How To Get Unstuck: Barriers To Entry Edition

Worried about the obstacles that you’re facing in your business? Odds are those obstacles are the result of not understanding the barriers to entry your business faces - even if you’ve been in business for while. 
“Barriers to entry” are way more than business buzzwords that fumble out of the mouths of people playing business. In fact the concept of “barriers to entry” is applicable to more than just starting a new business venture. The last time you probably heard that term was in an economics class in either high school/college or if you’ve talked to me long enough and have listened to my opinions about a few big public businesses. 
At the very least, that makes my competitive strategy heart sad.
No need to panic though because in this post we are going to talk about why it’s important to think about the barriers of entry and exit in your industry or business and how that can help give you a bit of an advantage. Competitive advantage is not static - you have to keep working at it! 
One more quick thing. To all the naysayers out there pining over why their businesses aren’t growing - the pie is not too small. There is enough marketshare to go around for everyone if what you’re offering is valuable! 
Especially, those that effectively differentiate, understand their barriers and pick the right niche. So before I start getting push-back on how strategy is just a mental exercise and that it takes big bucks to use strategy effectively just remember that if you can get your business to be laser focused, you’ll always find a rabid and engaged customers.
Ok prerequisite rant over.
So a barrier to entry is simply defined as a thing you need to do to get your business up and running. Barriers can also be reasons why customers aren’t buying from you. It can be an action, a purchase, government regulations or even experience needed to get you into an industry or to get customers to engage with you. Some industries are more capital intensive than others - think the capital requirements of a car manufacturing company versus the capital requirements of an english tutor. 
The other side of that pendulum are industries that require lots of experience or education. Think of the time and experience it takes to be a great doctor and attorney versus more entry level jobs.  Some firms attempt to capitalize on a specific barrier to control what firms can get into their market or industry. They may control the raw materials, contract with wholesalers or distributors, pay big lobbyist dollars to keep regulation in their favor or even control all the media outlets to keep you from advertising.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compete especially if it’s what you are passionate about! You just have to figure out how you can differentiate and deliver on the things that make your product or service special.
Barriers to entry tend to me a muddled mess sometimes. Start-ups and veteran businesses can stretch themselves too thin when trying to figure out which ones are most mission critical to focus on or to try to create a competitive advantage. Here are a few I like to keep in mind, that are more focused on how you run your business, when I’m thinking about keeping a business competitive in terms of barriers.

  • Network Effects - Think about the communities your stakeholders have created in support of each other and your brand. This can be a huge intangible asset.
  • Proprietary Processes - This is your firm's secret sauce. Do you do something in such a special way that has your clients and customers resonating with not only the result but how you bring that result to them. I have a favorite coffee place and it’s not because the coffee is great but because the coffee servers are great to talk to.
  • Switching Costs -  Cell phone companies are amazing and notorious for this all at the same time. Locking customers into contracts creates a barrier for new entrants or at the very least creates a lag time before groups of potential clients or customers can be reached.

These absolutely apply to customer's willingness and ability to engage with you. Are you making it easy for them to buy from you? To connect with your story or brand? To understand why you are so valuable that they would be doing themselves a disservice by not using you? 
Barriers to exit are very similar to entry. Some firms might choose not to play in a certain industry because it would be to hard to exit quickly or smoothly. It can be a challenge to offload plant, capital or equipment when a business closes. Firms might have high financial obligations to their employees might be locked into contracts with their suppliers.
When you are thinking about working on your competitive strategy I wouldn’t sleep on barriers. Better yet I challenge you to take a shot at drilling down into the three that I listed. Can you figure out where your advantage can come from and how you can better differentiate yourself. The biggest takeaway is sorting through all the noise when people talk about barriers to entry. Spreading yourself too thin can tax your resources and your spirit.
I would love to hear how you are navigating your barriers to entry? Do you have any insights or questions? My goal is to keep the conversation going and to really get entrepreneurs more in tune with what’s going on around their businesses and not just what’s happening in them.