There’s the old saying you should keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. And the same could be said for your business competitors.
It’s vital as a small business to know your competitors as intimately as possible to find out what they are doing better than you and what you are doing better than them. Even if you don’t consider it necessary to keep up with the Joneses, it’s important to at least know what the Joneses are doing and how their business offerings differ from yours.
The first thing I’d do is check out their online marketing strategy by simply doing a Google search – I don’t need to tell you how the internet is often the first place many people look for a business. In Google, search for the business type and location, so for example “architects in Perth”. Does your competition rank high up in the search results? Does your business?
The goal is to appear as high as possible in online searches because customers naturally click on the first business they see. To improve your search ranking you need a strong presence on the web – it’s the only way Google will find you. So if you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter page it’s worthwhile having them. It is also a good idea to get a free business listing on an online business directory. Create your own website and look into buying some marketing space on Google.
Word-of-mouth is also an incredibly powerful marketing tool, as people feel much more comfortable using a business if they get a good recommendation from someone else. So get your business listed on websites that allow customers to write reviews and encourage your customers to review you. What products do your competitors offer? Are they the same as yours? If the answer’s yes you need to differentiate yourself and stand out. You might do this by introducing new and innovative products or services, or you might need to market your business better than they do, and take it that one step further.
You should also find out what your competition is charging for their products and services. To compete more effectively you might need to consider dropping your prices or adding more value to your offering with, say, two for one deals or seasonal discounts.
Next step is to find out what their customer service is like. Are they renowned for giving people a great experience? This could be an excellent place for you to stand out from the crowd as it’s an area many businesses neglect. It might mean making some simple changes such as how your staff speak on the phone to always being on time, being honest and upfront about pricing or going above and beyond the call of duty.
It’s also vital to know the competition’s location. Is their shopfront just around the corner from you? Do they only exist online? Do they travel to the client’s house or workplace? Again, it comes back to seeing if they’re doing anything better than you and working out how to outperform them.
Lastly, there’s no harm in meeting the competition face-to-face over coffee or lunch. Obviously you wouldn’t want to disclose your trade secrets but it can be a great way to share industry knowledge and contacts. You should have a lot in common and let’s face it, it’s nice to talk to someone who’s passionate about and understands your area of expertise. They’ll probably even send customers your way when they’re too busy to take on new work.
– Myles Wearring is the editor of online business directory, truelocal.com.au.