By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service
"Let's go shopping!"
While those are three of my favorite words, this spree is limited; we're just going to check out what the competition is up to.
In general, I'm not a big believer in spending much time or energy worrying about the other guy.
But that doesn't mean you can just ignore the competition.
From time-to-time, you should check out who's out there, what they're offering, and what they're charging.
Check 'em out
Competition comes in three major forms:
1. Alternatives and inertia: All the other ways a customer can spend their time and money. You can't do much about this.
2. The big guys: The Wal-Marts, Home Depots, etc. - national companies or franchises with huge marketing budgets. Stay aware of how they're evolving.
3. Direct competitors: The ones who keep you up at night.
They're other small companies like yours: close to customers, ambitious, and trying to reach the same target market.
The easiest way to begin your analysis is to get on the Internet.
1. Direct competitors' Web sites: Drill down way beyond the home page.
Here are some of the things to look for on your competitors' sites: descriptions of products; staff - to see what size company they have; how they position themselves; which segment of the market they appear to be targeting
2. Next, here's a trick to discover which Web sites link to your competitors' Web sites: Go to www.google.com and in their search bar, type in the word "link," a colon, a space, then the full Web address.
Then contact some of the Web sites that link to your competitors and ask them to link to you.
3. You can also see if any of your competitors have been in the press by checking their names at www.news.google.com.
4. Also on Google, do searches on the names of your competitors and the generic description of your product-service and geographic location (if appropriate). Use alternative phrases, too. Also try www.yahoo.com.
5. If you market to specific industries, check the Web sites of those industry associations.
Dig to find listings of exhibitors at past trade shows (you might need to check under "events" or "conventions"). That gives you an idea of whether your competitors are actively marketing to the same industry.
6. If you're willing to spend a bit of money, and your competitors are pretty well established, you can get a basic financial report on them from Dun & Bradstreet. Go to www.dnb.com.
Look in phone book
Finally, check to see if your competitors advertise in the phone directory. You can then phone or visit a competitor to see what they offer and how much they charge.
Even better, join a local chapter of your trade association and get to know your competitors personally. Then, you can sit down and discuss what they're doing face-to-face.
Register for Rhonda Abrams' free business planning newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com.
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