You Don’t Need to Run from Online Competition

Is your company or business in a competitive industry, is there any way not to be? Are you thinking about moving into a specific niche market that is already saturated? You don’t always have to just move on to something else if the field or topic you are interested in proves to be a very competitive arena. You may have to do things better, be unique, and operate more efficiently than the online competition, but you don’t have to automatically make the decision to leave for a less competitive area.

Your business may have the talents and skills to run with the competition, survive, and be successful. Usually, at least in the free market world, you already have competition because you have more than one entity providing the same product or service, so there is probably room for one more.

Keep in mind, success in a competitive market may not be the “number one” spot. Many retail businesses are successful and are not Wal-Mart, so be careful how you set your goals and measure your success. In this article we are going to look at a few ways to compete in an already competitive field.

What are the barriers for entry?

Before you actually enter into a competitive field for the first time you really do need to look at what the barriers to entry might be for your company or website. Do a quick analysis of what it takes to get into a particular niche market, and be honest with yourself or your company about what you find. You might find that you really don’t want to take the time or energy required to be competitive in that market anyway. If this is the case, you have lost nothing (nor risked anything) and there is no need to advance any further. Just stop now and find an article on how to run a successful online business like, 10 Steps to a 7 Figure Income From Your Site, and then come back and read how to compete with the competition.

If you can compete, you have work to do: start working on some lead generation techniques, make a business and marketing plan, and of course, check out the competition. I received an email recently from a gentleman in Australia who had developed a fairly high traffic site and his last post said, for various reasons, he was shutting down the site and would not continue that particular entity. Seeing a well developed site with good rankings all around disappear was a waste, to me. A waste of a good asset, time, and not to mention money spent. So I emailed him and asked if he would consider selling the website instead. His response was interesting.

Scott, I have no intention of selling any asset. You have got great content however the SEO blogosphere is really crowded Regards, Scott wxyz

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to sell the website to me, I understand that, it was his initial reaction that it’s “really crowded” in SEO. Besides misinterpreting my blog’s focus, it made me think. Should I just quit now then? E-commerce and user friendly storefront applications like Yahoo Stores, ProStores, Miva Merchant, and several others make the financial barriers affordable for just about any business. So if the barriers are not totally financial, lets look at some others.

  • Is this a totally saturated market? Can it handle “one more”?
  • Can you afford the marketing, promotion, development, staff?
  • Do you REALLY have the time needed to make this a successful project?
  • What ethical practices will you have to spend time on to be seen by Google, Yahoo! and Bing?
  • How big is the top, and who are the players?
  • Do you honestly know what you are doing, i.e. do you have the experience and know-how required?

Perhaps some people or businesses should be more honest with themselves and get out while the getting is good. But if you have a competitive spirit and understand the barriers to entry, and are willing to climb those barriers, dive in and get started. The longer you wait, the more ground you’ll lose to the competition.

Learn from the industry leaders

The industry leaders got to be the leaders for various reasons, but one might be that they know what they are doing. It is really amazing how much you can learn in any particular niche market by how the leaders of that market run their businesses. Here’s a list of things to do to locate and learn from the industry leaders:

  • Find out who the leaders are and how long they have been involved in the field of interest. By no means should you ever just copy what they are doing and call that your business strategy (see be unique below). That may work for the white-labels in the grocery store but in the world of online business it can quickly make you the target of a more powerful entity, and your reputation will probably be a less favorable one in the long run. Learn, but don’t copy.
  • Make a study of these companies and find out everything you can (legally) about who they are and how they operate. This will give you further information about step number one above and you may find you really can’t compete, or it may reveal a vacancy that needs to be filled. It will also give you some insight on what to prepare for in the coming months.
  • Make a list and do some research. If you don’t do it on a spreadsheet, at least do it in your head. Find the top 10 or 20 companies you believe will be in direct competition with your plans. Write down what you think their strengths and weaknesses are and how you can improve on those weaknesses you find. Do a Google or Yahoo search and find out what you can. Not just the normal rigmarole, find those advanced search features and do as in depth of a search as possible and add to your list. There are many good tools online to help with competition research. Use Google Alerts to stay up to date with what is going on in the trenches.

Network with the online competition

Just because you’re in competition (or even perceived competition) doesn’t mean you are going to be hated, should hate the other businesses, or even feel any animosity or jealousy towards the competition. That will probably get you nowhere and will just make you miserable. Develop some friendships, or at least acquaintances, with the competition. You might be surprised by the response.

Several years ago when I got involved in an industry I knew nothing about, the first thing I did was go around to every business owner I could find and do an informal meet and greet. Our business was product based, geared towards 10-20 national conventions a year, so getting to know the competition on a first hand basis was almost a requirement, and it worked. I am not going to say that they just handed over all their secrets but you would be amazed at how much information the competition will freely give out if you just start a dialogue and listen. With an online business this may be commenting on their blog articles, sending an email in response to something on their site, or even meeting up with them at a convention and just introducing yourself and your company.

I made some good friends with my direct competition and more often than not, you can help each other out when needed. So don’t be afraid to network with the competition, if not for any other reason than to say, here I am and I am not going anywhere either. Don’t go in overzealous – you are an outsider to them and cultivating a relationship with another business takes time.

Develop your own style, be unique

As noted above, you should be a unique entry into that niche market. In case you haven’t noticed, there is already a ProBlogger, a Technorati, and an eBay, so why try to copy, or even emulate them? Sometimes there is a great need for improving a known business or product. Ask Overstock how that whole eBay competition thing is going. You don’t need to be an exact copy of something that already exists. There may be room for one more, but there might not be room for one more exact copy.

Develop your own business style and don’t worry about being an exact copy, that will make things worse. You should know who the competition is, you should know generally how they operate, and then you should do your own thing and not worry about what they do. Over the past 10-15 years I have developed a few new products and brought them from a thought in my head to a manufactured item that our company could sell. Part of product development is working to brand that product. What is the name going to be, the packaging, a logo and so on. Because this particular product was going to be sold at conventions all across the country, it would be seen by attendees walking by a vendor’s booth in a crowded hall of sometimes 500-600 different vendors. So the packaging had to stand out. I took some squares of Astrobright paper (the neon colored papers) in all different colors and with my eyes shut, threw them on the floor. When I opened my eyes I picked the very first color that I saw, a very bright neon yellow, and this became the trademark color buyers looked for when they walked the crowded floor. It stood out among a sea of browns and earth tones and even if a buyer didn’t know what the product was, it caught his or her eye and drew them into the booth. Learn to develop your own style and you will be rewarded by standing out among a crowded field of earth tones.

Stay focused and be positive

It can be very easy to get discouraged when entering a new field or niche market. The competition has been doing this a much longer time, they have developed relationships you don’t have, traffic you can’t generate, and revenue you only wish to achieve. Set some short term and long term goals and try to stick by them. Don’t worry about the fact that you can’t directly compete yet, that takes time. Try to stay as positive as you can and focus on the job at hand. For those of us who are never satisfied, it can be a challenge to stay focused. Whatever short term goal we reach should have been higher and whenever we do reach that goal, we have already looked at why we didn’t reach the one above instead. Do you watch any of those semi-crazy people in May climbing Mount Everest? They can not go immediately from base camp to the summit. They start at Base Camp, and there are several camps along the way to the top where they have to stop and acclimate, sometimes for weeks, before moving on to the next camp. Focus on that next camp and don’t worry about the top until it is time. Even Google didn’t become the monster they are overnight. They couldn’t even spell Googol (a math term for 1 followed by 100 zeros) and ended up spelling it with a “gle” instead. They were looking at branding – not how do we take over the world and beat Microsoft and Yahoo (at least not the first day).

Be your own “main” competition

This may be the easiest step to accomplish, at least it usually is for me. Now that you know who the competition is, what they do, and how they operate, forget about them and get better than yourself. I can always seem to shoot myself in the foot given enough time and space, but I also compete harder internally than I do when looking at others. Review what you are doing from time to time and grade yourself. Where can you improve and where did you screw up? Some of us learn more when we screw up than when we succeed. Don’t make a mistake and fail to learn from it. The worst thing is repeating a known mistake over and over again.

Who do you consider your main competitor(s)? This might sound like a cop out of an answer – but I don’t really consider any blog to be a competitor – not because they are not good but because I consider them all to be blogs that I’m a fan of, learn from, partner with and be inspired by. You can often be your best and worst competition. I try to remind myself that the only person I need to get better than is myself, and most of the time that is hard enough.

Summary

There are times when you can look at a new niche market and decide it really isn’t a good match for your company, but don’t automatically make the decision to not enter a market just because the competition is strong. You may get discouraged at first, but with some good planning and perseverance your business can become a success in a crowded niche market along with many other long time players. Learn what you can from the leaders in the marketplace, develop your own brand and unique business style and stay focused on the goal at hand. Just because a particular field is competitive doesn’t mean you have to turn tail and run. What are the biggest challenges your company faces with online competition? Does it effect how you run your business? Leave a comment and let us know.