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  • Diana Schneidman

Belief in yourself trumps admiration for competitors

Skill and confidence are an unconquered army.

  • George Herbert

Understanding the competition is a very good thing . . . maybe.

We can pick up product and marketing tips and use what we learn from others to develop our competitive edge.

But we also risk using what we learn to chip away at our own self-confidence.

It has happened to me.

Too much competitor research is dangerous. You risk over-focusing on their strengths. And worse yet, you risk overlooking your own strengths.

Believing in yourself is much more powerful than comparing yourself to others . . . especially if you are subject to twinges of intimidation.

You’ve got to remember when you are reading a competitor’s website and marketing copy or hearing about them from your network, that you and those who recommend them to you are only seeing the final product. You can’t see the deliberation and the uncertainties behind the polished message. You can’t see how many websites and other marketing efforts over the years have preceded the current version.

So it looks like these people really have it together.

As you develop your business, your own marketing tools and verbal messages will also become more polished until when you read or hear them, you’ll be amazed that it’s you.

It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror with party makeup when you are used to seeing yourself when you drag yourself out of bed in the morning.

The problem is more intense when you are bitten by the copy-envy bug. Everything you write about yourself, from tagline to contact info, feels inferior to what they have written. You keep rereading theirs and you lose sight of how to improve your own without simply stealing their stuff.

Another problem with studying the competition is that you can unduly focus on one or two competitors. Just because a few people cross your own radar more frequently—they may live near you or belong to the same professional club—does not mean they have cornered the market.

I’ll read listings of top international bloggers and top businesses and I’m always surprised by how many names near the top of the list I have never heard of. It’s because the internet covers the globe and the globe is a pretty big place. It’s got room for a lot of talented people and businesses.

This is even truer with smaller practices, including solopro practices. The individual you have selected as your toughest competitor is more than likely not that well known or well established. And even if they’re at the top of the profession, they don’t have all the business pinned down.

There’s another question you need to answer: Are they as good as they say they are? Lots of experts look wonderful in print but they are not as responsive as you would imagine in real life.

Some of them are so busy (that marketing stuff works!) that they are not keeping up with the work and staying in close contact with customers and prospects. Or they may not be so busy but they are still not strong on follow-up.

I was once preparing to contact a certain web designer. When I got to his contact page, it said that he would get back to me sometime in the future but “patience is a virtue.” Honest!

I never followed through with my inquiry and he has since removed that line from his website. Perhaps he has become impatient for business?

The answer

The answer is to spend less time focusing on the competition and how you can differentiate yourself and to spend more time understanding your unique strengths.

Studying the competition may provide hints on how to improve your business and your marketing.

But studying your own positives puts you in touch with the power of what you offer. It suggests more meaningful ways to improve your business and its marketing and inspires you to move forward.

Plus, self-understanding builds your self-esteem, helping you sell your abilities and your services more easily and more effectively.

Remember that while your solopro practice may be new, you have years of on-the-job experience (especially if you follow my advice to pursue assignments similar to your last good job). This experience in doing the work is much more significant than the recent date you hung out the virtual shingle.

Originally posted 12-15-09

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