Too often, competition is viewed as a threat. A scarcity mindset tells us that every client a competitor books is one we’ve lost, which can create resentment toward any company that offers similar products or services.
However, a change in perspective can open you up to new ideas and opportunities that spur meaningful growth on both personal and professional levels. By accepting that there is plenty of business for everyone, you’ll see your competitors as fellow innovators rather than industry rivals—and that is when you can operate out of passion, not fear.
“A healthy respect between well-respected peers often leads to a positive push to compete and do better,” assures Vijay Goel of 440 Elm. “It's how we all get ideas and motivation to up our game!”
So instead of viewing competitors as adversaries, it’s worth taking a step back to see what you can learn from them. Here are four lessons to gain from healthy competition.
What the market craves
There’s a lot to get from performing market research within your target audience, but don’t overlook the insights you can gather by evaluating competitors. You’ll likely uncover feedback that reveals more about your ideal clients than you realize.
“Pay attention to the reviews of your competitors to learn about what their clients love (or don't love!) about their service,” encourages Megan Breukelman of Megan & Kenneth. “Are there a few keywords that stand out in the reviews their customers leave? Learn from what the most beloved traits of their business are.”
Looking at competitors’ successes and failures can inform you of new industry trends, market expectations, economic shifts, and other vital knowledge to help you better meet your ideal clients’ needs. So don’t hesitate to see what people are saying about other companies in your field.
Where you can improve
Assessing your competitors’ online feedback can also highlight areas where your business falls short. But instead of taking such knowledge personally, skip the comparison game and use it to enhance your offerings and develop better processes.
Sarah Chianese of Mangia and Enjoy! agrees, noting that you can learn a lot about yourself by looking at others. “What your competitors are successful at can inspire you to up your game,” she affirms. But she cautions that observing competitors “does not mean you should copy what they are doing.”
“If a competitor practices an element that fits your model, you should emulate the positive approach and place your spin on things to represent your company authentically,” Chianese explains. “For example, one competitor is exceptional at plating. Study their plating techniques. Continue to learn plating techniques that fit with your image.”
The idea isn’t to become a carbon copy of your competitors by leveraging the same strengths. Instead, let your research shine a light on your weaknesses and clue you into the areas in which you can improve.
What you should market
If you feel like your messaging doesn’t stick with your audience, it’s time to revisit your marketing strategy. But before doing so, Adrienna McDermott of Ava And The Bee argues that “competitor and market research is one of the first steps you should take before making a marketing strategy for your business.”
“It allows you to identify their gaps, highlight where you can stand out, and develop new services that might be missing in your area,” McDermott elaborates. “What are some things their testimonials don’t mention that your clients do say about you? These can be areas where you differentiate, and you can use that to your advantage!”
The more you learn about your competitors, the better you’ll know how to promote your business’s unique selling proposition (USP). Only then can you truly differentiate your brand from competitors, appealing to like-minded customers who share your values.
How you can stand out
Businesses become commoditized when they look identical, so setting your brand apart isn’t just good marketing—it’s essential for long-term sustainability.
“Finding ways to make your business stand out from the crowd is one of the main ways you will be able to not only obtain more business but also charge a more premium rate,” confirms Nikki Golden of Nikki Golden Photography.
“One of my favorite ways to learn from my competition is by finding gaps in the market and over-indexing on things that the rest of the market puts less focus on,” Golden continues. “You will be reaching customers who value your business because it provides something that they can’t get anywhere else.”
So if you’re still trying to carve out a niche or figure out how to highlight your value, start with an honest look at the competitive landscape. Aim to fill the gaps left uncovered, dancing to the beat of your own drum. Different is good, but you can’t distinguish your brand unless you understand how to diverge from the “norm.”
There are many reasons to watch your competitors and gauge how they present themselves within the market. However, Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings cautions against taking what you learn as an indictment of what you have to offer.
“Observing your competitors is a great learning tool to help guide you for the things you want to do,” she says. However, “if you find yourself wanting something that someone has, you may need to take a step back and ask yourself ‘why’. A competitor can bring out your personal innovations if you choose to run against the grain or the flow.”
Following your competitors on social media and obsessing over every new post is not the solution—nor is it to replicate their offerings, pricing, voice, or brand qualities. Focus on what you can learn from others to use to your competitive advantage, highlighting what already makes your business unique in the marketplace.