How to retain your competitive edge in business

Here, Andrew Clough, founder and managing director of The Brew, gives his input on how to get that all-important edge.

Starting and growing a successful business isn’t for the fainthearted. Plenty try it, with an incredible 80 businesses started every single hour in 2016. But many of these won’t make it, with studies estimating as many as four in ten fail within the first five years. Even once you’re established, the competition is relentless and there’s always someone new snapping at your heels.

This isn’t meant to put any budding entrepreneurs off. Having started numerous businesses myself, I firmly believe that it is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding career choices out there. But, doing it well means being smart and finding that all-important edge over the competition. Here’s a few of the rules I follow for getting – and staying – ahead:

Minimise your personal risk

Entrepreneurship is undeniably a risky business, and you have to be prepared for the fact that you might not make it first time round. That’s why my number one rule is to minimise your personal risk as much as possible, because if things don’t work out, you don’t want to be laden with debt and have your business dreams dashed forever – or at least for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of investors out there who love being involved with start-ups and are happy to stump up the cash while you sweat it out and do all the work.

Be focused

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be totally invested from a non-monetary perspective, by which I mean that you need to live and breathe the product or service that you’re offering. It has to be your passion, you need to really believe in it, and focus on it full-time. In the early days of running other businesses, I suffered from trying to run numerous projects at once, but it’s difficult to do, and in the end, something has to give.

Know your industry and customer inside out

Before jumping into the unknown, you have to get under the skin of the market you’re entering, and understand the needs of your end customer. Before starting The Brew, I did a tour of US and European co-working operators to understand what they were providing, why people use the service and what customers actually want from it. The other big test is always: will it make money? You need to be clear what your business model is, and the amount of effort and investment involved in turning a profit.

Service, service, service

Lots of businesses start out thinking about how much profit they’re going to make, but the only way you get there is with the service that you provide. In my case, I provide space for homeworkers and start-ups who want somewhere reasonably priced and flexible to work. So, before we do anything else, we have to get the basics right, such as reliable Wi-Fi, plenty of desk space and staff to take care of the things our members don’t have time to think about. Then everything else is a bonus, but the service has to come first.

Drive culture and ethos into everything you do

As a business owner, you are the guardian of the culture and ethos behind your brand, and it’s vital to nurture and retain that as you grow and expand. With five locations or offices, it isn’t so difficult to do, but it gets an awful lot harder when you have 20 or more to worry about. You have to drill into your team what your business is about, so as it grows, the message is always there. You have to invest in communication and training, so people understand why you do things in a certain way.

Get out there and do it

The final secret to success in business: if you’ve got an idea, get out there and try it. There’s a Thomas Edison quote I love: ‘Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time.’ Ultimately, the only way you’ll know if something works is to try it, learn from your failures and keep trying until you make it.

Andrew Clough is founder and managing director of The Brew

Further reading on starting a business

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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