How can I use Google and other Web tools to identify and research competitors?
Dear Dave; I am starting a new one of a kind company ... at least I think I'm one of a kind ... how do I find out who else out there might have beat me to the punch? And how do I build a web page to advertise my hopefully one of kind new business?
This is a rather vague question but I'll try to be as helpful as possible with my answer. First off, I have to say that as a management consultant, I am always leery of people who think that they have no competition. With few exceptions, if there aren't already some sort of businesses in the space you're exploring, you need to ask the question why? before you congratulate yourself on coming up with a remarkable innovation.
That isn't to say that you shouldn't bother if there are already companies doing what you want. Not at all! If you can come up with a new or unique angle, price the service/product differently, or even just do a better job of the same thing, there's no reason you can't be a great success.
This all assumes that you know exactly what business you're in, and that's a really important first step. There are lots of people with good ideas that don't actually translate into good businesses. You need to have an idea that will lend itself to producing a revenue stream, for example, because non-income companies are, well, an oddity of the dot-com bubble and nothing more.
One smart way to learn more about focusing your business idea is to read through my tutorial at Startup101 Info entitled Pitching Your Company to Investors. Whether or not you plan on actually raising investment capital, it'll help you clarify your ideas. Then spend some time working on a business plan too, and that site also has another helpful tutorial called Writing a Great Business Plan.
To proceed with a business plan, though, you will need to be able to identify your competitors and, actually, that's what you asked about in the first place! The first approach I would use is to try to imagine that you're a customer, not a competitor, and ask yourself "how would I find out about companies offering what I seek online?" Probably your first stop would be Google, and that's a very good place to mine for competitive intelligence. If you're thinking about, say, being a mobile auto mechanic, then you'd want to search for auto mechanic and your area, or on-site auto mechanic or similar. The key in this kind of searching is to let your mind wander a bit to come up with creative ways of seeking the same thing. Also, don't forget to read the Web sites you find for inspiration on search terms too.
Once you've found some competition - and I'm sure you will - then you should ask yourself whether you have a geographic advantage for local customers. With a mobile mechanic, you obviously need to be pretty close to your customers, but if you're selling a new type of computer firewall, your competitors can be anywhere on Earth.
Identify your competitors, try to isolate their core value proposition (that is, exactly what they are selling and how), then compare that to what you've envisioned for your own business. If you still think you can compete and that your company can have some clear differentiators in the marketplace, then and only then should you start considering a Web site.
And for a business Web site, the subject of a much longer essay, your key task is to quickly, accurately, and pleasantly convey what problem you're solving for your customers. Oh, and do so in a sufficiently compelling way that you convert visitors into customers, get them to pull out their credit card and actually pay.
This is a lot to digest. Check it out, and feel free to pop back with more questions as you proceed. Good luck!
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