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Every business needs to find their niche - something that makes you stand out from the crowd. This may mean offering improved products or services, taking them to new markets, or even coming up with an entirely new offer. How to spot gaps in your market and identify opportunities for innovation
Innovation is at the heart of every viable business idea, but "new" can quickly lose its gloss in a competitive marketplace. Rivals will waste no time improving on your offer, and customer expectations will rise accordingly.
"If you sit on your laurels, there's a risk your customers will move away from you," warns John Fitzgerald, chief executive of entrepreneur-support organisation BRAVE. "You could have a perfectly good product or service, but your customers may have become more demanding or there may be new, cheaper or more innovative competitors in the market."
How to find a gap in your market
Spotting a gap in your market could help your business to soar above the competition. Here are our three tips for seeing the opportunities that your competitors haven't.
Listen to your customers
"Any small business needs to look for trends in its customers," Fitzgerald says. "What are they thinking? Are their expectations changing?
"If you listen to your customers, you find out whether they may be thinking of leaving and give yourself time to do something about it," he continues. "Don't allow the day-to-day to get in the way - put time aside to talk to your customers, and not just your favourite ones either."
Watch your competitors
Knowing your competitors' strengths will help you identify what you could offer that they don't - highlighting needs in the market that are not currently being met.
Mystery shopping is one way of finding out about rivals, as is attending trade shows. But your customers are likely to be the most valuable source of information.
"Ask them 'What makes you stay with this competitor?'," advises Fitzgerald. "Is there an opportunity in that for you? For example, if you offer a higher standard of service, maybe that gives you a new unique selling point (USP). Look for weaknesses in your competitors and use that information to target unserved markets."
Keep up with business legislation
New laws steer businesses in new directions and may even open up new markets; environmental regulations, for instance, have generated an industry dedicated to helping firms reduce their environmental impact.
"Keep an eye on the Government changing the landscape," Fitzgerald says. "A lot of companies don't keep up with legislation, and this costs them opportunities."
Market gap analysis also means looking at the way other sectors do business. If you can, bring their approach into your own firm.
"The most important thing is to give yourself time," he concludes. "The earlier you spot a market gap, the easier it is to fill it before anyone else gets there."