How to learn from your competitors without envy or turning into a copycat

By February 21, 2019 September 6th, 2019 Branding, Inspiration

Is it possible to learn from your competitors without feeling envy or the urge to copy them?  

I’m sure you faced this situation before. We all do. We see someone successful on the same market that we try to cater to. Her business looks like the perfect example of where we would like to see ourselves in the very close future (preferably by tomorrow). She talks, writes and sells professionally. She makes thousands of dollars each day, takes her family on exotic travels and whips up the perfect vegan, gluten free cupcakes in her designer kitchen with the classiest bright red lipstick on her Pretty Woman a la Julia Roberts smile. 

You feel two things: envy and admiration. You might also feel like a total loser, because your kitchen is far from Instagram worthiness and your kids have never seen the Kyoto Imperial Palace. 

So what do you do? Do you start using the same expressions, the same sales terms? Do you start to wear the same bright red lipstick? Do you start copying what you think is working for her: her brand, her look, her offers?

Copying isn’t the answer

I’ve been in your shoes many times. Actually, every single time I browse Behance or Dribbble - two portfolio websites where designers share their work – I feel the same way. I’m intrigued by talented illustrators and surface pattern designers, and I start wondering: can I make illustrations in their style? 

This usually goes so far, that I buy the same equipment that my actual target of admiration uses and stalk her technique on her blog and YouTube channel… I give a shy try to draw in the same style… but it’s just weird.  

It doesn’t work. It feels like a beautiful pair of red patent leather pumps hurting my feet horribly. Sure, I can try walking in them, maybe even perform a perfect catwalk, but I would hate every moment. 

Copying is not the answer.  

WHAT DO THEY HAVE THAT YOU DON’T?

After each of my attempts to copy another designer’s style, I always realize that it’s not her style that matters. 

What made that designer successful and gave her a more defined, recognizable style and business was one very simple habit: consistent practice. 

She drew and drew and drew, every single day, and after years of consistency, she built up a strong signature style.  

In other words, what your competitor has is not more luck, more talent, more opportunities. It’s consistency. If you want to get where she is, you must make a commitment to improve your skills every day. 

And see, that behind the Instagram-perfect photos shared by your competitor, there were years of hard work and struggle. She started just like you: with self-doubt and maybe even an urge to copy others. She didn’t make her way to her current success over-night. It took time. And it will take time for you too. 

WHAT TO LEARN FROM YOUR COMPETITORS

Beside consistency, there are a few practical things that you can learn from your competition without becoming a copycat. 

FIND OUT WHAT YOUR COMPETITORS’ CUSTOMERS ARE MISSING

InstantPot’s creator Robert Wang spent hours going through reviews of his competitors’ products and reviews on his own products. He wanted to understand what questions and struggles the customers have that he can fix with InstantPot. The result: Instant Pot topped the Amazon Prime Day Best Sellers list for both the U.S. and Canada in three consecutive years. In 2018, InstantPot sold 300.000 of his signature appliances in just 36 hours.  

If your competitor has a web shopcheck the reviews. Can you find questions, issues that the customers want to resolve? Develop your products in a way that answers these questions from the get-go. 

GAIN INSPIRATION AND ADD YOUR OWN VOICE TO IT

Instead of copying someone else’s content, just get inspiration from the topic that she covered. Is there something that you can add to it? Is there something that your ICA wouldn’t find clear enough and you must provide further explanation? Do you have a personal story related to the topic, that would inspire your customer? 

For example, my ideal customers are generally tech-savvy. So, I don’t find it important to explain them how to install a new font on their computer. But I can have competitors who provide products for less tech-savvy customers. Their readers would benefit from this information so their post about “How to use fonts would be completely different.

LEARN FROM YOUR COMPETITORS’ MISTAKES

Amy Porterfield has shared in one of her recent podcasts, that the number one thing she regrets not starting earlier is list building. This is a valuable information for those new coaches who want to sell online courses like Amy. 

Another example: I recently reached out to a Creative Market seller to ask him about his experience with offering Canva templatesDespite being a competitor, he gave me a helpful and genuine answer about the problems and advantages of Canva and this helped me make a better decision for my own shop. 

These stories show you that you can reach out and ask your competition about their experiences. What could happen? In worst case scenario they won’t answer back. But if they write back, most probably they’ll share a few useful lessons with you. 

LEARN FROM YOUR COMPETITORS’ STRATEGIES

Last but not least, there’s one more thing that your successful competitors have: a great strategy. 

Without strategy, you’d just create random content, make random pricing decisions and market your products with no clear financial expectation. 

For this reason, it’s good to check out your competitors’ strategies and understand the reasons behind their decisions. 

I often subscribe to my competitors challenges or other marketing funnels. I go through them to see how they build up their funnels. I ask continuously: would my ICA miss something from this sales funnel? Is there something that she doesn’t find important? What attracts me in the headlines? What attracts me in the copy? 

In other words, I analyze the heck out of those email funnels. Then, I improve my own emails. 

Don’t copy their exact strategies. Analyze them and take what works for your ideal customers and your products.

REMEMBER, you CAN DO THIS

Step by step, with consistent effort and strategic decisions, you can reach the success that your most admired competitors have accomplished.  

Don’t forget to give yourself: 

  • Time: there’s no over-night success, every successful business laid down the building blocks of their empire step by step. Fortunately, as Michael Hyatt says, “anything is possible in 5 years”. 
  • Confidence: you have everything that your competition had when they started their business.  
  • Commitment: this business is important for you. Don’t waste your time feeling bad about where “you should be”. Commit to bring the best out of your day, today! 
  • Acceptance: accept who you are. Infuse your uniqueness into your brand. Your customers aren’t looking for a new Marie Forleo, Oprah Winfrey or Rachel Hollis. They are looking for a solution from you, in your style. And if it involves vegan, gluten free cupcakes and bright red lipstick, that’s ok. If they not, that’s ok, too. Just don’t fake it. 

Finally, I’d like to hear from you. What’s one thing that you recently learned from your competition, that helped you grow your business in your own style? Share it in the comments below. 

Next week, I’m going to explain you the key branding terms in everyday lingo. Heads up, there will be cute comics involved.

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