Five tips to analyse your competitors

One of the first tasks for anyone trying to grow a business is to map out the competitive landscape. With a good understanding of the competition you face, you'll be able to spot and exploit opportunities as they develop.

These five tips should help you draw and refine your map, beginning with your earliest efforts to plan your new venture and continuing for as long as you stay in business.

Become a customer

Visit competing establishments in the role of a customer. Ask lots of questions and take notes. Get in touch with these companies via phone and the Internet. Checking out a firm's ability to serve you will reveal a good deal about your competition -- good and bad -- and teach you a lot about your own business.

If possible, don't just pretend to shop from competitors: Buy something, or engage their services. It's the only way to gain firsthand knowledge of what it's like to do business with the company.

Investigate your competition

One of the best ways to gauge your competition is by taking a little time to investigate the people who run the company. If there's an appropriate setting in which to meet your competition face to face, do it. Where did they go to school? Where have they worked? How long have they been in the business? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What's their reputation?
This information can help you anticipate your competition's moves. For example, a local farmer will run an agricultural business very differently than a young MBA just out of school will.

Talk to your competitors' customers

Take an informal (or formal) poll of your competitors' customers or clients. How did they originally choose where to spend their dollars? Why do they buy from your competitors? Is it because of the quality of the product or service, the price, the location, the customer support, or just habit? What do they dislike about a certain company? What do they wish that company would provide? Would they consider buying from you? If not, why not? If they would, what incentive might win them over?

Use the Internet

You can also learn a great deal about competing businesses by reading the news, doing a Google search or visiting their websites. Some companies engage in social media campaigns. Sign up for their blogs, "like" their Facebook page, and generally take a good look at how they're using the Internet to reach customers.

Attend industry conferences

Attending conferences and trade shows is one of the best ways to get to know your competition and the nature of your business on a larger scale.

Your competitors' representatives will be pounding their chests about their firms' products or services. Take advantage of the opportunity to familiarise yourself with their product offerings and strategies, and how they sell themselves. What are they focusing on, and what are they not advertising? What new product or service are they pushing?

By All Business

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