Originally published in Inc Magazine’s Process Playbook column by Chris Ronzio
Building a business is hard enough without thinking everyone is out to copy you. Fortunately, there is a silver lining.
I love when people send me a text or email about a new competitor of mine that they found.
“Look who’s on Product Hunt today!”
“Have you seen these guys before?”
“This looks similar to what you were talking to me about …”
OK, I actually don’t love it. But when you get past the initial nausea of seeing a close competitor pop up, there is actually a lot to love–and a lot to learn.
Competitors prove you have clear focus.
First of all, if someone is sending you a competitor, it means that they understand what you do well enough to recognize that the competitor does the same thing. When they see that competitor, they’re thinking of you, and that’s a good sign. It means your messaging is clear and your focus is narrow enough for others to grasp onto.
When I had my consulting business, no one ever sent me competitors. Consulting was so ambiguous that it was hard for friends and family to recognize when another company was a direct competitor for me.
But with my current business, Trainual, when people send me other software products that involve documenting and training your systems and processes, the fact that they even notice a similarity and think of me means that they understand what I do.
Competitors are a wealth of great ideas.
When you do find out about a competitor, the next reason it’s a good thing is because you get to click around their website and see how they are targeting your market. It’s like having an outside research and development team working for you completely for free, because what they’re doing so closely relates that what you’re doing.
When I was a college student, I did a quality control internship for the New England Patriots, and I got to secret shop the Patriots organization. Secret shopping your competitors, or at least poking around on their website, is really important. If you don’t know what they’re doing, how are you supposed to compete with them?
Make sure you set up Google alerts to keep an eye out for important changes from your known competitors.
Competitors validate your market.
The third reason you should like seeing competitors is that it validates what you’re doing. In the market, we’re all trying to solve a specific problem, and if you’re not the only one trying to solve that problem, it must mean there are customers to be found. That’s a good sign!
I like the validation that other people are trying to go after the same business because it gives me more confidence that there is a legitimate problem to be solved. Investors like this too; try telling an investor that you have “no competition” and watch their eyes roll.
Competitors help to chase your vision.
At my company, Trainual, our vision is that every company will have an instruction manual for how the business works. It’s a true belief that companies should run on systems and processes.
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates proclaimed that there would be “a computer on every desk and in every home”. But, just like Microsoft wasn’t solely responsible for the realization of that vision, we can’t take 100 percent of the responsibility in pursuing ours.
If there are other businesses out there that are solving your problem in their own way, then you are collectively solving more of that problem for the market, and that’s what it’s all about.
So, if you get sent a competitor, realize that it is a good thing, and try to embrace it.
Even though you want to cringe and get defensive about how much better your company is, if your problem is real and your market is large enough, there is plenty of room for all the fish in the sea. Use your competitors as free resources to refine your own vision, and keep on swimming.