Whatever industry you operate in, you are going to have competition. Part of your own success will depend on how competitive you are and how successful you are at getting people to choose your business over your customers.

Part of getting to the top involves understanding your competition, so how can you do this? Here are some of the main things you need to know about your competition in order to get ahead of them.

Identify the competition

The first step is to find out exactly who your competition is. You probably already have a good idea about this, but if not, make sure you find out.

Carry out research online via search engines, forums, and blogs. Read the latest industry news, and find out about not only the established competition but also the newcomers on the scene. Read guest blogs that link back to new businesses and keep details of them in a file.

Understand what they do

Now you know who the competition is, you have to find out exactly what they do, including the products and services they provide. This involves getting ideas and inspiration, and finding out which direction your competitors are planning to go in the future.

You can research the competition through reading their blog posts and social media updates, listening to them talk at networking events, and reading media reports to gather intelligence. This is important so you can make sure you are going to remain competitive in the future and differentiate your business.

You should also ask yourself how your products and services differ from theirs. Do you offer the same as they do? Are yours superior? Also keep a record of the prices they charge, which is essential. Do they provide better products at a lower cost? If so, how?

How do they differ from you?

This is the essential information. You know what they provide, but how are they different? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Go undercover to find out by posing as a customer. Find out how they treat you. Is their customer service better than yours?

Research their reputation

Reputation is so important for a business, no matter the industry. From tech startups to Jacksonville car accident lawyers, reputation matters. Keep a track of their reputation just as you do your own. What is being said about them? Are they getting lots of good or bad PR?

You can also track their reputation on social media by following mentions of their company name with a tool like Social Mention. Find out what people are saying about them, including the positive and negative things they say.

Understand the culture

Go even deeper to find out more about what goes on inside the company. Understanding the corporate culture can help you to understand how to compete more effectively. Research their job applications, their senior management, charities they support, the sorts of people they hire, and how much they value their employees. Learn from this, and consider improving your own corporate culture to attract the best employees.

Keep an eye on your competition

Always make an effort to keep an eye on your competition. By understanding what they do, how they differ, how they treat their employees, and researching their reputation, you can get an edge when it comes to competing with them. You can then make improvements to your own business, products, culture, and reputation to make sure you are the first in your industry.

Toby Finch is a small business consultant who works with small and micro businesses as well as start-ups. He contributes to small business blogs when time permits.