But what can you do now, today, to try to define your own competitive advantage in your marketplace. The answer is... actually quite a lot.
The secret to all competitive advantages, in fact to all commerce, is scarcity and value. If you are able to create or highlight something scarce that clients will value then you are ahead of the pack.
NetworkYour network is probably the greatest trust based asset that you can have. An address book filled with colleagues, former clients, associates and service providers who all trust your character and your ability to do what you say you can do.
It is hard to overstate this - your network is your key competitive advantage and if you don't have a very extensive one then you need to start building on right now.
Your network can inform you of great roles before they are advertised, of looming tenders and contracts, they can introduce (refer) you to others who need your expertise and they can give you repeat work.
In the vein of scarce and valuable it is more important who you know than how many people you know. (Yet another argument against Linkers on LinkedIn ) If you are in marketing I probably cannot help you to generate revenues directly, but the VP of Marketing for Ford, or Tesco or maybe even Google. (Unlikely I suppose)
When IBM bought PWC for $8 billion they did so partially because of their "boardroom access"; code for network of course. I have held more than one position in Europe and Latin America partially because of my network, and my clients benefit from the fact that I can facilitate networking opportunities across industries and countries.
Do not doubt the competitive advantage of your network. Whether it helps you to get in touch with people who can give you work, or whether it actually drives others to contact you or refer you.
What do you know?In a hyper connected, information overloaded world unique knowledge is exceptionally rare. And when it exists it is generally a temporary situation.
So uniqueness of knowledge is not going to happen...but scarcity could do.
I have worked on reliability engineering projects in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe and Australia. There are precious few people in the world who can make a statement like that. That makes my ability to understand large scale change and how it is affected by cultural differences (or more importantly how it is the same) is pretty scarce. It's an advantage.
Your combination of experiences and skills are scarce, nobody else has exactly what you have - you just need to know how to weld them into a competitive statement. Maybe its your combination of skills. An engineer with an economics degree, an economist with a degree in ancient history, a marketer with a passion and intimate knowledge of adventure sports.
Whatever it is - sifting through all the things you can do and have done will help you to find which can be combined to produce a competitive advantage.
A track record of achievementRelated to the others, this is also a killer competitive advantage.
Under any circumstances, at any time, and in any market; if you can show that you have done this or similar in the past. And you have a line of people who are willing to tell about how you were able to draw immense value while doing it, then you are head and shoulders above.
This is particularly true within specific industry verticals. Your track record of achievement makes you a "safe pair of hands" for people to place their trust in. Someone that industry members will gladly tell their colleagues about , and someone that competitors will compare themselves to. (The greatest of compliments, and not a bad marketing tool either)
In essence... you can draw competitive advantages out of what you are today. Should you invest time and money in creating scarce IP - definitively! Should that stop you from speaking about competitive advantages that you already possess ...never!