Stop Competing for Scraps: Five Books to Better Position Your Business

In the Golden Age of entrepreneurship there’s competition all around. We’ve rounded up five books to help you determine and communicate who you are and what you do.

Monday, January 7, 2019
Rob Di Giovanni

In spite of what you may have heard, competing was never part of the Successful Business’ Playbook. As writer and podcaster Srinivas Rao puts it, when it comes to success in business “Only is better than best.” Peter Thiel of PayPal fame agrees. In his lecture-series-turned-book, Zero to One, Thiel states that “in the real world outside of economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.”

It’s no longer a secret that competition is harmful to businesses (yes, even for the “winners”). Competition encourages business owners to implement short-sighted concessions in the hopes of remaining profitable. These owners destroy their price integrity with discounts and sales, endlessly stress over the lower margins created by slashed prices and waste time with advertising that never breaks through the crowd.

Despite the well-studied damage that’s caused by competition, like moths to a flame, we can’t seem to kick the dirty habit of competing for business. Some of the reasons why we love to compete include:

  • It’s easier to look at what others are doing than to strategise and implement for a future that isn’t guaranteed.
  • Benchmarking against the competition stops us before we reinvent the wheel.
  • Competitors already have clients who are looking for solutions from your industry and it might seem simpler to win over their clients, believers, than to initiate the non-believers.

In short, competing often seems like the better course of action because when we compete we have access to a set of more definitive answers. The only problem is that these answers may not be right for the questions your business needs to ask.

So what can we do if we want to ditch the crowd and stop competing for our sales? It’s all about your positioning. Positioning your brand or business involves being clear about what you offer and who your offer is for. Gone are the days when you can say “My product/service is for everyone” and still make a profit. The modern business must be selective and carefully tailor its offering to a very specific and initially small clientele.

To get you started on your positioning journey, we’ve rounded up five books, all under 300-pages, to help your business break free from the competition.

The covers are ugly, but the ideas aren't.

Zero To One

By Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, 224 pages, Goodreads

“The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business

In Zero To One Peter Thiel and Blake Masters, want you to understand how to start-up a business with a realistic chance at success. Thiel doesn’t mince words and his positions are almost always enlightening – Zero To One cuts through the startup jargon and distills the key lessons of successful businesses into a series of easily digestible points. Thiel covers how to think about the future, what your stance on competition should be, Last Mover Advantage and much more in this ode to proper business management.

Blue Ocean Strategy

By W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, 256 pages, Goodreads

“Focus on competition all too often keeps companies anchored in the red ocean. It puts the competition, not the customer, at the core of strategy. As a result, companies’ time and attention get focused on benchmarking rivals and responding to their strategic moves, rather than on understanding how to deliver a leap in value to buyers”

Lasting success in business is a product of finding an uncontested market for your offerings at the right time, argues W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, authors of Blue Ocean Strategy. Blue Ocean Strategy states that when businesses compete for market share, everyone loses. The tone is “all business” but strikes a nice balance between actionable tips that you can implement now and more theoretical lessons that you can reflect on as your business grows. The book leads you through a number of exercises, including how to identify gaps in the market and how to streamline your offering by only developing your most valuable features. For bonus marks, read Kim and Mauborgne’s sequel to Blue Ocean Strategy, Blue Ocean Shift, which lays out a step-by-step process of how to continually shift your offering into new and uncontested markets.

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto

By Blair Enns, 144 pages, Goodreads

“When we drastically reduce the real alternatives to hiring our firm, we shift the power balance away from the client and toward us”

Blair Enns is a sales coach and advisor to firms in creative industries. In The Win Without Pitching Manifesto Enns dolls out advice to business owners and creative entrepreneurs on how to act like a professional. Taking the form of 12 proclamations, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto is a short book at only 144 pages and seeks to inspire business owners to reconsider the way they sell their services. Enns touches on topics such as how to write a proposal that wins business, how to specialise your offering and how to think about solving problems for your clients. A must-read for any business in a service industry.

Perennial Seller

By Ryan Holiday, 257 pages, Goodreads

“Work that is going to sell and sell must appear as good, or better than, the best stuff out there… not the other stuff being released right now, but everything that came before you.”

Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of seven books and founder of Brass Check, a marketing and advisory firm for musicians, authors and early-stage startups (how’s that for positioning?). Perennial Seller answers the question ‘How do you create a classic?’ and is relevant to both creatives and business people alike. Holiday begins with an exploration into the creative process (or how you create your product) then moves on to positioning, marketing and promoting your work. If you’re interested in creating the best work possible, Perennial Seller gives you a framework to start from.

Writing That Works

By Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson, 208 pages, Goodreads

“To get the decision you seek, keep in mind that you have been living with the subject and your audience has not, or at least not with the same intensity. You have to bring people into your subject before you can persuade them.”

Okay, so this one isn’t exactly about positioning your business but we would argue it’s essential reading for anyone who communicates (read: everyone). Writing That Works takes the form of 13 quick chapters that teach you how to speak like a human and get to your point. Without proper communication, you’ll never be able to change the lives of the customers you’re seeking.

Properly positioning your business is a difficult process that requires risk taking and objectivity; you shouldn’t go it alone. The books above will provide you with frameworks and thoughtful discussions to help wrap your head around the proposition of positioning your business.

Modular is a business to consumer brand consultancy based in Perth, Western Australia.