How—And What—to Learn from Your Competition

Learn from Your Competition


In Part 1 of this series, What Sets You Apart from Your Competition?, I explained why it’s so important to know who you’re competing against. Then I outlined 3 ways to identify your competitors.

Here’s one more: LinkedIn—actually one of the earliest social media platforms and currently in the midst of a resurgence—is an excellent resource for competitive research.

Learn from Your CompetitionIt is essentially a database of professionals and sometimes considered “Google for Business.” More people are spending more time there, searching and connecting with colleagues and clients. So if you haven’t been on LnkedIn lately, go right now to make sure your profile is up to date before you do any connecting. (Watch this video to see Excellent Examples of LinkedIn Profiles of Designers.)

To do competitive research, one obvious strategy is to search as your clients would. Imagine yourself in the shoes of your ideal client and then, using the keywords they would use to find someone who offers the same services you offer, do a search. You will get a long list of your competitors—or at least whoever LinkedIn’s algorithm considers to be your competitors.

But LinkedIn offers an even better (and less overwhelming) way to find people like you. When someone looks at your profile, on the right side of the screen there should be a section called, “People Also Viewed.” (By the way, in “Settings” you can control whether you want that to show on your own profile.) Many profiles listed in that section will be of people like you—i.e. your competition.

Once you’ve identified the top competitors (no more than 5), here’s what to do:

1) Start by reviewing their LinkedIn profile. Unlike the more visually oriented social media platforms, like Instagram, LinkedIn doesn’t showcase visuals very well (if at all). Because this is a text-oriented platform, what you get is your competitor’s written description. That’s actually a good thing—and will make it easier for you to be objective. How does he or she describe him or herself? Who are they speaking to? What is the message? Is there one?

2) Next, study their website. What’s the first thing a visitor sees when landing on their website? A portfolio of work? A positioning statement or question that speaks to a pain point? Can you tell what their specialty is, or if they have one? How easy is it to find the work? How well organized is the portfolio? Is it organized at all? And is there consistency between what you saw on their LinkedIn Profile and what’s on the website?

3) Then, consume their content. See which social media platforms they invest their time on and what they’re posting. Follow them wherever you can. If they have an email list, sign up for it (anonymously if necessary). If they have a lead-generating free download, grab it. Watch to see how (or if) they stay in touch. You may find that many designers have a place to sign up, but never send anything out! That may give you some insight into how they market their services.

4) Google them. How well do they rank for the keywords you think are important? How do they rank geographically when you add their location? Where else do they appear besides their own site and LinkedIn profiles? Are they a member of a trade group you’ve never heard of? Should you join? Are they blogging somewhere? Could you blog there too? Have they spoken somewhere? Should you be attending or even speaking there too?

Learn from Your Competition

Now what?

It’s much easier to figure out what makes you stand out when you know who you’re comparing yourself to. Once you have some clarity about who you’re competing against (and this may take some time), you can start to put that information to good use.

How? Find the gaps you can fill.

The more you know about your competition, the better you can position yourself around them and identify which of your strengths would be worth highlighting. For example, if you are speaking to the healthcare industry and you’ve been on the buyer’s side and your competitors haven’t, that’s a no brainer. That’s what sets you apart.

Here are more questions to be asking:

  • Are you the only one who’s been on the other side of the table in a corporate environment?
  • Or the only one who has worked for years in the industry?
  • Are you the one with awards and publications that would be meaningful to the market?
  • Are you the one that specializes and says so out front?

This can be a tricky concept so I’ll give you a personal example. When I started coaching creatives on business skills, I really had no competition to speak of. Now, 30 years later, that’s totally changed. Now there are courses and coaches everywhere. That means I have to work harder to set myself and my courses apart.

I must look at my competitors and figure out how I’m different, identify the gaps in the market and then fill them. When I look at a few I’m competing against—here’s what I see:

  • One of them focuses only on copywriters, while I work with a variety of related creative professionals, including designers, copywriters and photographers, illustrators and marketers. So I emphasize my versatility within the niche, which will appeal to those who value versatility.
  • Another one only offers group coaching, while I offer both group coaching and one-on-one mentoring. So I emphasize my work with individuals, for those who need and value that more customized process.

I can’t stress this enough … there are so many reasons you need to know your competition, including:

  • so you can follow them and keep an eye on what they’re doing
  • so you can see what your prospects are seeing
  • so you can understand the landscape in which you have to stand out to make the choice easier for your ideal prospect.

Most important, you need to take what you learn and use it to stay one step ahead at all times.

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