Becky Sheetz-Runkle on Essential Themes for Small Businesses from Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Photo of Becky Sheetz-Runkle, author of The Art of War for Small BusinessThe following is a guest post from Becky Sheetz-Runkle, author of The Art of War for Small Business: Defeat the Competition and Dominate the Market with the Masterful Strategies of Sun Tzu.

Imagine that Sun Tzu, the great military strategy mastermind who lived 2,500 years ago, was with us today. Imagine that upon retiring from the battlefield he went into business as a CEO, or joined the executive team of a small business. How would he adapt his principles from The Art of War to wage war and peace and build a business empire? That’s the question at the heart of The Art of War for Small Business. Here we will call out some of the most absolutely essential themes of The Art of War for small business readers. Pay heed, and you, too, can build an empire.

The military principles of Sun Tzu’s classic, The Art of War, are timeless. Small business leaders must be smarter and stealthier than their larger, better-established adversaries. They’ll fail if they try to match the big players tool for tool and move for move. And they’ll whither on the vine if they just attempt to weather storms.

The great news is that if interpreted and explained well, Sun Tzu provides profound insight that small business leaders can use with great success. Sun Tzu is the architect that smaller forces can use for domination.

Here is a quick summary of some of Sun Tzu’s fundamental principles that apply to small business.

Build alliances. Think about your community and influencers, everyone from partners to employees, customers, vendors and suppliers, investors, and friends. Your strength will be a sum of these parts. To dominate, you need to leverage these combined forces. Small business leaders need all the friends they can get.

Using the few, out-strategize the many. The only way to defeat the big competitors is to do so with superior strategy. In one well-executed battle at a time, Sun Tzu used a smaller number to defeat a larger force, and you must do the same.

Secure your position. Your business must take the most advantageous position. For Sun Tzu, a good position is high ground, on a sunny spot, with the supply line that is well guarded. Trust me, this may seem esoteric, but study Sun Tzu, and ideas like this will have real application for your business.

Control perceptions. Small businesses have many opportunities to shape how they are viewed by customers, partners, and the rest of the world. While you may opt to deceive the enemy and shape appearances to advance your position, be sure that you’re also directing what your customers and allies see, hear, and know about you. Every single engagement your customer has with your company counts.

Think growth. Successful business leaders know that they can’t expect to achieve aggressive growth goals if they simply opt to hold ground. Always think growth, not just taking a defensive position.

Play the long game. Strategy is framed by the big picture and the long game. Don’t let your business slip into sacrificing long-term objectives for short-term benefits.

Be prepared to turn disadvantage to advantage. The seeds of opportunity are in disadvantage. But you must be prepared to seize these opportunities.

Win first. This quintessential Sun Tzu concept is not to be taken for granted. It’s one of the most important ideas from all of The Art of War.

Act decisively. While gathering intelligence and carefully planning every tactic around your strategic objectives is essential, it’s also fundamental to make informed decisions, and move quickly and with conviction when the time is right.

Fight only when necessary. War is an incredible drain on resources, including human resources. Remember that the best way is to attack the enemy’s strategy, followed by disrupting his alliances.

Time your attacks. You must know when conditions are most appropriate for an attack. A poorly timed concept won’t reach its full potential.

Make use of the unexpected. Keep your competitors in the dark so that they won’t know what to expect from you or when. The unexpected is a powerful weapon that keeps adversaries unprepared. Keep the enemy on the move.

Go where the enemy isn’t. Remember Sun Tzu’s direction to avoid attacking a larger adversary on his terms. You don’t have to “find” a niche. You can create one, like Elmer T. Lee did with premium bourbon. Go where the enemy isn’t and identify needs and wants that aren’t being satisfied.

Attack their weak spots relentlessly. Large organizations are typically prepared to counter direct competition, but they are woefully unprepared to respond to guerrilla insurgencies.

Create unity. Present a unified, consistent image and brand experience and you’ll be ahead of much of the competition.

Miss no opportunity to defeat the enemy. If you’re going to defeat the competition and dominate your market, you must take advantage of every single opportunity.

Adapt to trends and vary your plans. Identify and follow the trends in your industry. Vary your plans accordingly. Tablet and smartphone sales were escalating as DVD player sales were leveling. Netflix followed the trend instead of trying to capture a model with waning demand.

Execute flawlessly. The success of every strategy comes down to one essential thing: execution. Once you’ve defined yourself, you have to deliver the goods repeatedly and relentlessly.

Turn devious to direct. Outplay your adversaries so that they will have to take the longer, circuitous way, and you will get to the destination sooner.

Jacket image, The Art of War for Small Business by Becky Sheetz-RunkleMaximize resources. Make the best use of the comparatively limited resources you have. And don’t focus so much on acquiring new customers that you forget to maximize your current customers. Take advantage of the opportunities in leveling the playing field posed by the Internet, social media, and a global workforce.

Becky Sheetz-Runkle is a strategic marketer, speaker, and martial artist. She is the author of Sun Tzu for Women.

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