct-to-consumer video solution that allows customers to quickly launch new offerings with an improved user experience across the board. To reap similar rewards, partner with a company whose product or service boosts the value to your customers. When you combine your solutions, the result is an offering your customers can’t get from any other single company.
Cultivating a support network, engaging your team, and leveraging partnerships have one thing in common: They require you to admit you can’t do everything on your own. Fortunately, seeking help will be your company’s competitive advantage. It’s not always easy for entrepreneurs to rely on others, but tackling everything yourself will inevitably hold your business back.