Pioneering a business requires a multitude of skills, one of which is the power of observation. Watching everything from market trends to business models is par for the course for any entrepreneur, but viewing the competition must also be part of the observational strategy.
In order to fully utilize the information gained from observing your competitors, you must first have a practical approach for doing reconnaissance work. Here are three methods for watching and learning from those you’re up against in the marketplace:
The Tech Trail
Bear in mind that the technology age has afforded us all with enhanced vision through the wonders of social media. From Twitter to Facebook to proprietary blogs, companies employ numerous outlets than can be readily followed and accessed by present and future customers, as well as business partners and competitors. The social media revolution has created opportunities to watch and learn from the competition easily, cost effectively and in real time.
Related Article: A Lesson From Alibaba’s Jack Ma: Don’t Ignore Your Competitors
Use available social media to:
- Monitor who follows the competition, and who the competition follows
- Be attentive to competitors’ online reviews and streaming feedback
- Watch how your competitors market themselves online, and how they promote specific goods and services. The number of “likes” and “shares” a given company generates can be very telling, in terms of increasing (or decreasing) consumer interest, product development and promotion, and for generating business partners
- Read competitors’ blog entries, and note everything from fresh ideas to sales trends that you can use to benefit your own company efforts
If your startup is retail-based, don’t be shy about visiting your competitors’ own retail locations. Getting an up-close and personal look at how other retailers operate can yield excellent fodder for considering everything from product placement to customer parking.
Devote some time to “secret shopping,” and in the role of a consumer, see how your competition addresses customer service, treats its employees, and maintains its retail facility. There’s no better place to learn about competing businesses than in the trenches, observing operational pros and cons.
Related Article: Building Barriers to Entry- How to Keep the Competition at Bay
Searching public records can provide vital information about businesses in your market niche and geographic region. The scope of public information is vast, so identify specific areas that are germane to your own entrepreneurial interests. Depending upon your location, the regional Chamber of Commerce can provide significant data.
Also, media need not always be social, as researching local print/broadcast sources can yield positive results, too. Though the small town newspaper may not be Forbes, it can offer salient information from tax filings and foreclosures to coupon circulars and new area hires. Watch for your competition making news (good and bad), and note your findings for future reference.
It’s pretty easy to become so wrapped up in one’s own startup responsibilities that important information from outside the home base goes unobserved, overlooked or ignored. No matter how busy your day is, transition from your role as owner/operator into that of observer. Hone your powers of observation and key into the competition.
Watch what competitors are doing, how they’re doing it, and with whom they are interacting.
Most importantly, devote time to gathering important information from the competition and then distilling it into something beneficial for your startup operation.