Business is competitive. We compete on price, skills, service, quality, speed, efficiency, demeanor and likability. Of these, one of the most fundamental ways to compete is on skills. Do you know your business, your market and, more importantly, your customer and their business and their end markets? There’s no substitute for actual time in the trenches doing the dirty work of learning your trade.
Your best idea is the one where you have direct experience – trade skills. Within your area of expertise, you know the pain points and understand your customers’ needs. Because you know the market, you can also communicate efficiently with customers. There’s just something about a conversation between two industry insiders. It has a certain fluidity about it, easily recognizable by both parties. That’s not to say you can’t enter a new domain and learn, but it will feel more organic if you have sufficient prior experience. The alternative is to learn as you go. For this, you will need to feel comfortable sounding like a dufus for a season as you grow and learn your trade.
When you speak to potential customers or other industry insiders, they will be able to quickly determine if you know your trade or not. I know this because I do the same thing. It takes less than 30 seconds to ascertain trade knowledge on a phone call and even less in person. And trust me, once you have determined the other person is out of his or her depth, you know your time is being wasted, a cardinal sin in business. It’s OK to learn and be the new guy, but if you want people to take you seriously from the beginning, spend time learning your trade or stick with one you already know. It means you bring something to the table and potentially have something to offer.
Trade skill is the ability to know what your customer needs, how much the customer is willing to pay for it and how quickly you can provide it. It is also knowing what you can’t provide – and saying that upfront, if needed. For a smaller business, industry knowledge and trade skills are invaluable and can be a huge differentiator between your service and that of another company, especially if your customers are larger. Large companies often leverage the agility of their smaller suppliers and service providers for marketplace intelligence and know-how. For this, they need suppliers who “get it”. Trade skill is the “it” that they get.