Researching the competition : How do you measure up?

by Karrie Kohlhaas on July 14, 2010

in Anthropology,competitors,Cultivate,Cultural Commentary,Market,Networking,Partnerships,Recommended Reading,Taking Risks

Researching the competition is necessary because you need to know what businesses in your field are doing and see how you measure up, right? Everyone needs to enter into a little competitor analysis from time to time just to stay up on your game. Is that true?

Some sources suggest spying on the competition — driving by their location, shopping their store or calling “in cognito”. You’ve gotta know what they are up to, those conniving business owners!

Yes, I think it’s a good idea to know what other people are doing in your field but keeping a file on them starts to seem a little weird. Being aware of your colleagues can inspire new ideas and even build your confidence. It can help you figure out how you want to position yourself in the marketplace and set yourself apart.

The downside: It seems like everyone has experienced the “stomach drop” or that ZING of adrenaline at finding yourself one up or one down from someone else. Though comparing can be helpful, it can also land you in your own Alice’s Wonderland. Depending on which arbitrary measurements you have set up, you may feel like a tiny defeated bug or a mighty giant. As Alice said, “Being so many sizes in a day is very confusing.” Plus, it’s bad for your adrenal glands.

This reminds me of an incident I had at the pool recently…

I was doing my lap swim at the gym and found myself speeding up to compete with the woman in the next lane. She didn’t know it but we were racing. I gave it a good fight, but this girl had a mean front crawl. She touched the wall before I did and without a care did her fancy flip turn and continued swimming. I felt silly. She was just doing her thing and I was trying to compete with her.  A lap later, I complimented her stroke and asked her for some pointers. She was super nice—not the mega-snob I had imagined her to be. She took several minutes to watch me swim and dissect my stroke, offered great feedback and said I could stop her any time for help. I went back to swimming at my own pace,  swallowed a lot less water and knew I had an ally in the pool.

The small business world is changing; we are seeing a shift from compete to collaborate, from conquer to connect. That’s a good thing. There is plenty of business to go around and we can all help to boost each others’ reputations and feel a little less alone. I challenge you: next time you find yourself playing comparison games, stop comparing and connect. Send an email telling that person what you admire about them. Ask them to coffee. Brainstorm ways to support each other. Connecting and building relationships will build your business a lot faster than slumping down in your chair, lurking with binoculars and a bag of Doritos.

© 2010, Karrie Kohlhaas. All rights reserved.

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Bad blog going around about you, have you read it yet? | ThoughtShot Consulting :: Karrie Kohlhaas. Grow Your Business. Smarter.
October 15, 2011 at 11:59 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Dunn July 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm


What a refreshingly honest post! Life got so incredibly much better for me when I not only stopped looking over my shoulder, but actually invited my “competitors” into my circle. I put competitors in quotes because they are all my friends now.

Social media has helped to foster the collaborative spirit in many ways. My circle of copywriter friends are the sources of inspiration. We actually refer back and forth and we learn so much from each other. And our businesses continue to grow.

The only thing for me that lingers is the “book jealousy.” I still have a twinge of envy when I see a writer friend with a book launch. But you know what? I just need to give myself a swift kick in the butt and write my own. Problem solved!

Thank you for this perceptive post. You have inspired me.


Jed Share September 25, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Judy’s comment above is also wonderful. I agree with you both, and appreciate your honesty and clarity.


Suzette Sommer July 14, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I always laugh when I see those huge groups of “famous” people doing mega-seminars together, you know the ones where there are twenty lines of profile photos with a zillion names? It just reminds me how hard people struggle in our world to be noticed, to be “significant,” to get “their” message out. ( Yawn.)

We all love to be successful, to “win” at what we do, to be noticed and acknowledged. But, no matter how “big” someone is in one arena, it is just one arena. Even the most famous people are strangers to billions on earth.

I think Muhammad Ali is the best known man, ever on earth. Surprised?

Meaningful, effective connections with our own clients and friends, good relations with our families, trust and respect from people who really know us:
that’s a way to measure ourselves. Like you say, the rest is so arbitrary.


Karrie Kohlhaas July 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Judy and Jed. Book jealousy is a fun one, isn’t it? I have come to see those twinges and pangs as indicators of what I see myself doing in the future. Some people say we are all just mirrors for each other. Maybe that’s become cliché but it’s helpful when I find myself in twisted thinking. Glad to hear you have found community in those you once viewed as competitors. Isn’t it a relief?!


melody biringer July 15, 2010 at 12:35 am

love love love the video! so artsy, real and fun!


philip v. kohlhaas July 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm

It depends on how you define competition. If you only define it as other people who offer similar services/products it may be useful to collaborate. However, the public has a finite supply of money so all businesses who compete for that money are in competition with each other. My advice is to closely observe your customer’s needs/wants for ongoing change, improvement and opportunity. There was a time when most men wore hats with suits, Then in 1960 President John F. Kennedy thought he looked better without a hat. He single handledly freed most other men from wearing a hat because they agreed with him. The hat industry took a nose dive and has never recovered. The only hats now are baseball caps and Western style hats. The only men wearing hats with suits are those that are bald or balding. The same thing is happening to men’s ties which are no longer required except at private clubs and a few swanky restaurants. If the restaurants want to stay in business they will eventually relent on a tie being required. My point is that nothing stays the same or at least not in the same form. Staying connected with your customer’s needs wants is the most rational action. If you are really effective in doing your job your competition will copy you but they will not catchup. If you copy them you will have the same hurdle. The customer’s ongoing needs and wants are best identified by really knowing your customer. If your competitor is charging less then he knows what his service/product is worth. You can serve the customer by being unique, innovative and informed.


Karrie Kohlhaas December 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Many great points, philip! I agree that the goal is not to copy your competitors (although, some would argue that Microsoft and others have made off quite well copying Apple in some areas) but it’s still a good idea to look at them as human beings and possibly even friends instead of seeing them as a threat to your existence.

I believe there’s enough to go around for everyone and lots of room for mutually beneficial collaboration. That said, I agree that it is wise to look closely at what others are doing and to seek out more innovative opportunity areas (I’d say look at what they are not doing–how you can meet a need they are not meeting) as long as looking at them does not trigger some kind of neurotic response that causes you to compare and either feel one up or one down from them (not so helpful to motivation, confidence or collaborative opportunities).

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Loved your detailed examples! I didn’t realize that about President Kennedy!


empresas de consultoria June 1, 2011 at 10:35 am

“love love love the video! so artsy, real and fun!” Totally agree with Melody!


Karrie Kohlhaas June 3, 2011 at 12:16 am

Thanks Michel! (I checked out your site but my español is a bit rusty these days living in Seattle.) Glad you liked the video! Definitely not a planned piece. We came across that strange sculpture in the park and it already had the names on it. I was totally on the spot but had a lot of fun with it. Thanks for the note, it makes me think I need to make more videos. It’s scary but in an exhilarating sort of way. Hope you will stop by again.


Lara Feltin November 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm

(How’d I miss this post.) I also love love love the video — AND this line: “I went back to swimming at my own pace, swallowed a lot less water and knew I had an ally in the pool.” Nicely done.


Karrie Kohlhaas December 28, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Lara, I really hate swallowing pool water!


Felipe December 18, 2011 at 7:31 pm

This is the second article I read today about inviting your competition to a coffee. There are many ways to compare yourself to others, or your business to others. Statistics, depending on who does it, are a valuable resource to compare your business. My closer competitor is 4 hours away by airplane so I don’t think that I will be able to invite him for a coffee, but I will send him an email and let him know that I appreciate what he’s doing to improve the opportunities of children to learn a new language for sure.
Thanks for the reminder Karrie


Karrie Kohlhaas December 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Felipe, consider asking your more remote colleague/competitor to coffee on Skype. A kind note is also thoughtful if you aren’t up for meeting him or her yet but there’s nothing like having a live interaction, even if it’s online. I think it builds relationships faster to have a back and forth conversation in real time. Who knows, maybe there’s a way you can collaborate or sell each others’ products online.


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