Benchmarking: Know Where You Stand
For me, the toughest part of starting a business is the insecurity of not knowing. There’s always a lingering feeling of being in new territory, not knowing where to step next. It’s in making your own roadmap that also makes it exciting. And like any good map, you have to know where you are now in order to know where you want to go. In comes “benchmarking”. Benchmarking is like a “You Are HERE” sign on a map. It is a business research and strategy tool that gives context around a certain criteria or point of reference. In design school we used it as a tool in understanding where our product stands in the market aesthetically and feature wise. As a freelancer, I design different products belonging to different industries. So I use this tool regularly to get a birds eye view of the industry at large to get a context as to what I’m designing into. Now as a maker and business owner, I find benchmarking extremely helpful in navigating uncharted territories, giving a sense of place to where my business and products stand.
A benchmark is a point of reference from which to measure from. The term comes from using the workbench as an origin for the measurements. Having a set of criteria from which to measure from is key to gathering useful information. Here are few areas in which benchmarking can be helpful in your business.
Benchmarking your Brand As a new creative business, sometimes we live in the bubble of our own work. The online marketplace is a sea of similar brands and products. Understanding your direct competition can give insight to how you can stand apart. Start by listing who you hold up as competition and what the standards that you hold this business to are. Think about criteria such as values, products, and even visual presence. The information you gather can also give you an idea of how your consumer sees you in context with other similar brands.
Benchmarking your Process - Take a deep look at your own process and how it compares to your industry standards. What is your industry? Do you see yourself in the food industry, fashion industry, etc? What guides a successful business, in that industry and what kind of processes are in place to insure that? Do some research on the biggest and successful players and gain some insight on their process? In that guiding that research, think about the ways you run your business from your development process and timeline, to your financial accounting and performance metrics of the people who work for you. Standard criteria are time and cost, but it’s also important think about creating your own set of criteria that are inline with the values of your business. Criteria such as sustainability and workmanship may not be the most cost effective, but adds value to your business in a different way. This part of the research takes a bit more research, but hopefully will close in those process gaps that’s been keeping your from taking that next step.
Benchmarking your Product – We like to think that our products are unique and different enough, but do our customers and retailers see it that way. In your own creative process, consider using benchmarking to add more value to your design. Create a framework for your products by researching where they stand in the marketplace in terms of feature sets, materials, and user functionality. You might find that you would use a different color or material or find new product opportunities as a result. Benchmarking can lend insight on the parts of your products that makes your brand unique. Capitalize upon it to build a collection or make it a talking point in your marketing or when pitching to retailers. A lot of us take for granted that we know our products, but in truly understanding where our products stand in a marketplace of similar products helps give us the knowledge we need to set yourself apart.
The process of benchmarking is alot more in depth than I can present in one article. I’ve listed some articles on business benchmarking below. The articles can pretty hefty, but really gives good tid bits on why its used and how its helpful. Hopefully the introduction I presented here inspires you to dig deeper in understanding your own business. In the end, benchmarking gives you the information and knowledge to know where you stand and that the steps you are taking are in the right direction.
Materials + Process
Image Source: Etsy Shop Farouche