How to understand your competitors

How to understand your competitors
Do you know who your competitors are? Their strengths and weaknesses? How much they charge? Why customers choose them?
You may have done some in-depth research when you started your company as part of the business planning process. But it’s important to keep up to date, as the market changes, companies come and go and, to stay competitive, you need to keep an eye on what’s happening.It doesn’t have to take ages but it can have big benefits.Why it matters
By investing a small amount of time in getting to know your competitors, you can:
• Better understand your relative strengths and weaknesses as a business
• Find better ways to communicate the benefits of buying from you
• Exploit your competitors’ weaknesses
• Win new customers
• Stay in business and keep growingHow to do it
If that sounds appealing, here are some ways to understand more about your competitors.Know who they areThe first step may sound simple but many businesses fail to recognise that their competition is not just a couple of local businesses. While they’re certainly part it, in a world where you can buy almost anything from anywhere, your competitors could be national or even international.Think about who customers could buy from and do a Google search for the goods or services you offer to see who is ranking well. Don’t forget independent sellers on sites like Etsy and eBay.Think wider too. Your competition won’t just come from businesses in the same field as you. Customers may choose to buy from companies who offer a service as an add-on. For example, if you’re a painter, you may find other traders offer this service; if your company builds websites then you may face competition from designers and online companies set up to help people to build their own site. Try to think about all the options.Check out their website
This is a simple step to understanding more about a company. Not only will you glean the basic information (what they offer, who they are, etc) but you can also see how they explain what they do and what messages they use to draw in customers.

Get social
Social media can tell you a lot about how a customers view a competitor because you can read what people are saying. Check out your competition on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites and see how their customers are interacting with them. This can tell you how well liked a company is, how close their relationship is with their followers and how responsive they are.

Look at their accounts
If you want to know more about a company, knowing how it’s trading and whether it’s profitable can be really useful. Sites like Dun and Bradstreet (  allow you to see the financial information they submit as part of their year end accounts.

Look at their advertising and promotion
Seeing how your competitors are promoting themselves can give you an idea about their approach and their target audience. Think about whether you could take a similar approach or whether there’s a gap you could exploit.
You can also see whether they’re advertising online and if so, how they target their ads. Sites like SpyFu ( allow you to research your competitors and see how they rank for particular keywords in Google and other search engines.

Do some mystery shopping
If you want to find out exactly what a competitor offers, you could experience it firsthand. Mystery shopping lets you see things from the perspective of a customer and shows you everything from products to customer care. You could do it informally by asking a couple of friends or family to check out their offer or you could use a professional mystery shopping company. It can give you a real insight into how your competitors work.

Next steps
Whichever route you choose, make sure that you use the information you gain. We’ll show you how in our piece about Staying ahead of your competitors.