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Business Planning Tips for Researching Competitors

Unless you’re very clever — and extremely lucky — your business isn’t the only one on the horizon with a great idea and a serious plan to win over eager customers in your particular market.

Except for government agencies and communist states, everyone has competition. Even if your business idea launches a brand-new industry, you can expect a throng of new competitors to emerge, each fighting to grab their slices of the market pie. Your success depends largely on how well you understand your competitors and how successful you are at distinguishing yourself from the alternatives that exist in the minds of your potential customers.

Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing — as long as you know exactly who and what you’re up against. With good intelligence, competitors better your business better by forcing you to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

If your plan is to open or expand a gift shop on Main Street, scoping out your competition isn’t difficult. Browse through neighboring shops that cater to the same kinds of customers you hope to attract.

Then inquire around — talking to your banker, other retailers, business leaders, clerks at your city hall or county courthouse, those in business networking groups, local media including business blogs, and others — to see what businesses are planning to open in the near future. Finally, uncover stealth competitors, including online and other less apparent businesses that can take a bite out of your market.

For many businesses, however, competitive research is more complicated. You have to work harder to discover the following about distant or corporate competitors:

  • What products or services they offer

  • Who their customers are

  • What their strengths are

  • Where their weaknesses are

Corporate strategists call this information-gathering effort competitive intelligence, or CI. Fortunately, the Internet provides a great starting point:

  1. Begin with your competitors’ websites.

    You’ll likely see everything from product specifications to client lists to news-release archives, containing information about future strategies and plans. Study every word, while keeping paying extra attention to marketing messages and calls to action.

  2. Then put search engines to work, entering competitors’ names and scouring the results.

    In addition to links to competitor-controlled sites, also study news, blog posts and comments, social media mentions, and information about joint ventures with other companies.

  3. Find your competitors in ratings and review sites.

    You can discover what their customers like and dislike, giving you valuable information upon which to build better solutions.

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