Don’t be a shoemaker: making the most of your competitive advantage

Img 8666 CopyAs so often happens the start of a new year, media outlets are offering their predictions for the economic outlook for 2013. As I review online posts, listen to radio programs and flip through newspapers, I’m struck by the range and variety of views. The term “sluggish” still pops up frequently, but there are signs that the “slump is temporary.” Startups are seeing more investment, and some of Vancouver’s stars (Lululemon) keep getting stronger. Other sectors, such as film and television, are expressing great concern over their future in B.C.

The overall sense I get is very cautious optimism. With this uncertainly, coupled with a challenging past couple of years economically, it is a good time to ask of ourselves: are we making the most of our competitive strength and advantages?

When economic times turn tough, the first reaction of many businesses and organizations is to focus externally (how do we generate more sales?) and/or to increase efficiency (how do we cut costs?). But I think now is a great time to shift your focus onto examining the internal advantages you have that will help your business or organization grow and prosper, instead of just survive.


There’s an idiom that we at Boldt find ourselves referring to more and more frequently these days, about “the shoemaker’s children going barefoot.” This is an all-too-common mistake where leaders will decide to save the best products, ideas, energy and time for clients and customers – putting them first - while neglecting the development and strength of their own businesses or organizations. Here at Boldt, we see it all the time with our clients and suppliers, and sometimes even with ourselves. (Case in point: our awesome new-ish website you’re reading now was just a wee bit overdue for a redesign when we finally got around to it last spring.)

The “shoemaker’s dilemma” is particularly easy to see with agencies and consultants. Most of us can think of examples of a web design company whose website is starting to get stale, or a firm espousing their expertise in search engine optimization (SEO) whose website is nowhere to be found on the first page of Google results.

But this can be true in all sectors. I have personally run across more than one non-profit organization trying to do good in the world, while offering substandard employee working conditions and benefits. It is easy to make the excuse that there isn’t enough funding or income to make improvements on the home front, but by letting your internal structure become weak, you cannot service your clients and customers with your best selves. And be assured, as some point they will take notice that you’re not keeping your own house in order.


So what kinds of expertise or advantage can you focus on developing to strengthen your own company’s performance, efficiency and resilience during uncertain economic times? Ask yourself a few key questions first: Do you offer strategic planning services for your customers, but haven’t opened up your own business plan in months…or years? Do you espouse an entrepreneurial perspective, but are slow to launch new products or services from your own business?

If you aren’t sure where to start, remember that whether you sell ideas or make…well… shoes, there is always one internal advantage that every company and organization has: their staff or team. The people who work every day in your organization or company know your strengths better than any customer or consultant will. They may have fresh ideas, bring forward a new perspective on a customer, or have traveled abroad and discovered how another culture approaches your product or service.

Has it been months since you bought everyone lunch and asked for their ideas on how to grow the business and make it stronger? If so, there is a good chance you are missing the opportunity to learn something that will help your business such as a new technology that will benefit the company, or a shift in generational perspective that you need to know about to avoid becoming obsolete.

Now is the time to really ask if your company or organization– the shoemaker – is neglecting its children. Assess your organization’s core strengths and advantages, both the obvious and the more hidden ones, and leverage those strengths to make your business stronger.

This article was originally posted on Boldt Communications website here