While entrepreneurship is mostly about building your own team, one must never lose sight of the fact that your company is not operating in a vacuum. Your industry contains an entire ecosystem of competing groups, thoughts, and initiatives, many of which will be affecting you and your bottom line directly.
Since you can’t exactly anticipate every move they’ll make, it becomes imperative to look outside of your company as much as you can, to keep tabs on what competitors are doing. They’re almost certainly going to be doing it to you once you start making waves, so there’s no time like the present to start surveying the scene.
Read (and Feature in) the Papers
First, subscribe to every industry-related publication you can find, and actually read them when they arrive in your mailbox. It’s the simplest way to stay abreast of the ins and outs of the business. But it shouldn’t stop there. Why be happy flipping through the pages when your company belongs in them?
Ideally, you’ll gain some publication contacts in order to get your own organization some coverage when it’s warranted. There’s no better way to show that you’ve made it, all the while keeping your eyes on the various trends and movements that’ll come to define your business’ environment.
Link Up on LinkedIn (and More)
Speaking of the media, you’ve hopefully already planned on building a robust social media presence for your company.
Don’t just focus on your own posts, though; you’ll want to spend just as much time following and analyzing your competitors. Whatever the competition chooses to post can serve as a useful guide to next steps for your own business. It’s hardly a look inside their books, but the face that they’ll choose to present can reveal strategies to inspire your own, whether that’s outdoing them at their own social strengths or taking advantage of ideas they’re missing.
Though your plan is undoubtedly to outpace the competition, keeping tabs on others can also help prevent you from missing out completely when new movements start catching on within the industry. You may not be the first, but as long as you’re aware of the temperature, you can still give yourself a good shot at being the best.
Prioritize In-Person Meetings
One fantastic way to get out there is to attend any and all industry conferences you can find. There, you’ll be able to actually network with your competitors in a genial environment, see their messaging close up, and maybe even get to tool around with their product demos. As a growing entrepreneur you may have to attend as a visitor for the first few years, but play your cards right and you’ll have a booth before you know it.
Don’t forget that this type of communication is always a two-way street. At first, you’ll be doing mostly listening as a newcomer, but you won’t go far if all you do is absorb others’ info without offering up some of your own. A friendly, open professional relationship/rivalry is built on an understanding that it’s all just business, never personal. If you can maintain a balance between keeping the right things close to the vest and being open and honest about other aspects of your business, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of networking.
In the end, staying aware of the competition is more like socializing than spying. When you’re the new kid in town, you’ll want to make a splash to get on everyone’s radar, but after that is when the real work begins. To truly stand head and shoulders above the rest, you’ll want to know their ways so that you can incorporate and improve on them. It’s not anything untoward, just the cost of doing business.