In the war with competitors, the more you know about them, the better!
“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” ~ SUN TZU – Art of War
What inspired me in writing and connecting this article to Sun Tzu’s Art of War was the quote above. Yes, I know how there’ve been a lot of articles on how professional life is like a war with your competitors, but rest assured, this is not one of them!
This is an article that’ll give a few hints on how to win the entrepreneurial INNER challenges first so that you can become contender-worthy in your online shopping market. These are only a few of the lessons I’ve been too stubborn as to learn on my own when I could have open my eyes wider and learn them from other people around; people who had already been through them or in the process of discovering them – peers or “competitors”.
The point is that we’re poorly aware of our competition. So, again, don’t be shy – take a peek into other shop owners’ businesses. Learning from them is definitely going to save a lot of your time. Research is a pain in the arse, sometimes, indeed. But, stretch your imagination for a bit and look at it as a book of stories.
Also, get ready to dust off your own version of the “Art of War” to go through it (again). Maybe, this time, you might just see things in a totally different light.
Keep The End Goal In Mind
Victorious Warriors win first and then go to war, while Defeated Warriors go to war first and then seek to win
The Story: I still remember how blown away I was about Steven Covey’s “Begin with the end in your mind” advice from his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book. I learned what that meant back in the days when I was designing learning programs. At the beginning, I used to design learning sessions first and set the goals afterward. Crazy, isn’t it?! *smile (I still don’t think that’s wrong) Because without knowing it, I was setting some sort of goals – expectations, only not the best ones. You see?! When I understood that I had the assumptions in mind all the time, I figured out why you need your end IN the mind (right there with the goals). When you know IT, you’re aware of IT. It sounds obvious, but is it, really?
Core Inner Challenge: In this case, do I stay present despite my monkey mind (my already repetitive mental patterns) or do I let it create or dig up all sorts of scenarios?
To learn how to start with the end in your mind, look for this in your competitors:
- Their identity – their WHY and WHAT – their vision and mission on this market. Besides giving you an example, it also points out to what you don’t want to do or another kind of gaps (in the need you both aim to satisfy) that you can tackle.
- E.g.: HubSpot’s 12 Truly Inspiring Company Vision and Mission Statement Examples and I bet there are a lot more articles like this.
Focus On One Thing At A Time
If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak
The Story: I have a best friend who’s a webmaster. Brilliant guy, I’m telling you. In time, he developed a few sites and tried to work on all of them. At the same time. By himself. Besides being worn out and always tired, he did grow all of them, only very slow and with a lot of stress-added-value. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am aware there are people out there juggling dozens of businesses. Only not themselves. And not all at the same time. Focus gives you awareness and awareness, in its turn, adds value.
Core inner Challenge: Do I give in to my control freak needs and let everything overwhelm me or do I let go and focus on one thing at a time?
To learn how to focus on one thing at a time, look for this in your competitors:
- For starters, check Quantcast or Alexa for demographics. They can help with targeting your ideal customer. They paint a clearer picture of your audience and hint you on how to reach them through content.
- Another great resource for understanding customer needs is Reddit. For sure, you’re already aware how it points us what the buzz is about and detailed insight into customers’ necessities and complaints.
- How they approach their projects – Identify their main projects and the way they handle them.
- The main focus of any online shop is the user. So, keep your eyes on the user experience your competitors offer: whether their website professionally designed or not, whether they have an easy, comfortable user experience, whether their site is easy or hard to navigate, how cluttered it is, whether it has too many calls to action or not, whether they have product descriptions, pictures, videos, social proof reviews, their checkout process.
Tactics Make (Or Break) Your Strategy
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
The Story: In AIESEC, the organization I activated in as a student, we were supposed to apply for project coordination; and there was an entire application process to go through. One of the steps was strategy presentation. Now, I absolutely LOVE strategizing and thought this was the easy step. So I’d gotten the vote of confidence to coordinating the Spring Recruitment – which ended up to be a total fail. (I remember holding a presentation for 3 people… instead of the planned 50; man, not even 1%) Years later I understood why each person who had heard my strategy pointed out that I didn’t have the HOW.
If you take a close look you’ll see that though my only HOW column is in the Processes Management, that’s not HOW it’s the WHAT!
Core inner Challenge: Do I clearly state out stuff to make sure I know what I’m in for, or do I assume I know and all’s good?
To learn how to clearly state your tactics, look for this in your competitors:
- What’s their WBDS (Work BreakDown Structure) to which it’s obviously very difficult to have access, but you can find out what their direction for the year is and then match it with their external events calendar, or even more…
- Benchmark their online activity – subscribe to their newsletter, see what they are sharing online (content plan, what do they post on their blog, the times they post, the keywords they use), what’s their cart abandonment strategy (if in need, we have one here for you). Their tactics are everything you see them doing.
Align Efforts & Resources
One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.
The Story: What I’m trying to say has everything to do with timing efforts and resources. When I was extremely young, I peaked in regarding my entrepreneurial endeavors. I was back in my childhood neighborhood when I and my best friend back then had discovered a new need. It was summer and people were thirsty all the time. We used to steal grapes, so since I didn’t really like them (contrary to popular beliefs, summer grapes ARE sour) we decided to sweeten the grapes. But we figured that it wasn’t the grapes themselves, but the juice that was actually sour. So, we came up with squeezing it out, sweetening it and then selling it to people cold. How cool was that?! Entrepreneurial spirit at its best, right there, I’m telling ya! But when the time came to go get another charge of grapes for the new production cycle, we were chased away by an angry neighbor who wasn’t happy about us stealing the fruits. And in those times, paying for them was not an option. We knew exactly what we had to do, but we weren’t able because had no provider to work with on our terms.
Core Inner Challenge: When pissed off about not having the resources, do I quit, postpone or get creative?
To learn how to spot the perfect time to align efforts with resources, look for this in your competitors:
- Moments when they enlarged their team or changed their vision or went/organized an external event – how did they handle it?
There’s Always A Way To Get What You Want
Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.
The Story: Again, in AIESEC, I spent 2 or 3 years dreaming about how I’m gonna coordinate the National Team of Trainers one day. So, the day came and I went for it (a more complicated application process). Obviously, I didn’t get it, so at the moment, I decided to set for what then seemed to be the “next best thing” – just part of the team. But that didn’t work out for me and I ended up quitting 6 months later, anyhow. Indifferent of that the truth was, MY truth was – that I didn’t have anything to win or learn from that experience. So, I chose not to see ANY reason to even try to enjoy the experience at all.
Core Inner Challenge: Do I settle for less because I don’t admit to myself that I deserve what I dream of or do I believe in myself and go for what I really want?
To learn how to find the way to get what you want, look for this in your competitors: >
- You usually get inspiration by watching people’s beginnings. That’s when they were most limited by lack of resources. We get the most creative when we’re at our most reduced circumstances. For this kind of stories – read their blog (for articles such as this one) or track guest posts.
You Can’t Choose Your Competitors…Just Your Battles
He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
The Story: Went on a camp once with a group of fellow people. Terrible accommodation: awfully smelling toilets, never enough hot water for all of us, uncomfortable beds, poor cleaning, etc. All of it was disappointing, but we were young; what did we care? Despite all that, at one point, the landlady comes to “talk” and starts yelling for who knows what reason? But, I will always remember our leader’s reaction – she gradually lowered her voice until she was almost whispering. So, the mad lady had to use a proper tone.
Core Inner Challenge: Do I proudly and foolishly hold on to grudges that make no more sense anymore or do I let go?
To learn how to choose your battles, look for this in your competitors:
- Spyfu is a tool that you can use to tell you what are your competitors’ most profitable keywords and ads; you can also try iSpionage for the same functionalities.
- Choosing your battles has to do with your team and culture. The team is actually the set of skills you have at your disposal to “get what you want”.
- Look out for you competitors’ company culture – whether they are solo-preneurs or they have a team on board, their recruiting programs, the way they address values, motivation, training and retention
Never Loose Faith
In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.
The Story: I think it was 2009. I was heading to a conference in Ukraine. Chernowitz, to be more exact – a border place where older people could speak Romanian (as it used to be a Romanian town) but wouldn’t and younger people could speak English, but wouldn’t. So, there I was at the Chernowitz train station, heading to Ternopil. Clerks didn’t speak English either. Had tried talking to a few people, but I could get no clue as to where I was supposed to go. Not being able to read the Cyrillic alphabet was helping more than a ton. NOT. And I had no coverage or roaming – so I couldn’t call anyone. Nor did I have an internet connection on my phone back then. Literally, I think there were 5 people, at most, who knew where I was. None of them was family. I was terrified. I’m laughing now, but my solution in that overwhelming chaos was to sit down in the middle of the train station and cry it out to clear my mind so I could think straight again. It turned out to be a brilliant solution because moments later this amazing truck driver who knew a bit of English saved me by getting me on the right bus to Ternopil. Man, was I grateful.
P.S.: Later on, I had found out that the bus I was supposed to be on in the first place had crashed.
Core Inner Challenge: When everything seems to be fall apart around me – Do I freak out or do I pause? If I learned something that day is that there’s always A WAY…
To learn how to never lose faith, look for this in your competitors:
- Culture Statement – that’s what’ll take them through the stormy times
Outsmart Your Competitors By Creating Contexts
When one treats people with benevolence, justice and righteousness, and reposes confidence in them, the army will be united in mind and all will be happy to serve their leaders.
The Story: Ever since I’ve met my boss for the first time we had a lot of talks about teams and leading people. In this area, I noticed how she always mentioned two main topics: how she feels responsible for each and every one of them and how organizational culture is incredibly important. But what I always highly appreciated was how she continuously asked: “Do you enjoy what you’re doing?”; or how in the midst of hardships she would still twist and turn to plan our team building; or how she would always showcase doing the right thing; or how she’d always give me a pat on the back for everything I’d done (no matter how much time I took to a task); or how she’s paying attention all the time and knows the details about what we like or not, or our name days.
Core Inner Challenge: Leaders deal with contexts. Their number one task is to create a safe environment – one based on benevolence, justice, righteousness, and self-confidence, isn’t it? – in which their team members feel free to be who they really are to the maximum of their potential. The question then, is Do I focus on doing the jobs myself or on creating the safe environment for my team to unfold and develop?
To learn how to do deal with contexts, look for this in your competitors:
- To check out context at the beginning, use SimilarWeb. It displays global rankings, traffic overviews, searches, social reach, ads, website content and similar sites. Moat is an attention analytics tool that also helps you stay aware of competitor display ads.
- What we don’t really realize is how a leader’s personality reflects not into his/her business alone, but in the external environment as well. So, handling the outer environment tells us a lot about how to deal with frameworks. Pay attention to your competitors’ PR: the way they handle public relations, whether they write on other blogs or not, whether they distribute press releases, etc.
Do It For The Right Reasons
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The Story: One of my dearest best friends started her entrepreneurial journey one summer in high school. She began with a 2 feet corner in her mom’s shop. Next summer she extended for half-a-store. Then opened her own booth and then, managed her own alimentary store, and then she opened a business to personalize products. She’s now coordinating a totally different IT company that sells online services, but she started out with small steps and was not afraid to drop each one of the activities she was doing when the contexts were asking for it.
Core inner Challenge: We usually have this redundancy towards letting go of what isn’t good for us anymore. So, the inner battle is about whether to proudly try it myself so I can brand what’s already been done, or humbly learn something new?
To learn how to do things for the right reasons, look for this in your competitors:
- This goes for both the beginning and the later on. For your start, check Amazon & ClickBank to see who are your direct competitors exactly. On Amazon, check the popular items there and read 1-3 star reviews so that you can deliver a better product. On ClickBank you could search by gravity to see what’s profitable.
- On the long run, though, the reasons for which you do one thing or another appear in your approach to social responsibility, because, in the end, you’re serving a need; which means you’re doing it for the community, not just for money. So, look out for the company’s CSR strategy – if any, your competitive online store’s CSR strategy can be a lighthouse for your own.
Competitors Are Not Your Enemies
There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen.
The Story: I haven’t yet found the resources to write more about this, but it was my first lesson here, at AYG Romania. I have this coworker. Pretty cool, lovely fella’. We were working together on this task and weren’t sure of when to program some Facebook posts. So, his first instinct was to ask our other coworkers. That’s when I started learning about validation and now I don’t really write anything about the company without validating it in our office first. (or without asking everybody to fill in these cute and fuzzy mini surveys that they absolutely hate… *laugh)
Core Inner Challenge: Two heads seem to be smarter than one. Do I focus on myself and my opinion only (because I stubbornly know that I can make it) or do I still know that I can make it on my own, but choose to take joy in diversity and “the power of the people”?
To learn how to work together with your competitors, look for this in them:
- The events your already established competitors organize together or whether they publish guest posts one another, or if they give each other OPC credit, etc.
The point is that all those lessons are out there. All those examples, all the details. You can learn a lot from your competitors and all the patterns you can identify in what they’re offering.
I know you all have this kind of stories from when you were kids or teenagers. Share the tough stories together with the lessons you learned there in the comments below. So, let’s go down memory lane and have a blast together… Remember – two minds are better than one? *wink