Some of my best ideas have come from my competitors. Think about it…as entrepreneurs, we’re constantly networking and looking for best practices and inspiration. And sure, we can learn from people in every industry. But each industry has its special concerns, the things that are unique and don’t necessarily translate well for outsiders.
That’s where your competition can be so useful. Rather than developing solutions to every problem all on your own, take a peek at your competitors. You’ll uncover all kinds of useful information from the following sources.
1. Their website. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from your competition’s website. In addition to the obvious things, like pricing and special offers or sales, there’s even more to be learned from how they’re marketing themselves. Are they appealing to a different niche than you? Do they use an interesting approach to connecting with your prospective customers? Everything from font to color choices matters on a website, and you should absolutely be checking the other guy’s frequently. Don’t forget to sign up for their email list so you can receive regular updates!
2. Reviews. Yelp, Facebook, Google… the sources for customer reviews are practically endless. I’ve found two primary uses for reviews. First, they give me insight into ways my competitor is failing. If there are lots of reviews about missed deadlines or slow service, that lets me know just how important those things are to my customers. Second, it gives me ideas for marketing. If I advertise speedy service, that’s going to appeal to dissatisfied customers who left reviews for my competition. Basically, you’re learning what you can do better by mining the other guy’s complaints.
3. Job advertisements. Not only is it fascinating to take a look at how your competition describes themselves to applicants, but you can also learn a lot from the kinds of positions being advertised. Maybe they’re adding a new manufacturing shift. Perhaps they’re opening a new location. Look for signs of growth that can signal their intentions and give you time to prepare for market changes.
4. Conferences and trade shows. Industry events are outstanding opportunities to take a look at the competition. You’ll discover trends and identify who’s driving them. You’ll find chances to pick up ideas for marketing and defining your niche in your market. Taking cues from what’s working and what’s not for you competitors lets you learn from mistakes without having to make them yourself.
5. Google. Don’t overlook the obvious. See if you can uncover new ways to reach out to your ideal customers. Has your competition been featured in an article? Are they sponsoring a community event? Is there a review site you weren’t aware of? Spend a few minutes investigating all the ways your competition interacts with customers online.
There’s so much we can learn from our competition, and we can absolutely do it without jeopardizing what makes us unique. I’m not advocating being a copycat, but there’s no sense reinventing the wheel. Use all your available resources.
Mike Michalowicz (pronounced mi-KAL-o-wits) started his first business at the age of 24, moving his young family to the only safe place he could afford – a retirement building. With no experience, no contacts and no savings he systematically bootstrapped a multi-million dollar business. Then he did it again. And again. Now he is doing it for other entrepreneurs. Mike is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consulting firm that ignites explosive growth in companies that have plateaued; is a former small business columnist for The Wall Street Journal; is MSNBC’s business make-over expert; is a keynote speaker on entrepreneurship; and is the author of the cult classic book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. His newest book, The Pumpkin Plan has already been called “the next E-myth!”