Your small business may sometimes feel like an island, but really, it’s more like a tree in the forest, vying for resources and trying to grow the biggest and the fastest. Which doesn’t mean you need to hire loggers to come down and cut all the other trees down, but it does mean that part of your business plan should involve looking around to see who else is in your field. Called “competitive research,” this fact-finding can help you establish your own strengths and weaknesses, and help figure out where in the market your business falls.
“The opportunity for your business comes from knowing what else is out there in the market. Then, you do that — just better,” explains author and career coach Beate Chelette. “You need to do your research.”
Many small businesses, says Beate, don’t look around to see the state of their own market; in fact, some can’t even name a top competitor. But researching those who are doing the same or similar things as you and your business is a huge opportunity — not only to capitalize on areas where they may be lacking, but also to learn from what it is they’ve done right.
To conduct your competitive research, ask yourself the following questions:
Then, put those questions into action by searching the internet and other places where people might advertise services similar to yours.
“You go on Google, you find your forums on LinkedIn that are specific…and then ask questions,” suggests Beate. You can also check Yelp and other review sites to see what people are saying about your competition. Are they always busy? Do they provide good customer service? Is their website clear and easy to use? Do they offer discounts, coupons, or other money-saving services…and if so, is that because business is good, or because it’s lagging?
Sometimes, Beate says, the internet just isn’t enough, and it’s necessary to do some deeper recon, including a small amount of subtle deception.
“I have no problem calling competitors. They don’t know if you’re a competitor or not.”
And if you can’t find any competition? That could mean that you’ll have the corner on the market…or it could mean there’s no market there at all.
“If it’s not done in your area, then it’s time to investigate why.”
Remember, though — your competitors aren’t actually your enemies. Collaboration can be a beautiful thing, and even if you don’t intend to work with others in your field, you can still stand to learn a lot, especially from those who have been in the business a long time. Instead of being worried about competitors stealing business from you, focus on being the best that you can be, Beate recommends.
“Do you really think another person can take [a client] away from you, unless you really suck at what you do? It doesn’t matter what they say — you have to be better, more specific, and your value proposition of what you offer has to be clearly defined.”
Get more tips for your business — and your life! — from Beate’s course, Turn Your Talent into a Business in 12 Steps.