Running a business can be tough. We all know that. What’s one of the best ways of getting new ideas and improving your business? Have a look at what you’re competitors are doing. Don’t just copy them, improve on them.
I’ve known some successful business owners who like to do things their own way. They like to think of themselves as mavericks and above stealing ideas from someone else. Whilst they might be successful, they’re a minority. The vast majority of businesses “borrow” ideas from elsewhere. Now I’m not saying you need to start stealing patents or infringing on copyrights, that’s not gonna get you anywhere (other than a courtroom). But the business world is full of inspiration that you can improve on. Everybody does it, that’s how ideas evolve and grow into something bigger and better. The truth is, those guys that think they aren’t copying anyone and that they’re doing everything by themselves are just talking hot air. Every aspect of their business life came from ideas developed and evolved from elsewhere. Anything from having a bookkeeper to their customer service. Someone else thought of that, and now they’re commonplace.
The thing about being market leader is that it sometimes instils an inability to innovate. In other words, you don’t want to change anything because you’re already at the top. Why ruin a good thing? The problem is, your competitors aren’t playing nice – they’re out to get you. Anything you do, they’ll move to not only copy it, but improve on it and make it better.
My business was the first of it’s type in the local area to take out full page newspaper adds offering discount coupons. I thought it was a really good idea, until I saw my main rival had bought the front page of the very same newspaper. Who’s going to bother with something twenty pages deep when another player is capturing your attention on the front page? It’s not always about advertising, anything can be used as inspiration and improved on.
When I saw a leading local business offering a free phone number to use for all enquiries, I got one too – and increased the open calling hours to seven days a week. When I saw other businesses getting their first websites many years ago, I got a bigger and better one. I’m not saying you need to get dirty and steal business secrets, but there are ideas for every aspect of business life that came from somewhere else. It’s common and it’s acceptable.
Apple didn’t invent portable music players OR tablet computers. They just took the idea and ran with it. They designed it better and promoted it better, now their brand names are synonymous with the product. It’s not portable tablet computer”, it’s an iPad. There are tons of examples of businesses copying and improving, but they aren’t always as obvious or clear cut. Every single business didn’t suddenly come up with each operational idea by itself. From flexitime to video conferencing, someone came up with these ideas and now they’re commonplace – that means most people borrowed them from somewhere, and many of them will have tweaked and changed how they work in order to improve them.
Learning from competitors is crucial. It’s how the business world works. But it’s important that you try and improve on what you learn and help evolve things. One analogy I like uses the game of chess. If black copies every move white makes, he’ll always be one step behind. That’s why it’s important to both learn and IMPROVE on what your competition are doing. There’s no use being one step behind when you want to be one step ahead.
Copying from the best is natural, and while you might be happy simply using old ideas, you’ll never be the best if you don’t develop what you “borrow” and make it into something better. Analysing what your competition does is important. If you get to the point where you know WHY they make the moves they make, then you’ll be able to develop such a better strategy by yourself.
In today’s business world, it’s easy to get feedback not only on your products but on those of your competitors too. With forums for almost anything, you’ll be able to find people offering their opinion on a wide range of issues, and it’ll often be relevant to your area of business. When I’m struggling to come up with ideas for a new product, I’ll have a look at a few forums that are relevant to my area of business. I’ll often see people complaining about my competitor’s products because they aren’t what was expected or can’t do something that the purchaser wanted. I’ll be able to use these complaints as a base for developing a new product and I’ll know that it’s already got a market, especially if quite a number of people were complaining about the same thing. It’s not straight-up copying because I’m creating something my competitors didn’t do – it’s using their ideas and coming up with something better.
That’s really all it boils down to. You need to learn from your rivals to help your own business grow. Some ideas were once innovative, but are now commonplace amongst every player. You can’t be the best without learning from the current market leaders, but you can’t get to number one without developing your own ideas and improving on what your competitors offer.
5 ways to learn from your rivals (and improve on what they’re doing)
1. Sign up to their mailing lists. You want to know what they’re offering and how they’re doing it.
2. Explore their websites. Make sure that you’re an expert on their product line and marketing efforts. You need to know everything your competitors do, as soon as they do it.
3. Visit them as a customer. Send one of your staff members to the opposition, and be customer. Make notes of their service and product offering, and anything else that could give you an edge.
4. Attend exhibitions and trade shows. Make sure you know everything that’s relevant to your industry, and talk to as many competitors and potential business partners as possible. Trade shows can help you keep in line with the current trends of your market, and it’ll allow you to see new ideas and innovations before they go mainstream. They’re also a great place to network and meet like-minded people.
5. Visit relevant forums to see what your rivals are doing wrong and what their customers want.