Ask this Question to Stay Ahead of the Competition

“What If?” What if your company could blow away the competition in your category? What if you could stand out so distinctly, that there was no competition? What if customers were flocking to you?

The key to creating a stand out business is to choose one thing, one area, to excel at. Everything else you do, you need to do as well as your competitors. You don’t need to be the best at everything, but if you can be ten times better than your competition in one thing that your customers care about, then you will come out on top.

In the Pumpkin Plan Action Guide, we call that one thing “Area of Innovation” or “AOI.” It is the one area where you will concentrate your efforts to come up with new and better ways to perform and deliver.  Your AOI can be about price, convenience, or a specific quality in your business.

For example, if your AOI is price, you could find ways to be the lowest price, but you could also be the highest price. Starbucks is a good example of a company that took a traditionally low priced offering, coffee, and created a high priced experience around it. Ebay is another company that innovated around price, by creating a site where customers could bid for items to try to get the best price.

Amazon is an example of a company whose Area of Innovation is Convenience. Over and over again, they have come up with new, more convenient ways to deliver their products. Think Kindle, which revolutionized the way people receive and read books. And “One Click,” which allows customers to make a purchase without going through a shopping cart sequence. Just click the “buy” button and you’re done. Genius! And oh, so convenient.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, we’re not Amazon or Starbucks or Ebay. We’re a small business with few resources. How can we possibly develop an AOI where we are ten times beyond the competition?

The key to creating an Area of Innovation is to ask yourself, and your staff, “what if?” Just think, if no one had ever asked the question, “what if we could fly to the moon?” then we would not have astronauts in outer space today.

Try doing a brainstorm with your team. Come up with the area you think you can excel at, and then ask some outrageous “what if” questions. The crazier the better. Not because you will necessarily end up pursuing the craziest ideas, but it gets the creative juices flowing, and helps you to start thinking outside the box. After all, what if you come up with the next big idea in your industry?

Donna Leyens Pumpkin Plan your BizWritten by:

Donna Leyens

7 replies
  1. Donna
    Donna says:

    I would love to hear if anyone out there is currently focusing on one business area to excel in, and if so, how it’s going and how did you pick that area?

  2. Nick Wallick III
    Nick Wallick III says:

    We are a training facility in CT.,providing classes for personal improvement, business and professional seminars.Also, we offer Emergency Medical Technician classes for the region, we conducted a brief market study on who has a market disruptor like us as we utilize an ambulance to teach EMTs to do CPR in a moving ambulance, and include driver training.No other company uses an ambulance to do this training in our state, so we capitalize on that service to our customers.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Nick, that is so awesome! How did you come up with the idea to offer training in a moving ambulance? Are there any other “real life” situations that you could add to your training? Your AOI is that you train for all situations, in real settings…..Very Cool. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Denise
    Denise says:

    Hello Donna – currently I am working on this very topic in setting up a business based on beaded jewelry. I have a natural talent and love for creating beaded necklaces and earrings. Knowing there are literally millions of choices to select from on any given day, I have been focusing on how to develop an AOI (I called it a distinctive competence, but that might be an outdated phrase now.) I have been watching what most people do with mass producing, low priced items displayed on places like Etsy or Ebay. My approach will be different in doing exactly the opposite in creating beaded artwork that is customized just for the individual. I have developed a very unique approach in how to do this. It entails how I find my target market, the relationship I develop with my customer, the process I use to create, the manner in which I present or package the finished items, and the documented story that goes with the customized jewelry. It’s all about sharing the experience of the process with my customers. I am test marketing this concept now. Would you like to volunteer to be a test marketer?

    I picked this area because I seem to have a natural talent for it, I have a background with beads, I enjoy the creative process, and most importantly, my creations bring genuine joy and delight to the ladies who select my jewelry. It has special meaning to them beyond the buzz of the initial purchase. This is the AOI I am developing.

    Let me know if you’d like me to create something for you. In this way you can have a close view of the concept and process I am setting up. I would love your feedback on it. All I ask is reimbursement for materials, S&H, and the time it would take to speak with you in a short conversation. This concept is all about fun and making you feel good. Take Care!


    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Denise, you are talking about something that is near and dear to my heart! My very first business was a beaded jewelry business. My partner and I designed and hand produced most of the pieces. There was nothing better than seeing a piece that I designed come to life when the right person put it on! If you would like to discuss designing something for me, please email me at Also, are you familiar with a website called “Custom Made?” You should check it out. They match up artisans with people who want custom made products. Thank you for sharing your business with us!

  4. Robb Braun
    Robb Braun says:

    Great article, Donna. I am seeing a client today who has been surveying her top clients over the past weeks and we are going to dive into “what if?”. I can say that over the past many weeks she has become the ‘Financial Visionary’ and choice for professional women seeking a financial consultant. This has in many ways come out of your prior posts when you and Mike have suggested business owners work only with their top clients and no one else. When she can pick up her game and offer something truly unique and powerful to her special group, she’ll be the ONLY choice for these ideal clients. Thanks for the powerful and legitimate business guidance…keep it coming! – Robb

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Hi Robb, thanks for that great story! It is so gratifying to hear examples of business owners implementing these tools and getting a great result. I would love to hear how her “what if” brainstorm goes! Good luck, and keep up the amazing work with your clients.

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