When you are starting out as a freelancer or a home-based business owner, it’s natural to take a peek at the competition and maybe even adopt a negative view of their product and service offerings – perhaps even regarding them as a threat to the very existence of your business. As the saying goes “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Competitors are not the “enemy” though. They can be, for freelancers in particular, your best friend. Okay, maybe “best friend” is an overstatement, but you can certainly benefit by adopting a different attitude toward those you compete with.
Here’s how you can benefit from the competition:
Competitors Have Walked in Your Shoes
Your competitor started much as you did: with equal servings of ideas and passion. They, like you, felt they had something to offer customers. This alone makes them more like you than you may want to admit. If you start with an attitude that a competitor is a threat to be vanquished, you’ll focus on them and not how you run your business or serve your customers. You’ll let their success (or failure) color your decisions. If you consider that competitors may have something to offer you, your outlook changes. They are no longer a threat, but a teacher, a harbinger, and even dare I say, a comrade in arms.
Freelance Competition May Have Something to Teach You
A freelance competitor can show you many things about your business – from how to market products or services to how to relate to customers. If you are just starting out as a freelancer (or even if you’ve been freelancing for a while), make it a point to analyze the competition, because they have a lot to teach you.
Flareapps.com small business tip #034Analyze Competition. They are Your Teacher, Not the Enemy
When starting out as a freelancer, or even if you’ve been up and running for some time, analyze your competitors, by checking out:
- Competitor websites
Learn from your competitors’ websites. Take a very close look at as many as you can and document what you see using screen captures and your thoughts. When analyzing a competitor’s website, think about how they are presenting themselves and what they are presenting. Pay particular attention to competitors who have been in business for some time. They will have gone through the growing pains all freelancers go through and will have eliminated and tailored their offerings because time has taught them what works. What do you feel about the web design? Can you adopt elements (without copying)? Can you do it better? Is it mobile friendly (responsively designed)? How are products or services organized in the site structure/navigation? Are there testimonials? Can you easily find contact information? Do they have a contact form, Skype name, links to their social media accounts?
- Website content writing
Read your competitors’ website copy. How is the writing? Does it have focus? Does it lead with the benefits of services or products? Is it difficult to read or succinct? Are they chunking information into digestible pieces and using headings as sign posts? Can visitors easily find what they are looking for?
- How competitors interact with customers
Are your competitors active on social media or industry forums? Does their online presence include discussion? Are they merely blasting social media with marketing spiel or promos, or do their posts encourage interaction?
- Marketing collateral and calls to action
Do your competitors have marketing material that speaks to their customers or customer sub-groups? Is it helpful to customers? Are they giving away free tips, advice, or helpful PDF downloads to attract visitors? Do they have a newsletter signup, free tips signup, or free consultation signup?
Competitors May Show You What Customers Want
Your competitors may show you or tell you what customers want. Watch for competitors offering new services and products. Sign up for their newsletters. Read what they are saying on blogs and in social media. They may discuss services or products they will be offering in the future. If you aren’t offering these products or services, should you be?
A Competitor’s Existence May Mean a Healthy Market
In freelancing, you may instinctively feel that competition is a bad thing. Although it’s true that the competition may be competing for the same dollar, the existence of competition may also mean there is a healthy market and enough to go around.
Flareapps.com small business tip #035Establish a Friendly Relationship with Competitors to Increase Referrals
This is where changing your mindset about “the competition” may be the most important lesson a freelancer can learn. Whether you are a web designer, graphic designer, developer, writer, consultant, accountant, or whatever, establishing a friendly relationship with competitors may mean more money in the bank and a growing list of clientele.
Every freelancer, you and your competition, can’t (or doesn’t want to) take on every job that comes their way. Your competition may be too busy, or would just rather not do some types of work. The same will be true for you. Instead of considering other freelancers in your industry as competition, think of them as colleagues. After visiting competitor’s websites, choose a handful whose work you admire and who serve the same customers. Send a friendly email or call, suggesting an informal referral arrangement. Let them know that you are willing to refer them any business that comes your way when you are either too busy to take it on or think that they’d be a better fit. Explain that if they do the same, you’d be happy to have an informal referral arrangement.
You might also consider setting up a more formal referral agreement. If they refer business to you that lands you some work, they get a referral fee. If you refer them business that results in work, you get a referral fee.
As a freelancer or home-based business person, shifting your perception of competitors may benefit your business in many ways. While this “competitor-to-colleague” shift won’t work for everyone, it will work for many in the freelance world. When you are starting out, you need all the help you can get. We built Flare accounting software for small businesses and freelancers. Not only will Flare do all that you need (create and send invoices online, create customer quotes, track business expenses, and bank transactions) it also has some pretty cool features – like online budgeting – to help you plan for profit.
Be sure to check out our other freelancer and small business tips. Happy freelancing!