Check On Your Competitors

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It's a good idea to keep an eye on your competitors but how many small business owners take the trouble to check out their competitors on a regular basis. It's important to make a date in your diary to do this crucial task because with the fast-paced, rapidly changing environment of the Internet, there is always another competitor coming up behind you. New businesses enter the market on a continual basis and if you don't know what your competitors are getting up to, your business could be under threat.

However, if you take the trouble to know who your competitors are, you'll be in a much stronger position to develop and promote your business more effectively, set your prices appropriately and stay ahead. The great thing is that your competitors are likely to have an Internet presence so it is relatively easy to see what they're up to and develop your own counter strategies to beat them at their own game. Things can develop into an arms race in business these days with the potential for big competitors to appear very quickly and on a global scale -- even the giants like Facebook are facing stiff competition from upcoming rivals and have to work to stay on top.
Investigate your competitors

Your competitors are likely to be found simply by conducting an Internet search but you should also look out for them through other media such as traditional advertising, direct mail, press releases, trade fairs, forums, patented products and planning applications. Visit their websites, order their marketing materials, sign up for their newsletters and seek them out at trade fairs and exhibitions. You need to find out all of the following:

How they present themselves – the quality of their website
What impression they make
Their attitude towards their products and their customers
Who runs the business
What prices they charge
Their range of products or services
Their marketing strategy
Who their marketing is aimed at
How busy they are with marketing -- do they advertise off-line?
The quality of their marketing materials
How efficient they are in terms of answering queries and delivering goods
How easily they can be contacted
What follow-up services they offer
What are their strengths and weaknesses
What new products and services are they developing?

Try them out

One of the best ways to find out what your competitors are up to is to become one of their customers, or get your friends and business associates to try them out on your behalf. By doing this you can truly assess their products and services. You need to:

Visit their website
Order their marketing materials
Contact them with a query by e-mail
Phone them with a query
Place and order with them
Monitor the length of time it takes to send your order out to you
Notice the quality of the packaging
Evaluate the product
Invent some issue where you will need follow-up service or advice and check out how they deal with it.

You could also find out about the scope of their business by asking for a bulk order or find out whether they supply on a wholesale basis. Find out if they run an affiliate network as well as this will give you an idea of the breadth and reach of their business.
Beat them at their own game

Once you have found out all you possibly can about your competitors, you will be in a good position to plan a strategy to beat them at their own game. Find their weak spots and work hard to become bigger and better than them in areas where they are inferior to your business. When you have achieved this, it can become part of your USP and will be a powerful selling point.

Also look for gaps in the market and areas where the market is already saturated as this sort of research might highlight ideas for opportunities where you can diversify and develop new products -- at the very least you will be able to update your marketing strategies and reassess your prices in the light of new information.

Look at your competitors’ method of customer service and aim to improve on whatever they are doing, since this is an area that is important to existing customers and where you might be able to lure some of your competitors’ clients over to you.

By knowing your competitors, you can assess new opportunities and develop innovative and original new ways to beat the competition and get ahead of the game.