If your business is based on you beating the competition, life is going to get very tiring.
A perfectly competitive market is one where there are a large number of players in the market, the product is no different from others, it’s easy to enter the market and everyone has all the information they need.
Examples of these kinds of businesses exist everywhere. In knowledge work, web-design could be seen as a modern example. Most websites will be built using WordPress, there are any number of people that can design acceptable websites and it costs virtually nothing to get started in the business.
If your web-design business does what most other web-design businesses do, then you will experience the side-effects of perfect competition.
In a perfectly competitive market, the price at which you sell the product tends towards the cost of production.
In other words, you make hardly any money selling it and profits are low to non-existent.
There are few perfectly competitive markets, however, and the traditional ones try and create systems to prevent side effects. In commodity markets such as oil you see the emergence of cartels like Opec that try to control supply so that they can affect the price.
At the other end of the spectrum is a market where one company has a monopoly. No one else does what they do, the product is unique, it’s near-impossible for new companies to enter the market and information is protected or secret.
That’s quite a nice situation for a business to be in – except that comfort and complacency leads to sloth and poor service and eventually governments have step in to break up monopolies.
The ideal place is to be somewhere in between.
There will always be someone who is willing to get up earlier, work harder, spend more time away from home selling, and who can hire workers that are paid less than you can.
If you compete on their terms, you will lose.
The strategy that is going to work is to position yourself and your business so that you have few direct competitors, what you do is different and unique, your competitors cannot easily enter your market and where information needed to do the work is protected – perhaps because it costs something.
If you had to pick just one thing out of the list, Bruce Greenwald and Judd Kahn in their book Competition Demystified suggest focusing on barriers to entry.
If it’s hard for others to enter your market, then you have the potential to earn above average profits.
If that isn’t the case, then you could spend the rest of your time running just to stay in the same place. And who wins then?
The answer to that is the same as the answer to the question in the title.
The rabbit runs faster because the rabbit is running for his life, while the fox is running for her dinner.