The Key to Survival: Know Which Battles Are Worth Fighting

Last Updated May 9, 2011 2:00 PM EDT

By Kari Scott, Partner , Mad Dancer Media, Nashville, Tenn.
In 1995 my partner Michael Wilson and I founded Mad Dancer Media in Nashville, Tenn., a web design firm that primarily serves the entertainment industry. Our customers include artists such as Taylor Swift, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Dolly Parton.

One of the biggest reasons why we have survived in such a competitive field is that we pick our battles wisely -- we know when to stand and fight and when not to get dragged into a contest we can't win. It's a pattern that's served us well and one we've tried to follow over the past 15 years.

Some battles are worth fighting...
In 2006, we realized our business model was no longer sustainable. Record company marketing budgets were starting to dry up and our competitors were offering a myriad of web services that eclipsed our old-school website hosting. We were tired of losing gigs and money on account of an outdated model. So we changed it.

Using our background in design and programming we built a new backend management and web marketing platform of our own. We switched from simply building and hosting sites to creating a product that would empower customers to manage and customize their own sites. We inverted our business model, too: Instead of a huge upfront cost and tiny monthly, website maintenance fees, we switched to a more palatable upfront cost and a larger ongoing fee for use of our tools. It was a complete 180 degree change from what we'd been doing. We really took our time building the platform, but because we have very strong programmers, the process was a smooth one.

It's also been a success, financially speaking -- our monthly revenue has roughly tripled since we moved to the new system.

...Others are not
Even with our new system and business model, client retention is always an issue. Surprisingly, our stiffest competition these days isn't coming from huge, corporate firms; it's from the little guys. Many smaller companies looking for the notoriety of a big client will do almost anything to get them to sign on, including offering their services for free. They will literally give away design and hosting services in hopes of landing that marquee artist.

While it's tempting to try and challenge these companies, it's a losing battle. We recognized very quickly that there was no way we could undersell these particular competitors -- our models were entirely different. It doesn't matter how much a client loves us or how pleased they are with our services, in this economy all that matters is the bottom line. And in those cases, as frustrating as it can be, you just have to let it go.

Lose the battle, win the war
Now we understand that we compete with these companies not by trying to undersell them, but by committing to providing incomparable service to our customers.

By staying true to ourselves, by knowing where and how to invest our energies and resources we don't get wrapped up in taking on smaller companies or letting larger ones intimidate us.

Just a few years after we started the business, a well-financed corporation went around to half a dozen web development companies similar to ours in size and threatened to go after our client lists. Some of our competitors took the bait and sold out to them -- we didn't. We refused to be bought out because we had faith in the fact that no one could match the quality of our services. And that faith was rewarded: Just 18 months later, the corporation was gone.

When you have confidence in, and a commitment to, the way you do business, you're going to succeed regardless of who or what you might be up against.

Kari Scott and her adventurous spirit have been known to mix beer with firearms, rednecks with Yankees, and wasabi with raw fish...all in a day's work.
-- As told to Alex Coppola

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