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
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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
- market analysis
- customer research
- financial planning
- branding strategy
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