As a marketing and communications consultant, I often provide a competitive analysis to my clients because obviously, it’s important to know where they stand in the market and how they should be differentiating themselves from others providing similar services. However, I also believe there is a difference in how you should think about your competition depending upon your industry, sector, type of business (B2B vs B2C vs nonprofit) and whether you’re a small business owner, an organizational executive, or a solo practitioner. It’s the latter I will focus on here – by advocating that a solo’s “competition” can actually be their partner, advisor, and even friend.
Much of my counsel to clients is directly related to what I’ve learned from building my own practice. After all, I’m a solo practitioner, and many of the same concepts hold no matter your industry or area of practice – whether a lawyer, real estate agent, or marketer.
First, while it’s critical to know who your direct competition is, how you treat them and respond with your own marketing strategy is not necessarily defined as a “kill or be killed” concept. You don’t have to be a fierce competitor; rather, in many cases, getting to know your competitors and building a relationship with them is a good business practice.
In my case, coming from an in-house marketing background, I have actually hired and worked with many of the marketing and communications consultants with whom I now “compete.” I consider many of them trusted colleagues, advisors and friends. So after launching my own practice, and notwithstanding the awkwardness of networking with my friends-turned-competitors, I have found that contrary to conventional wisdom, these competitors have actually extended a helping hand to me and become valued referral sources. In some cases, I have even been asked to partner with them on projects.
How did I facilitate this? First, by determining the goals and expertise of each, so I could then build my practice around these areas and find my unique value that didn’t directly compete with them. After all, in some cases these pros have been consulting for much longer, and so realistically I couldn’t compete with them anyway. I believe that by being honest about my plans for building my practice and explaining no intent to directly compete with them (and meaning it), I have built a network of pros who are now referring business to me that doesn’t fit within their desired scope of work or skill set. Additionally, providing them with information about my areas of expertise and learning more specifically about theirs has opened up opportunities to supplement each other’s services and pitch work as a partnership. A win-win.
Of course there are and always will be competitors in your space with whom you do not have a relationship and you should be diligent about analyzing their strengths and weaknesses against your own in order to effectively articulate your value proposition to prospective clients. Easy ways to do this include:
1. Conduct a keyword search for your practice and market
2. Set up free Google Alerts on your competition
3. Ask your network and clients
4. Follow your competitors on social media and review their website
5. Check out any online reviews and local listings
In How to Gather Intelligence on Your Business Competition, Susan Ward provides even more tools and says “When it comes to your competition, the more you know about what they’re doing now and what they’re planning to do in the future, the better decisions you’ll be able to make about your own small business. Gathering competitive intelligence on your competitors needs to become one of your regular habits.”
So becoming educated about who’s offering what types of services, how they’re marketing them, and what they’re charging is a critical component of your success. But in the end, I’ve found that there’s more than enough work for everyone, and finding that sweet spot that is unique to you and doesn’t step on established consultants can actually work to your advantage and build your business.
Do you have people in your network who you know well and provide similar services? Consider making them your ally.