If we are entrepreneurs and are in business we all want to run a successful business and one of the major obstacles to that happening is the competition taking our idea and creating their own version of it and so depleting us of customers. This is a very real threat, and it happens over the most basic commodities. You have a taxi or a mobile ice cream parlour in a successful patch and the next thing you know ten others have suddenly sprung up. In my local area the £1 shop went bust when literally across the street the 99p shop opened up. Hmm – so much for customer loyalty.
But aren’t I a professional, providing professional services, and isn’t it different there – more relationship driven? Well, it’s different, but the customer still wants the best deal, and wants it yesterday, so taking client loyalty for granted is a huge mistake. If we are going to have a sustainable business we need to create something special, and that is where my concept of "layering" comes in. I say my concept – that is what I call it; perhaps somewhere else it has a more technical name; it doesn’t matter, what’s important is the principle.
To contextualise this: I was a trainer, coach and consultant for ten years, ten great years, doing great work with some wonderful clients. But I began to realise that I was only self-employed, and not running a real business because as soon as I stopped billing hours the income ceased! Thus I made the big decision to be entrepreneurial – to create passive revenues stream whether I did hours or not. And so I got to my first big mistake: namely, to train others as licensees of my innovate mentoring and coaching toolkit. Over ten years I had created some simple, but powerful and original tools. Other coaches and trainers loved them – the trouble was, after the initial agreement was signed and the training and sharing delivered, all those who signed up seemed to have perfectly reasonable reasons why – thanks James but would you mind if … - they might withdraw from the agreement! The training and the innovative tools could not so easily be revoked. I could have, but I didn’t want to spend my life in litigation, so I let it pass.
Then, it became clear that one of my special tools that I had developed – on paper – might make a brilliant on-line product, and this would mean … it could be protected. And here is where layering comes in. Think: initially, a paper questionnaire with 36 questions, moving to an online diagnostic producing a 4 page report. Seven years later we have moved further: first, to 45 questions and a ten page report; and further a 15 page team report. But then to a complete revision of the initial map to a 15 page report and the team map to 22+ pages. All the algorithms revised and more powerful; and to take one example, the algorithm we use to tiebreak equal scores has now 8 levels of complexity, which means that even if all 9 motivators are scored 20 points each (an event which has occurred only once in over 10,000 maps!), the program can determine the correct order. And, not to stop, an organisational map is the next step.
But what’s the point of this? Twofold, with two seemingly contradictory intentions. First, though, one needs to say that if someone is determined to copy you, they probably will; so what I am about to say is about securing a mote around you to discourage them. The first intention is to simplify your product/service for the client/customer so they increasingly are delighted by what they receive and can more readily perceive its value. In effect, they are always getting more for either the same amount or less.
And here’s the "layering" bit: at the same time as you are intending to simplify the product for the client, you intend to complicate the behind the scenes workings, so that it becomes fiendishly difficult to emulate. There is in fact then layer on layer of complexity that is hard to unpick, much less grasp how it works. Think of an antique table you want to preserve: you layer with varnish, again and again, and eventually the varnish is so thick the layers provide complete insulation from any knocks or chips. That is "layering" for you.
If you have a service or product open to competition and emulation, are you layering your intellectual property? Remember, the more simple it is for the user, the more complicated it needs to be inside its guts. Good luck – solving this problem can give you a real competitive edge.