The small business sector in the United States is constantly expanding. According to a Forbes examination of the state of U.S. small businesses, there were 28.2 million small businesses in America in 2011, and “businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue experienced, on average, 7.8 percent annual sales growth during 2015.” With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that the competition among small businesses can be heavy, and sometimes there are players who are willing to claw their way to the top.

The following is a list of tips that can help you keep your business above water and on top of your competitors.

1. Create New Products for Your Business

An easy way to keep up with consumers’ constant needs is to come up with new things for them to buy. A good business practice is to refresh your inventory with new products seasonally if possible (or, at the very least, annually). Your competitors are no doubt doing the same thing, so make sure you always have the wheels turning on new ideas so you don’t fall behind.

Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate with your employees. Since they’re on the ground floor doing the hard selling, their opinions can be helpful and even enlightening.

If you’re in the business of selling services rather than physical products, always be on the look out for new ways to provide your services. Update your best practices or change your delivery. Don’t be afraid to ask your customers what they’d like to see or how they’d like to see it. They know what they want, and it’s likely they’ll keep coming back to someone who isn’t afraid to ask them about it. For example, you could offer your services through an app or handle orders online to make purchases even easier for your patrons.

2. Innovate Products in Your Industry

If you’re in an industry where everyone is restricted to the same kinds of products—for instance, you sell flowers and there are only so many ways to arrange them—innovation is your best friend. Try something new that maybe even scares you a little. Take inspiration from other industries, and even from your competitors.

There are millions of burger joints, for example, but everyone has a favorite. Think about what it is that makes them stand out. They may have a house special unique to them, or some cohesive element that ties all of their products together. Maybe the way they market themselves is different and innovative. Think about some of these techniques and how they might work for your own business.

You may also want to do yourself a favor and periodically take stock of your industry. Look at what everyone’s doing and see what’s working and what’s not. Take the “working” elements and see how you can do them better.

3. Create or Strengthen Your Unique Brand Identity

Your business name and identity are what separate you from your competitors. How can you stand out to a consumer? What does your business do differently?

  • Engaging with consumers on relevant social media platforms is a great way to show your business’s personality—people like to see relatability, especially in small or local businesses.
  • Create a unique, appealing image with your logo and aesthetic online: you might not think the fonts you use in your branding are important, but customers do. They want something clean, easy-to-read, and professional-looking. A paint-splattered, chunky, crammed font might seem cool and artistic, but you have to think about how it’ll play to the consumer.
  • Packaging is important! People like pretty packaging. Whether you provide a service or a physical product, the way you package and deliver your product is another chance to leave an impression with a patron. Pay attention to details, don’t just slam something together because the buyer “is just going to rip it open anyways.”

4. Protect Your Ideas and Your Business

After you’ve invented new products, innovated old ones, and strengthened your brand, you’ll have to protect yourself.

Some industries fall prey to job poaching practices—a form of recruitment that seeks out candidates with specific skills or knowledge from competing businesses for hire. Employees who are poached can carry valuable business secrets with them.

For instance, a former worker who knows the ins-and-outs of your product suppliers, has a list of your top clients, or has contacts within the industry that might not have been previously available to your competitors can do some serious damage to your revenue.

There are a few simple, low-cost safety nets you can use to avoid such situations, most of which you can include in your standard Employment Contract.

  • You can include a non-compete clause in the contract to prevent employees from running straight to your competitors if things go sour in your relationship.
  • You could also have your employees sign Non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreements which work similarly to a non-compete. Non-disclosure and confidentiality contracts deal specifically with the safe-keeping of sensitive information, like supplier names and client information, and help to protect you and your business if the agreement is broken and the employee releases any information.
  • Another way is to put employee satisfaction and morale at the forefront of your business. The Balance reports that only 45% of employees are satisfied with their jobs, and this is a huge factor in employees quitting. When workers feel appreciated and taken care of, they’re less likely to respond to a headhunting offer or to leave of their own volition.
  • If you’ve done all these things and somehow a competitor has gotten a hold of your business secrets and is using them to hurt your business, you can hit them with a Cease and Desist Letter or take legal action.

Find Success by Staying on Top of Everything

There are going to be some struggles in such a competitive market—you’ll just have to accept that in the small business sector—but following the strategies in this blog can help you succeed. The main thing is to stay on top of your business and your competition by being proactive and staying relevant with your branding and services. After you’ve done that, don’t forget to cover your legal bases to keep your business interests protected.

Posted by Spencer Knight

Spencer Knight is a writer whose nonfiction has appeared in Spinal Columns, The Bolo Tie Collective Anthology: Volume I, and filling Station.