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In this month’s blog on entrepreneurism, we turn to wise words from Jack Ma, who is often listed as one of the world’s most powerful individuals by Forbes:

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, retired earlier this month after nearly 20 years at the top of the entrepreneurship world. A couple of years ago, someone asked Ma for his secret to Alibaba’s success. He answered, ‘Women.’”

One may ask, how do women cause companies to perform better? I believe what women bring to the table is a sense of awareness. Being able to pick up on rapidly changing business trends, challenges and then being able to quickly put solutions into action are talents that women often bring to organizations. Women are often great at communicating.

The ability to lead organizations with emotional intelligence is a key factor. Being keenly aware of where your competition is and how to pivot is key. Resist being inflexible to change, because to be a true entrepreneur you have to use change as your source of fuel. It is what charges you. It is what makes you stand out and what gives you the tenacity to take on challenges. 

In the “old days” people would put their ear to the track to detect an oncoming train. This serves as a great metaphor for business; in business, you have to keep an ear to the track at all times to be keenly aware of shifting business trends, consumer demands, and your competition. 

Would you rather dive into an entrepreneurial venture head-first, or take some time to research the industry and your competition? We don’t always have the luxury of time, but when we do have it, we must take advantage of it. While we can never fully prepare for the future, we can do our best to be ready for curveballs. Information is vital here, as it is through this information that we can make informed forecasts and, by extension, informed decisions. 

In entrepreneurship, we may see hints that the landscape is changing. Perhaps sales have started to decline. Alternatively, your competition may have failed to open up a clear road for your product. Perhaps a competitor announced they are rolling out a new product or service, but maybe yours is still better and provides advantages over what the competition offers. Find a way to communicate how your product differentiates itself from your competitors. Perhaps customers and clients have voiced dissatisfaction. Whatever the case, entrepreneurs should never let this information go in one ear and out the other. Listen to the criticism and use it to constantly improve. Entrepreneurs should absorb this information and use it as a means of communicating. If sales have started declining, talk to your sales crew and figure out what might be happening. If a competitor is starting a new product or service, discuss strategy with your marketing team. Communicate, be nimble, and know when and how to pivot. 

Being aware of your competition and always having an ear to the track is critical.  Knowing your market inside and out cannot be underestimated. There may be times when you see your competition as the “elephant in the room” however that elephant may not always be your greatest challenge. As your industry changes so too the opportunities to define your business objectives and find clarity in what makes you stand out. 

Awareness also requires having an open mind and being aware of opportunities that come your way.  Remember that, to quote Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”