biz ladies: understanding your competition

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Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Cori Padgett, freelancer and creative brain behind the blog Big Girl Branding. Today she shares with us some valuable advice on analyzing and understanding your competition. In this post, Cori teaches you how to effectively study the competition and utilize the data to help set your business apart from the rest. Thanks, Cori, for this extremely informative post! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Schooled by the Competition — Where Do You Stand?
Sometimes when you’re business planning, you think that you’ve anticipated it all, seen all the potential pitfalls and mapped out all the best possible contingency plans to nullify them.

However, there is danger in feeling that you’ve covered all the bases. If you’ve covered things like

you may feel that your job is done. But is this really all you need to consider when creating your business strategy? Don’t you think you’re missing something here? Actually, don’t you think you’re missing a sort of big something?

Alright I’ll spell it out for you. What about the “Big C”?

Yes, the “Big C” — as in your competition in your industry. Most business enterprises are born into a world chock-full of other businesses vying for the same slice of the market demographic. Unless you have created a very (as in obscure!) unique niche for yourself, you will have to deal with competitors literally from day one of launching your business.

So it stands to reason that if you want to come up with a top-notch business plan, then you have to first acknowledge the fact that you have competitors. But the more relevant question is, what are you going to do about them?

You can’t very well shrug them off and wish them away. (Although that would be nice!)

After all, they will be going after the same clients and the same accounts as you. Having more competition means having a smaller share of the market because customers will be dispersed over a good number of choices.

Your goal with a successful business is to get as many customers as possible. Actually, I should clarify: the goal is to get as many quality customers as possible.

It is, therefore, to your advantage to try and find out more about what your biz neighbors are up to. Think of it as another way to strategize — you can learn from other’s mistakes and be extra careful not to repeat them.

Which then begs the question . . .

How do you go about sussing out what your competitors are up to?

It’s pretty simple, actually. Take a few steps back from your own business to study the strategies your competition is using and how well those strategies are working for them.

Analyze Your Competition’s Relationship with Your Market
First off, you have to zero in on how they are satisfying market demand. Every business starts with the customer’s demand.

Even your own outfit is geared toward making sure that you meet these demands in such a way that customers will prefer you to anyone else. Knowing the interaction between your competitors and their customers will enhance your understanding of what your people want by leaps and bounds.

The competition is there to lure the market into their business instead of yours. Always keep that in mind and fix your focus on what you need to know about them in order to improve your own operations.

This will allow you to position yourself as the best on the block.

Even better, if you can find where the competition is not fully meeting market demand, you will then have an excellent opportunity to carve out your own niche, minus the heavy lifting. This way, you’re able to kick start your business without the necessity of going against long-standing competitors head on. Groovy right?

How to Do It
Some simple and unobtrusive ways to do this are to “Like” their fan pages and observe how they interact and respond with their audience. You can also follow their Twitter stream for quick and easy access to their interactions with customers and/or clients.

If your competition runs a blog, you can observe their responses and interactions with their readers via any blog commenting, as well, and this can provide valuable information as to how they operate on a day-to-day basis and respond to both positive and negative feedback.

Over time, you’ll be able to pinpoint areas where they may be lacking with their interactions and communication, as well as products and services offered. This will give you the intel needed to work out a plan, fine-tune your own offerings and “fill in the hole,” so to speak.

Familiarize Yourself with Your Competition’s Website
Funny how something that’s obviously a rich source of information about your competitors can be so easily overlooked. Your competitor’s online store, blog or website can help you mine so much information about how they operate that you will end up spending quite a chunk of time picking everything apart.

Be sure to have a pen and paper ready as you browse the website because you will likely come up with lots of unique insights into how other entrepreneurs think and strategize.

While your website and theirs may contain all the standard nuts and bolts — an About page, order form, product catalogue, etc. — theirs may be a smidge better because they’ve thrown in some extra treats for site visitors like a freebie giveaway or perhaps they offer an email newsletter subscription.

Check out how the information is arranged and presented on your competitor’s website and compare this with how your own website is structured. You might be losing out simply because you’ve got a website that isn’t delivering quality information as quickly and easily as possible.

Usability is vital!

How to Do It
Your competition may already be implementing some of these ideas or even all of them. The point, though, is to compare your site and make sure YOU are making it easy for your clients and customers to navigate your site, digest your information and take advantage of your offers. Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding the usability of your site. Record your answers and see how your site stacks up.

  • Are your headlines clear and descriptive?
  • Do you have a clearly visible way to contact you, and is the process as simple as possible?
  • Is your URL structure clean and readable?
  • Does your logo link to your main page?
  • Do you have a reader-friendly sitemap? (I like to the use WP Archive Sitemap Generator plugin.)
  • Do you link out to other sites often?
  • Do you link to related pages within your site often? (The LinkedWithin plugin for WP is great for this!)
  • Is your layout clean and uncluttered? (As in not busy?)
  • Are the fonts easily readable and not dark words on a dark background? (This is hard on the eyes.)
  • Is your sidebar content reserved for only premium information? (Ad space, newsletter offers, freebies, navigational purposes, etc?)
  • If your site is a blog, are the archives easy to understand and sorted by blog topic (not dates)?
  • Are your destination anchor links descriptive of where they will be taking your visitor? (In other words, don’t just anchor-link random words everywhere.)
  • Is your navigational system consistent on every page?
  • Does your site offer a search bar to easily find content users are looking for? (Not a Google search bar; that’s unnecessary.)
  • Is premium content at the top of the fold?
  • Is all your content easily read and scannable?
  • Is your branding consistent on every page?† Fonts too?

These are just a few important things to consider when evaluating your website against your competition. If you are lacking in an area and see that your competition looks to be excelling, there is nothing wrong with using their ideas as a springboard for your own.

Get a Feel for Operational Tactics

  • Does your competitor ship products for free?
  • Does it offer discounts and promo packages at appreciable intervals?
  • Does it have a strong customer-relationship management system?

These are some of the things that you must understand about your competition to glean ideas on how to establish your own operation.

Your competitor has the benefit of a working business model while you’re still learning the ropes of the business, so it’s a given that you’ll find a tidbit or two of useful intel that you can use.

There is really no end to the number of things you can watch out for when you analyze how the competition is conducting business.

And when you know enough about them, you will be able to anticipate the products and services that they are developing, and develop your own to match and exceed these innovations.

Knowing the competition intimately also allows you to know what things worked for them and what didn’t. You can avoid the mistakes they may have made when starting out and follow up on the promising strategies they’ve adopted successfully.

Just remember, this is not about playing copycat — it’s about collecting and using valuable information (with a twist) to better your own business. But in the end, it is your business and as such should offer products and services of a quality only you can provide.

How to Do It
A fairly unobtrusive way to do this is to sign up for your competition’s email newsletter if they offer one. A solid company with a good track record often has a weekly or monthly email newsletter they send out packed with information on how they do business.

You can find out what sort of special offers they make available to customers, how consistent they are with their relationship building, whether or not they run contests or offer some sort of rewards system and how they address specific feedback, among other things.

Find Out How Your Competition Sees YOU
Finally, it will do you a world of good to know how the competition perceives you.

  • Do they consider you to be a threat?
  • Do they think you’re just a fly-by-night enterprise that will not last more than a couple weeks?
  • Do they also seek out information about you and attempt to study how you operate?

This information is valuable and it will allow you to stay a step ahead of the curve. And put bluntly, staying one step ahead of the pack is crucial, unless you just happen to be partial to stalemates. Personally, I’m not fond of stalemates and would much rather come out on top, a winner. How about you?

How to Do It
This info can be a bit more difficult to dig up on the fly. You can implement some brand monitoring steps, such as Google Alerts, with your business/brand name or run a search using Twitter Search to find out if your competition is talking about you. But if they aren’t, you won’t find anything!

One way I determine how my blog and business are perceived is by befriending my competition and finding out the good old-fashioned way — simply asking! Obviously, your overtures of friendship should be genuine and not simply meant to dig up information. But over the years, I have learned that it’s best to operate from a mentality of abundance and to entertain the idea that there is more than enough business to go around.

On that premise, befriending your competition becomes a no-brainer because they aren’t really competition in the truest sense of the word anyway. They are simply fellow entrepreneurs doing their thing, and you should, too!

So what about you?

Do you think it’s important to analyze your competition and use the information for your own business success? Or do you decide to ignore your competition altogether and just do your thang? Which strategy works for you? Drop a comment below and share your thoughts. — Cori

Ruth Garcia-Alcantud

It’s tough. Very tough. I have one clear competitor and it’s a very strong one, so sometimes it feels like I’m always 10 paces behind.

I’ve tried ignoring the competition and to be honest it’s where I have found most of my best inspiration. But I can’t ignore them, it’s a very tight community and it’ll only look bad on my behalf.

However, reading this article I’ve realised one thing I have that they don’t, and it’s given me a bit more strength to continue with my format!!

Stacie @ girl*in*gear studio

Yet another great biz ladies article. I agree, it’s tough but totally necessary to evaluate your competition… sometimes you can find an underserved niche, but again, you have to make sure that underserved niche does not = obscurity. :-) At the end of the day, I take all of the information I have and trust my gut instinct. It’s worked so far!

Andrea Baxter

As a Biz Ladies contributor I not only love offering valuable content I love reading it and seeing what you other fabulous ladies have to offer! Great advice & solid tips Cori – I especially love that you focused on ‘quality’ customer because it’s so important! Same goes for social media. I have clients that are all about “i want to get to 5000 fans or followers’ but they don’t even think about the quality over quantity. Great post and thanks for sharing!

kara rane

great points*
I too believe in abundance and am a non-competitive-community oriented biz owner.
We can all help one another to succeed.
And yes! I get good tips from all levels- powerful established businesses as well as people who know nothing about the market.
Being Open ♡ hearted has been my best tool.

Devon Bell

Yet again perfect timing on another Biz Ladies article. I’m doing sales/marketing for a new photography magazine and am knee deep in market research and competitor analysis. These articles have been such a great resource and always timely. Cori makes a good point that it’s important to see how competitors are interacting w/ their customers. Customer follow-up and response is an easy way to outshine a competitor and win customer loyalty.

K.S.

This is something I have been struggling with for a year…I still can’t figure out who my competition is. It feels like everyone is doing slightly different things…
The question of “quality” clients is so important. If someone contacts me and right away they just want the cheapest, low-quality item I tell them flat out that is not what we do.
In this way, I have to weed out clients and I am more than happy to refer them to “competitors” or other companies that can better serve them.

Cathy

Thanks for another great post. I’m in the process of developing a business plan and am trying to figure out how to differentiate myself from my competitors.

Nat@ dear little house

Thanks for the great article! I’m finding that these Biz Ladies pieces are full of great inspiration and advice for me, as I’m just starting out :)

Simone

I struggle such a lot with determining who my competitors are (or at least selecting the ones I should analyse).

On the one hand, nobody else specifically makes and sells the work that I do. On the other hand, plenty of people make similar work or at least attract the same market – it’s hard to decide which of these people are more significant competitors than others.

So either I’m stuck with having no competitors to analyse or so many that I don’t know where to start!

It would be great to see a Biz Ladies post on resolving this dilemma – surely it can’t be an unusual for indie/micro businesses!

grace

hi simone

one of the toughest things about being a business owner is recognizing that even if you don’t have an exact equal in the field, the people doing similar things are your competitors and deserve looking into (to learn and understand them).

when i was consulting i found people making the same mistake about identifying competition. they would make style/taste judgements about other people’s work and say “so-and-so’s work isn’t as good as mine so we’re not competitors”. but that’s not true. if you keep in mind that your average buyer is looking for something simple like “cards with birds on them” and “jewelry with tree shapes” and several of you make them, then that’s the common denominator and they are in fact competition. true, some customers will notice quality differences, etc. but if you take style/taste out of the equation, you’ll realize it’s a much larger pool of people doing similar things than you realize.

i looked at your site, and assuming the work you’re referencing is your (lovely) jewelry, i can think of several people doing similar (though not exactly the same) work. i would look at people like polli and the nervous system, their work has a similar feel and would be a great place to start for analyzing and learning from your competition.

grace

Living Hive Design

Loved this post from Cori; and Grace I thought your response to Simone was spot on.
Understanding my competition is helping me fine tune my own biz model. Being new to my area I started by looking around locally whether I personally like their aesthetic or not. Sometimes it’s disheartening to see a competitor already doing something you’ve had percolating in your mind, but that just encourages me to put my own spin on it.
I follow a few designers, storefronts and online stores and want to reach out to forge partnerships that are mutually beneficial rather than just viewing them as the “c” word. We all have a lot to offer each other.

Margarita Lorenzo

I totally agree with knowing very well your competition, it is essential to the success of your business, as well as knowing your target market which would be similar to the others. I have learned a few new things reading this post but i am glad I have done my home work already and keep doing it, we are so mnay designers out there doing similar products and offering same services than finding the gap in the market is essencial as well as keeping an eye on what are your pears doing. so thanks for the info.
Marga.

Elan Hagens

I agree that your competition is your best tool. I have a business that involves harvesting and selling fresh truffles and products to restaurants. My best information has been organizations that support my product, as well as calling my competition for a chat. My competition is enthusiastic about locally harvested products so the owner talked to me for over 2 hours about how to run the business. He also gave me connections to products that I didn’t have direct access to, but he did. I have saved thousands of dollars alone by making this one connection. Trade shows, conferences and festivals are also a great way of seeing your competition all at once.

Greta Sutherland

I have recently been able to ‘hone in on’ the creative direction I want to go. So as an absolute beginner I have tried to research who else is doing what. As an online shop (with limited start-up) I am absolutely overwhelmed with the access to information on the internet. It is a daunting task! Thank you for your invaluable insight!!!

Cori Padgett

@Cathy- yw hun!

@Nat- Yw Nat, glad you found it useful! :)

@Simone- Grace said it perfectly! :) Even if they aren’t exactly like you, common denominators/niches still make them competition. If you get overwhelmed, don’t try to analyze ALL of your possible competitors..narrow down to a handful “Most” like you or like the you that you want to be, and focus on digging into how they do biz.

@Living- Well said! It’s important to realize that although someone may technically be “competition” it’s really all in how you view it. I choose to believe there is plenty of abundance in this world and enough biz to go around, and forming alliances with people in a similar field as you can often help you grow farther, faster.

@Margarita- You’re welcome!

@Elan- great advice and sounds like you’ve got the networking with your competition strategy nailed! :)

@Greta- Yes it can be overwhelming at times. Try to break your information absorbtion into small chunks.. read, learn, implement..then read, learn, implement. When you can break it down into smaller actions, it helps enormously! :)

Kim "Kat" Shepherd

Thank you. Very good information, I especialy like the section on “How Your Competition Sees YOU” I am sending my students a link to your site.
Kat

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