Small-business advice: How to study competitors


Dear Karen: How can I get better data on my competitors?

Answer: Join professional groups, attend trade shows and subscribe to industry publications. Such organizations often publish surveys and trend reports that will give you insights on what others in your field are doing.

But don’t spend too much time studying your competition when you should be focusing on your customers, said Seena Sharp, author of “Competitive Intelligence Advantage.”

“Customers are looking for companies that solve their problems or give them what they want,” she said.


If your company does not offer the value that your customers demand — and do the marketing necessary to let them know about it — you won’t achieve the level of success you expect.

• National groups keep businesses in the loop

Dear Karen: What’s the point of joining national small-business organizations?

Answer: Lobbying groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business track political issues that affect private companies. “They follow proposed laws and alert you when they’re going to affect you,” said Amy H. Handlin, a New Jersey assemblywoman and the author of “Be Your Own Lobbyist.”

However, such organizations will not help you solve local problems. Forming relationships with state and local elected officials may be more useful in your day-to-day business operations.

Small-business questions? E-mail Karen at