[tweetmeme]I’m an ice skating mom. My two oldest boys, aged 8 and 6, are both passionate about ice skating, and we spend a great deal of time in the rink.
My boys recently started doing the rounds of figure skating competitions in and out of our state. Local figure skating rinks typically hold a 1- or 2-day competition once a year for various age or test level divisions. During these competitions, the ice skating rinks typically hire an official videographer to capture every performance on the ice.
It was during these ice skating competitions that I met two videography businesses that are an interesting study in contrast. While they offer the same product — videos of the kids competing in the ice skating events — the two home-based businesses are so different that they are almost like night and day.
One is the official videographer of an ice skating competition in Maryland, and the other is the official videographer of a competition in Virginia. Both are home-based operations: the one in Maryland is run by a husband and wife team, while the one in Virginia is run by a couple of twenty-something guys.
The first difference is in their acceptable modes of payment.
The Virginia twenty-something videographers accept credit card payments in addition to checks and cash. They use an iPad that has a credit card processing app provided by their merchant account provider, with a small credit card swiping mechanism. Customers sign on the iPad using their fingers, and an email confirming the receipt of payment is immediately sent to the buyer. Talk about the wonders of technology!
In contrast, the Maryland couple only accepts checks and cash. They don’t have a mobile or remote credit card processing equipment, so they dissuade customers from paying by credit cards. If customers insist on paying by credit cards, they have to write their credit card numbers and information in the order form. If the kids compete in more events, the higher the price the parents have to pay — cash that they may not have with them during the event.
The content of their videos is also different.
The videos produced by the twenty something Virginia videographers showcase the events with no editing done and no sleek introduction. If your kid skated in Event 20, you get the video of the entire Event 20, including other kids in that event. The benefit is that it allows you to see how your kid’s competitors performed.
On the other hand, the video from the Maryland couple has been edited to show only your kids. It also includes an elaborate intro of the whole ice skating competition to give viewers a sense of the experience, including footages of the other vendors in the event and montage of other kids that participated.
But the biggest difference between the two vendors is the speed of delivery.
The Virginia twenty something videographers processed the videos right there on their makeshift table outside of the ice skating rink. I was able to get and take home my kids’ videos about 30 minutes after the end of their events.
On the other hand, the Maryland couple sent the DVDs two months after the event. The editing and the production of the intro may be the reasons why it took them a long time to deliver the product.
Two similar businesses, possibly even competitors, but such huge difference in how they run their businesses and deliver their products.
Every business needs to look at the competitive landscape. It can give a sense of how your business is doing, provide ideas on what and how to improve, and identify opportunities based on your competitors’ weaknesses.
In any economy, your business stands at a huge disadvantage if you can deliver your product two months after the purchase when your competitors can do it immediately. You lose any competitive advantage, more so if you are in a sector that requires competitive bidding (you will not get any jobs!)
Here are some of the things that the Maryland videography business can do to improve their business:
1. Solicit feedback from customers.
In ice skating competitions, there are participants that compete elsewhere and regularly. Others belong to different ice skating clubs (including out-of-state). The parents of these kids are most likely to have ordered videos from other videographers in various ice skating competitions. While these parents are filling up order forms or choosing the events they want to order, the Maryland couple could take the opportunity to inquire about previous videos the parents have ordered. They could casually chat with the customer and ask questions like, “Is this your first event” … “If you participated in other competitions did you order their DVDs” … “What do you like to see in an event video” … and “How do you find the other vendors,” .. etc.
When you have the opportunity to interact with customers — whether face to face or online — ask them what they want, what they really think about your products, what do they want to see in your products, and even what they think about your competitors. Many of these customers will be willing to share their stories and experiences with other vendors. You not only get to know your customer, what they want and need, but you also get the inside intelligence of what others are doing.
2. Determine what is the most important factor for the customer.
The two businesses differed in timeliness of delivery and quality of content. The Maryland couple should have asked their customers: What is more important for you — that you get to take home the video immediately, or that the video be slickly produced? My personal preference is to get it as soon as I can so my kids can watch how they performed. I’d rather get the product quickly than see a slick video montage introduction that takes 2 months to complete. Plus, with the advent of social sharing, I’d rather have the video as soon as I can so I can share it with my friends and families.
It is important to get feedback as to what factors are important for customers. In fact, big businesses conduct market surveys about their customers’ preferences, so they know what their customers view as important. They typically draw up a list (say, top 10) of features of their products, and make the customers rank these features. They then incorporate these factors into the product development, and highlight those features that consumers say are important to them in their marketing and advertising campaigns.
Take for example ice skating videos — the factors could include speed of delivery, elaborate introduction, shareable formats for easy upload to Youtube or Facebook, getting the videos in a DVD or the more portable USBs, etc.
You may not have the resources to hire a marketing firm, but you can talk to as many customers as you can and ask what is important to them. If possible, ask them to rank these factors in order of importance.
3. Embrace technology.
The Maryland couple used paper forms, and didn’t even have a computer in their table during the ice skating competition. The twenty somethings had computers, DVD replicator machines, printers and an iPAD with mobile broadband access that allowed them to accept credit card payments and deliver the product right on the scene. With everything right there on their small table, the twenty-somethings were able to produce the product immediately. They didn’t have to spend the next two months creating, processing and delivering the DVDs, unlike the Maryland couple. Instead, they are ready to move on to the next job and earn more revenues for the business.
Technology could change the way you do business. It is important to always be on the lookout at what technologies could help you become more efficient and effective. After all, the equipment and technologies you buy are considered business expenses that you can claim as deductions for your business taxes.
Your competitors can show you opportunities to improve your business. Take the time to see what others are doing. Look at what they’re good at. Understand what makes them attractive to customers. Find things that they do poorly that you can improve upon, and use that to your advantage. In business, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, all you need is to look around you and see how others are running their businesses.
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