How to Disrupt in a Crowded Market
By Ines Ruiz
In a crowded market, competition frequently rises as more and more businesses are being launched. As you launch your business you are faced with seemingly endless decisions about which direction to take it, and as you grow your business you must maintain your edge and innovate in your market. If you are an entrepreneur you are likely scrappy and rebellious inherently, so the topic of disruption should appeal to you. Because it’s all about innovation and standing out among your competition.
After years in academia, specializing as an E-Learning instructor, I decided to branch out and create my own courses. Specifically, courses in training Spanish teachers. I got into this educational space, which was very traditional, and dominated by two big companies that do the same thing that I do; one of them is a government institution and the other is a multi-national company. Apart from being in the shadow of those two giants there were various other e-learning schools available, so breaking into this saturated industry would present an inherent challenge. I needed to stand out. I needed to offer the customer something new and refreshing.
I was working in an industry that was not only crowded, but deeply rooted in traditional structure and methods. There were already very well-established institutions that had a high degree of prestige and authority. It was an intimidating task to launch an online school in the midst of these mega schools. I had to set myself apart if my business was to survive and flourish.
Here’s some of the basic tenets of how I disrupted my specific market that helped my business and that you can apply to your own market.
What annoys the bleep out of you?
The most obvious path to disruption is to find the thing that annoys you about your market or industry. Likely, that thing which annoys you, annoys others as well. Given my career background, and I knew my industry very well. But there were things I hated about academia that I could certainly live without and this informed the creation of my own school. For instance, I hate a deadline. And frankly, everything about being in school is about being on their schedule. You pay them and get on their schedule; from enrollment, to turning in assignments.
I realized I could set myself apart by offering my customer freedom from stringent time constraints. I hated being told when to start my course, and I hated having to do group exercises. I hated having dates for submitting essays. So, I did away with all that. The student submits his essay on his own time table and when we get it, we grade it.
We created a space for teachers to develop and not have these frustrations. You have a year to complete the course, you submit the assignments per your convenience, and we grade them immediately. We flipped the whole model.
Use those annoyances to create something that works. My educational company is nothing new.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Are You Annoyed? Just take what is not working for you and fix it.
Seek out Disruptive Influencers
To stoke the fires of creativity and inspiration, seek influencers in your market whom you admire. In the early days of my company, I approached various influencers in my market. For example, relevant to my field, Spanish teacher blogs, teachers who shared content and activities. I humbly reached out to some of the ones I admired, learned from them and we started collaborating. Over time we created a sense of community and also excitement about what the future could potentially hold for us.
There are influencers in every niche, and creating a sense of community can inform your grasp of your market, and inspire you to new heights of innovation.
Plant Seeds for New Customers
“Become a Spanish Teacher” As soon as they type that on Google we would lose them because we were nobodies! A small fish in a big pond and no SEO whatsoever. I had to come up with creative ways to get to them first. I decided to focus on the individuals whose lifestyle might be a good fit for my school, but maybe they just hadn’t considered this field yet.
You can find them before they actually have the desire.
We were putting articles and banners on Expat blogs about traveling. I’m reaching out to people who are travellers, and not necessarily thinking about teaching Spanish yet. On these blogs we would post about teaching spanish and display banners. Before they think about it, but people for whom it would be a good fit. People who would think getting a certification as a teacher would fit very well into their lives. You can recruit customers who don’t know they need you!
How do we Differentiate?
The established educational systems offered the archaic model of education, i.e recorded lectures. As previously mentioned, if it is annoying to you, it is likely annoying to others. What do your customers need that they are not getting?
I wanted to do courses that were compelling and interesting, but in our market we were nobody. We had no credibility. I just did what I thought they needed initially, but when I stepped back and talked with them directly. I talked with a lot of my first wave of students and got feedback from them, and then I adapted the course to fit their needs and lifestyle.
I wanted to offer my customers more fun and playfulness than traditional academia. We created a space for teachers to develop their skills and actually enjoy the process. While most E-learning of this type was a lot of downloading recorded lectures, we had videos, interaction and tutors. We took a whole new approach that challenged the archaic version. We have forums, quizzes, and a personal tutor so we differentiated ourselves that way. We took the same old boring content and made it more fun. Look at your competitors. How can you be better?
Create a Win-Win
What can I do, when compared with my competitor, that makes me a win-win? While you were traveling, living out of your backpack, did you have a ton of money for courses? No. We made our courses affordable. So our customers could get everything that the big institutions offered but without the sticker shock. We won by making it a no-brainer to go with us and even insist that they check out our competitors’ prices.
Apart from flipping the original model, and making the time-table flexible for the customer, we also made other moves to accommodate our customer. If they said, “I don’t have the time” I said, “We are flexible”. If they said, “I don’t have the money” I said, “we have payment plans”. We took any possible objections and obliterated them. I knew my market and I knew what they needed. We advise them to go and check out our competitors because we were sure that they would chose us. You can be bold when you have the best offer.
Connection and Customer Service
I know my market because I was my market. I was a broke traveler who wanted to have a teaching certification. I could relate to my customers, be in their shoes, and speak their language, and that can benefit you in any market. I don’t talk like I’m a big institution. While I am presenting myself professionally, I treat them as peers. Unlike the traditional formal teacher-student relationship, we are relatable and approachable. We focused on authenticity in our marketing and sought to bring in the customers that resonated with our vision. People are so surprised by our customer service. We are promptly available whenever a customer has a need, the tutors as well.
Customer service is disruptive these days! It’s a time-honored keystone of business of course, but lately the warmth of customer attention is a bit lost. In a world of automation, some authentic communication can be a welcome change. By connecting with him, relating to him, being there for him, you create a positive experience and he feels understood and supported. In my emails to customers we always include a personal line or two, so the interaction is human to human, not computer to computer. Also, we value warmth and fun and that really comes across in our correspondence.
What our customers really responded to was a balance of professionalism and warmth.
I reached out to other institutions as a student to research and find out what their customer service experience was like, and I found it lacking. We keep our correspondence friendly and lively, and we don’t leave our people hanging. There is a lot of potential for disruption in the realm of how we relate to our customers. This is a great time to be an entrepreneur, and a time which really celebrates creativity. The insights I picked up along the way can apply to any number of markets. What it really boils down to is ingenuity, and trusting your gut-level impressions about what works versus what doesn’t work. Find out what it needed and provide it, and use the power of your own values and personal experience to make your business stand out from the pack.
About Ines Ruiz
Inés Ruiz is an e-Learning and instructional designer and founder of the Women Entrepreneur Community, the first three-prong online education community to help women learn the individual tech, business and marketing skills they need to start or level up their business with less craziness. Creator of the first-ever Virtual Learning Platform at Anglia Ruskin University and the first Moodle for the Spanish department at Cambridge University, Ines has myriad experience both teaching and creating virtual learning programs. Often touted as an inspirational and motivational teacher, Ines’ has worked with hundreds of students at the university level who says they love her logical, motivational and simple teaching style.