Growing your business by keeping tabs on the competition

Growing your business by keeping tabs on the competition

How well do you know your competitors? Have you even identified your key competitors?

Taking the time to pinpoint your competitors and get to know about them is a critical step in starting, and then growing, your business. Their successes can be an inspiration, and their failures an education. But you have to get to know them first.

How to research your competitors

First, we’ll assume that you have taken the time to really get to know your industry, and have determined at least your top 3-5 competitors. Once you’ve done that, there are several things you should do to learn more – and that learning should be ongoing.

Google is your friend

Of course, any research on your competition will likely start with a Google search, You’ll want to see what information you can glean from your competitor’s website, and you’ll want to see what their reputation is within the industry. Take special note to look at review sites, and any industry-related blogs or forums to see what others are saying about them.

But a Google search is just the beginning. It’s very simple to set up Google Alerts – both for your company/product, as well as that of your competitors. It will allow you to keep up-to-date with your competition on an ongoing basis.

And don’t forget analytics. Tools such as Advanced Web Ranking (which we use for our clients) can allow you to see how your competitors perform on visibility, various keywords, etc. – and allow you to compare your statistics with your competitors.

Attend trade shows/conferences

Even before you launch a product (or have a product to launch), attending a trade show for your industry is a wise move. If you’re going simply as a guest, you are free to visit any and all competitors you wish – and take brochures, watch demonstrations, etc. Watch how they present their products and their company. There is a lot to be learned from a trade show, even if you’re not an exhibitor. And once you are ready to exhibit, you will have some insight into what was successful – or not so successful – for your competitors.

Follow your competitors on social media

One of the best ways to keep track of your competition is to follow their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, Instagram accounts, etc.

Most legitimate businesses will keep their social media channels full and fresh. This is an excellent way to stay on top of new developments – product launches, trade shows they’re attending, etc.

Talk to your customers and vendors

You’d be surprised how much information you can get from your customers and vendors. One of your customers may have never worked with your competitor – but there may be a good reason why. Wouldn’t you like to find out?

Or maybe one of your suppliers also supplies one (or more) of your competitors. They probably have some information you wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Just be cautious not to put any customer or vendor in an awkward position, or ask them for confidential information. And remember to always keep professional relationships with both your customers and suppliers. Remember: if you’re trying to get information about the competition, the competition is almost certainly looking for information about you too.

How can knowing your competition help your business?

First, you have to get as much information as you can. Then, you have to put that information to work for you.

Learn from their successes and failures

Take note of what strategies they used, and how they worked for them. There’s a lot of trial and error in any business – isn’t it great when someone else has taken the risks first?

While you should never just mimic the strategy of another company, it’s still valuable to be able to see what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. it’s just another way of gaining insight.

Hire their employees

You may not be able to do this right away – especially is you have limited resources in start-up mode. But “poaching” employees from the competition is a great way to get both industry experience and inside information. Better yet, an employee with client connections may be able to get you in front of customers you may not have even considered before.

Look at the types of customers they are trying to attract

Maybe your main competitor is only selling their product in North America. Maybe this is your chance to go after an international market. Or maybe they’re gunning for a retail outlet, but you know that your product is a better fit for that outlet.

Either way, the more knowledge you have, the better equipped you’ll be – whether it’s discovering underserved markets, or gaining a better understanding of the marketplace as a whole.

And remember that competition is a good thing

Many entrepreneurs talk about how much easier it would be if “such-and-such competitor” wasn’t in the picture. But the truth of the matter is that competition makes us all better. Regardless of your industry, when your product or service enters the market, your competitors will be watching you and stepping up their game to try to stay ahead of you. And you’ll work harder to make sure you’re giving your customers better than what your competition can provide.

And that’s a win-win or both your company and your customers.

Jul 10, 2015

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