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For small business owners who are still working on defining a recognizable brand, outsmarting the competition can play a key role in building a solid foundation for future success. Companies that target the same audience have to compete for every new lead, and each has to show that they offer the best value for their customers’ money. To stand out from the crowd, it is important to know as much as possible about local competitors. Answering the four questions below is a great place to start for any business owner who wants to dig deeper into the competition’s strengths and weaknesses.

1. What are the competing businesses like?

Defining how each competitor operates can be helpful in creating a distinctly different brand that offers unique products and services. Going to official websites, checking out social media pages, browsing online reviews and visiting the competition as a customer can all be helpful in understanding how each business works and its niche role in the local community.

2. What type of payments do they take?

Cash-only businesses can instantly lose out to competitors who accept credit cards. Most customers carry a limited amount of cash in their wallets, and they can get frustrated if they have to stop at the bank or pay a fee at the nearby ATM before they can make a purchase. Setting up a merchant account is very simple and helpful for attracting customers, so there is no reason not to accept credit cards.

3. What type of marketing do they do?

Since online marketing has become increasingly popular, the fastest way to see how competitors are advertising is to search for their names on popular social media channels. Browsing through social media pages can show how many customers are currently supporting each competitor and why. Going to official websites is also helpful for learning more about the message the company is presenting to the target audience and the type of products and services it offers.

4. What do the customers say?

Because customers actually visit competing businesses in their area, they can share first-hand observations that can be invaluable for future growth. When new customers come in, it helps to ask them if they have tried other similar services in the neighborhood and why they decided to switch. Service-oriented companies especially can learn a lot by communicating with their customers since they come in on a regular basis.