In the spring I hired a designer to create my new WordPress site. Once I’d signed the contract and paid the deposit, she sent me an in-depth survey to help us both drill down to how I really wanted my new website to function. Some parts of the survey were fun, like telling the story of how my business has developed over time and creating a Pinterest board of the blog designs, logos, and colors I’m drawn to most. And some parts were tedious, like sifting through my posts to determine what categories they fit into so that I could choose what goes in the navigation bar. But one part of the survey made me seriously uncomfortable. She asked me to list my top three competitors. “Name three businesses or blogs that you see as your competition.”
My gut reaction was to say I’m not competing with anyone. The craft and sewing blog community is a very supportive one and I think we do a good job of helping one another and cheering for each other. Sure I have peers – people who are also selling PDF sewing patterns for dolls and toys, people who are also blogging about creative small business – but are we really competitors? Isn’t there room for everyone to shine and to earn a good income and to contribute their unique voice?
I’m a good student, though, and I can’t leave a homework question blank so I withstood the discomfort and began to think hard about my competition. If I had to choose three competing sites, which would they be? And why do I perceive them as being my direct competitors?
You know what? This turned out to be a great exercise, despite the discomfort. First, I reminded myself that the sites and designers I named don’t ever have to know that I chose them. This exercise was for me and my designer, but since I was hiring her to create something custom just for me, really the value of this exercise was for me alone.
What I realized is that all of us have competitors and to pretend that I didn’t wasn’t as productive as acknowledging that I did.
Naming my competition helped me to get a broader view of the marketplace, to see my blog and my products as just a few among a wide range of what’s available to potential readers and customers. I began to look at my competitors ecommerce shops and blogs, examining what they’re offering, and not offering, how they describe themselves and their expertise. This examination helped me to hone in on what I have to offer that’s unique and different. Studying the broader market helped me to tighten up my focus, reaffirming my belief that there’s room for everyone to succeed.
So here’s a little homework for you, no matter where you might be in developing your own creative business. Right now, take a minute and come up with a list of your three competitors. Explain in a sentence or two what they’re offering. Now explain what you have to offer that’s different. What needs can you meet that none of your competitors are meeting? That is your competitive advantage.
It’s interesting to note that there are particular topics that generally make us uncomfortable to talk about. Money and competition are two of them (sex and death might also qualify). I’ve found that it’s when I face those hard topics head on, look at the actual numbers and name the competitors, I’m able to glean the most valuable and actionable information.
Many small business owners and creative people struggle with comparison and feeling like a fraud, myself included. Those thoughts have a tendency to float freely in the back of our minds, almost like background noise, and they pull us down into a state of inactivity. Trying to face them and name them gives us something useful to build from.