Competing with other web workers might not be as cut-throat as corporate competition, but the spirit of competition in web working be dismissed as nonexistent. In fact, it’s a big mistake to ignore your competitors completely. So how should we use our competitors to our advantage without getting dirty?
Identify your competitors. This may seem elementary, but in the thriving online freelancing world, at first glance, everyone else seems like your competitor. But this is hardly the case. In fact, you might even be hard pressed to find your real competitors through a simple Google search. Just because another freelancer’s website shows up in search results targeting the same keywords you do, it doesn’t mean they’re your potential client’s other options. This freelancer is just your competitor in terms of search results, and probably nothing else.
Basically, your competitors are the other freelancers whose target clients are similar to your own. Their clients come from the same age group, niche, industry, and budget range as your own clients do. In other words, they are the other option that potential clients and employers will be looking to hire if they won’t be hiring you.
Of course, you shouldn’t just spend your time defining your competitors. You need to define yourself too. Knowing the competition’s strengths and weaknesses is almost useless if you don’t know your own.
Find out what works (and what doesn’t work) for them. Go through their website, online promotional materials, and even the final output of their services, if you can. When you do this, it helps to put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. This allows you to be in a more receptive frame of mind. As you look at these materials, it helps to ask yourself the following questions:
- What strategies are they using that gains your trust?
- What would make a client choose them over you?
- Is the value of their service evident in their online presence?
- What are they charging? Can they justify this?
After you’ve done this, it helps to go over your own promotional materials to compare notes. See if you can apply any of their techniques to your practice.
Know how they interact with clients. Doing this requires a bit more research. You’ll need to learn how the competition engages your client. Is their communication style friendly or matter-of-fact? Do they contact the client regularly in the long run or do they stop communication after the project is complete? Do they interact well with clients across a wide range of Web 2.0 literacy?
Here are some ways you can find the answers to these questions:
- Subscribe to your competitor’s blog entries.
- Subscribe to their online newsletter, if applicable.
- Look for client reviews, whether on the client’s website or the freelancer’s.
- If you need to outsource some work or get a helping hand, it might even help to hire your competitor’s services, if only to get a more accurate insider’s perspective on how they deal with clients.
Remember what makes you different. There is no way that you and your competitors provide the exact same thing in the exact same way. There’s bound to be an area of differentiation. For example, while Nizoral and Head and Shoulders are both anti-dandruff shampoo brands, the former is marketed as a more medicinal type of cure, while the latter is marketed as a shampoo for everyday use.
What value do you bring your client that your competitors do not? Is it your years of experience? The many languages you speak? The diversity of your skills? More often than not, your client uses this as the deciding factor, and not your price.
See if you can cut a deal. In many cases, I’ve had to refer some clients to other freelancers who are a better fit for them when I don’t have enough skills for a specific job, or when I’m simply overbooked when they need me. An article over at Freelance Folder suggests the same thing as well, but with a great catch – you should get a deal with your competitors where you get a percentage of their profits from your referrals.
Learning more about your competition isn’t necessarily about competition itself, it’s just another way of staying ahead of your own game. If you think about your competitors with this attitude, you’ll become a better service provider, and both your new and existing clients will just be reminded of why they chose you over your competitor.
Do you take competition seriously in the online freelancing world? How do you use competitors to your advantage?