Keeping an eye on what your competition is doing may seem like a full-time job, but it doesn’t have to be. With myriad tools available to help you stay abreast of your business rivals, you should never be surprised by what the scoundrels are up to.
The first key to staying a step ahead is determining who your competitors are. Start by reading trade magazines and websites that target your industry. Ask your trade association for similar businesses in your local area and beyond. What about indirect competitors? Think about businesses that might not be in your specific industry but compete for the same consumer dollars.
Next, set up Google alerts on competitors (and your business, if you haven’t already) so you know when they are mentioned on the web. Follow them on social media—and search to see if people are buzzing about them on social media search engines like SocialMention.com and 48ers.com. You can also get competitors’ annual reports if they’re publicly traded.
Once you have this information, assess your competition’s strengths and weaknesses. Are any of them targeting a market you haven’t thought about or adding new product lines that may suggest they’re heading in a new direction? Can you compete and offer something better, or do you need to zig while they zag?
Shopping your competition is key. Try their services or buy some products and review the areas in which they’re better—or worse—than your business. Chances are, if you stay ahead of your competition, you’ll stay on top with your customers, too.