“Your enemy can be your best teacher”- Dali Lama
It’s natural that as an artist or maker, every single item you create has a little bit of you in it.
It was your creative vision that made it, and your nimble hands that painted the brush strokes, cut that pattern with a scalpel or turned that stone into a pendant.
It was your time you sacrificed away from your friends or family, or mostly in my case Netflix and gym visits, to make that beautiful piece of art.
So when we think about successful people in our niches, we can get a bit….well…..defensive and our self confidence takes a nosedive.
We start to do what we do best, beat ourselves up!
In my Facebook group recently I asked my creative friends what thoughts spring to mind when thinking about their online competition.
The people who are making a full time income from their creative talents and are further along the journey than them.
Here is what they said.
“Looking at online shops that are doing better than me makes me feel totally and utterly worthless”
“I’m not sure who my competition is, there are so many of us doing the same thing which feels pretty much like rubbish if I’m honest.”
“When I think about my competitors, especially those at the top of the tree, I just think ‘Gosh, they are untouchable' and then I wonder how the hell they got there and I’m still here.”
I totally identified with these statements for my own creative business as a mural artist.
I see other artists making amazing pieces of work on a weekly basis and it gets to the core of me.
But I know from my corporate background of years in the highly competitive field of recruitment, that we have to look at this differently.
Looking at those who have stepped before us and letting the green eyed monster take over is not good business sense.
We have to put our big girl creative pants on and shake off the under confident glue stained apron and instead put on a sharp thinking business hat (mine is a fedora with a feather in it, what’s yours?)
Competitors are a gift.
Honestly, they are.
Because by knowing where those who have stepped before you have walked, by understanding what works for them, understanding where they see successes online, you can piggyback on their success coattails.
It’s a fast track to success.
So let’s grab that hat by the rim and put some gaffer tape on the voice in our heads about not being good enough and learn how I’ve analyzed my market to pick up some key tips in 5 steps.
(Warning – this may feel like a lot of work initially, but I’ve included a handy dandy guide you can use at the end of the article as I know what’s it like and you sometimes have 10 mins here and there in between day jobs and home cooked meals and the latest American Horror Story episode.)
Step 1 – Find your competition
By definition, who are your competitors?
This may sound obvious but just to clarify, your competitors are both the big gun corporates and your fellow entrepreneurial handmaker or artist.
You want to think about your ideal customer and what options are available to him or her in regards to your product.
For example, if you make rustic stone earrings for the alternative chick, you will need to look online for what kind of things they would google and what sites pop up.
What words would they use on Google?
What sites would they already be visiting for their job or hobby or life in general?
Are any of those associated with online jewelry stores?
Aim to have a minimum of 5, some larger chain stores and some small.
How to find them:
- Google search – search for all terms possible e.g. “handmade stone earrings” or “handmade stone jewellery” (UK spelling) & “handmade stone jewelry” (US spelling). Try also searching with your niche in mind e.g. “jewelry for boho women.”
- Etsy top seller search on craftcount.com
- Find similar sites at similarsites.com
Grab a notebook (as I’m guessing you're still an old school chick like me and likes scribbling) and make a section for each of the 5 competitors.
This should take you no more than 1 hour in total.
“It is nice to have valid competition; it pushes you to do better.” – Gianni Versace
Step 2 – Branding
Don’t make the assumption that a brand is just a logo, a website or company colors.
It’s much more than that – it’s a feeling.
Think about luxury brands.
Louis Vuitton, Dior, Burberry….I bet you’re not instantly thinking of their website colors or font choices but you’re thinking of the whole picture.
The decadence, the exclusivity, the eliteness.
“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” – Steve Forbes
So how do you get to know your competitors' brands better?
Ask yourselves the questions below for each site individually and scribble what you find in your notebook.
Try to use your gut feeling, look with fresh eyes (especially if it’s a site you’re familiar with) and don’t overthink it.
- What words would you use to describe how you feel when viewing their site?
E.g. “The site is very clean, lots of white space and crisp fonts and citrus colors. It makes me feel clean and pure. Perfect for a soap business.”
- Who are they attracting? Who are they repelling? How is this shown by their choice of branding? How can you tell?
- What are the most popular pages? Sometimes sites have a section with “popular posts” but if not, you can find a guide for how to find most shared pages of a site here and here. Why do you think they are the most popular? Any synergy across all competitor sites? Are they talking about similar topics or products?
- What are they saying or promoting on their home page? What do you see and feel in your first 10 seconds? How are they grabbing their customers? (e.g. promotions, videos, pop ups)
- What is the name of their businesses? How does this speak to the bigger picture of their business?
This step should take you no longer than 10 mins per competitor.
“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it.” – Walt Disney
Step 3 – Ideal customer
Here are 3 handmade businesses that have spent time to really understand how to attract their ideal customer.
Look how their brand is luring their ideal customer – no middle ground here for these makers.
They are unabashedly stating their corner in the world and turning away all of those who don’t fit the mold.
Pachamama Bohemian: handmade clothes and accessories for the modern stylish female boho chick. Look at the imagery, the settings for the photographs, the makeup and hairstyles of the models. This site isn’t for the casual boho girl. Blog includes topics such as traveling, inspiration and style inspiration.
Think Pink Bows: girl clothing & headbands. This site is attracting a certain mum of girls. One who wants to adorn their little princess in beautiful sparkly clothing from babies through to school age. Professional photography, very cute models and a very heavy Pinterest focus (obviously that’s where their ideal customer hangs out)
Sage Goddess: crystals & gems for the holistic / alternative woman. Look at the great use of purples and dark deep colours, giving the site a mystical and magical feel. The use of font is also in alignment to this and there is a huge resource on this site to learn more about “metaphysical knowledge” such as full moons, tarots and more.
Grab your notebook and again think about the “who” and dig deep.
The deeper the better.
Get really detailed.
Yes it will be guess work, and that’s fine!
There isn’t going to be a page on their site listing the demographics of their ideal customer!
The point is to find some synergy across all 5 competitors and to align that to your own business.
Scribble in whatever format works best for you; I always think a spider diagram is best when I can just write words that come to me without needing to form sentences around them.
This step should take you no more than 15 mins for each competitor.
“Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you are both engaged in the same business, you know they are doing something that you are not.” – Malcom X
Step 4 – Copy
Copy is the marketing term for the written words used for marketing your business.
This includes the words in their Facebook posts or adverts through to their website and blog copy.
Maybe even their newsletter copy (always a good idea to sign up to competitor newsletters to get inspired and keep up to date with them) as this will be where they will be most friendly or open as email subscribers will be their strongest avenue for sales.
How are they speaking to their customers in a way which is exciting and hooking them, and eventually luring them to buy?
What is their voice?
How are they injecting their personality and standing out?
Few questions to spark some ideas:
- Where are they online? Facebook? Instagram? Pinterest? Snapchat? Which has the most engagement and traction?
- What has been their most popular post on Facebook? (tip, go to your business Facebook page and in your insights section you can add their page to “watch” and be given weekly analysis of their popular posts – read more about that here)
- What topics are they writing about on their blog?
- How would you describe their “voice”? Do they have any videos?
- How do they describe their products ? What emotive language do they use?
- What words would you use to describe how they interact with their fans and customers?
This may take you longer as you have various touch points.
Spend no more than 1 hour on this exercise for each competitor initially.
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” – Otto Van Bismark
Step 5 – Bringing it all together
So you now have this fat notebook with scribbles and arrows galore and what do you do with it now?
How do you interpret all of this to then help you and your business?
To bring it all together you need to be answering these questions:
- What do they all have in common?
- What do some have/do that is unique?
- Are there any gaps you can fill with your business?
In the final section of your notebook, make a page with each of these questions at the top and refer back to your notes.
Scribble away once more for the final time to gather up all this info and clear the wood for the trees.
This should take you no longer than 15 mins in total.
Download the guide here for keeps.
My final thought:
Creative one, I know this may seem like a lot of work and I’m not going to lie, it sort of is, especially when you’re already strapped for time.
But here’s the thing, if it was easy, everyone would do it.
And trust me, 99% of your peers will not.
When I completed this exercise for my own mural business I noticed a few amazing things, such as being one of the few female mural artists in the UK and how to use this it my advantage when attracting fellow mothers to my business.
Good luck in your journey to building a stronger online business and feel free to reach out for any further help.
Jackie Muscat helps the confused maker & artist find their voice and brand online and in turn, boost their sales with Facebook strategies that work.
When she isn’t busy hand painting murals onto kids' bedrooms, she is writing freebies for her audience, such as this one “Steal my explosive Facebook content that saw one post reach 18k people at zero cost“ You can read more about Jackie at Craft My Success.