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Whether you’re a startup or well established  company, getting to know your competition can provide valuable information for your business plan.  Creating a competitive analysis takes time and patience, but results in you knowing the marketplace inside and out and learning a lot about your own business too. Show both investors and clients the value you provide and how you are able to effectively compete—and succeed—in your industry by following the steps below.

know the benefits

Identifying competitor strengths and weakness is a process. Before delving into the nuts and bolts of a comprehensive  analysis, you should first understand the benefits you’ll gain.
Entrepreneur Magazine narrows the benefits you should expect to see down to these four:

  1. A better understanding of your competitive edge—or liability—in your particular niche or industry.
  2. Discovery of strategies your competitors use to market their products and services.
  3. Better informed business decisions, improving your outlook and market performance in the future.
  4. More accurate forecasting of future ROI since your understanding of the competition is supported by research and past behavior.

discover competitive resources

In the age of the Internet, discovering key competitive information is often as easy as doing an online search by business name, product, or industry. Going online isn’t the only option though. A few steps you can take to collect useful information about your competition would be to:

  • Check the local telephone directory
  • Do an online search for your product and geographic location
  • Consult the local Chamber of Commerce and trade organizations
  • Find out if you have online competitors outside your local region
  • Study any flyers or brochures that have been sent to you

To gather market information, Bloomberg Business offers a company profile on most enterprises in the United States. As this Bloomberg profile on Chevron shows, you can gather information about finances, market sector, key employees, stock prices, growth trends, and more.
One of the easiest ways to spot local competitors is to drive through your region looking for similar companies and simply walk through the front door. A first-hand visit will deliver valuable insights about pricing and marketing strategies, such as discounts, rewards programs, and enticements for new and existing customers. Phone them up and ask questions about their products or services to ascertain their customer service. But since you won’t just be competing with local businesses, gather further brand strategies on your competition by visiting websites, looking for Facebook groups, and searching listings in business directories such as FourSquare and Yelp.
To get a look inside the marketing strategy of your competition, monitor radio and TV ads, print publications, online website content, and other promotional material for clues about marketing strategies. Scanning ads also gives you a peek into bundling programs, new product introduction, distribution patterns, new partnerships, and long-term and short-term sales goals.
Search for accounts on social networking sites. Remember to consider all relevant sites, and not just the top four or five—Traffikd claims there are more than 400 social sites. Fortunately, they list sites by category, so IT teams can develop custom engagement policies. Getting off the beaten path to connect with hyper-targeted campaigns could put you miles ahead of the competition.
You don’t have to invest a lot of money to get started on your analysis. Search Engine Watch recommends exploring free SEO competitive analysis tools from Google. You can also use this free pdf from Entrepreneur Magazine.

adjust your business strategy

Once you have detailed information about your competition, the policies and practices they use to attract new customers, and their weaknesses, you can adjust your own strategy. You’ll see where the marketplace is lacking as well as where it’s oversupplied.
The information you’ve gathered should be able to fit into three categories: 1) what they’re doing better than you, 2) what they’re doing worse than you, and 3) what they’re doing the same as you.
If there’s a particular area where you feel that the competition is surpassing you—this could be lower pricing, faster customer service, or a better e-commerce site—learn from them and see if you can make adjustments. On the other hand, if you see where the competition is weak, use this knowledge to your advantage. For example, you may have a better return policy or more variety in your products, so be sure to highlight these features in your own marketing techniques. Finally, where you see yourselves as equals with the competition—perhaps you both have adequate blogs or knowledgeable staff—think of ways you can gain the edge.
The competitive analysis gives your company valuable insight into your competition. Being clear about who your competition is, what product or service they are providing, and where they are lacking will enable you to improve your own business performance and pull ahead in the long run.

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