Stealing customers isn’t really the advice you’d expect to hear when learning about best handmade business practices is it?
But I’m not really talking about “stealing”. Rather…choosing a different type of competitor than you may be thinking of, and then rising above that competition to encourage your competitor’s customers to give your business a try. It’s more about winning customers over.
Imagine you discovered a new pizza place in town. They’re really similar to your regular pizza joint but their ingredients are just a bit fresher, the pizzas arrive just a bit faster and hotter, so the pizza tastes a bit better and you enjoy your experience just a little more.
You’re going to start ordering pizza from the new place.
The new pizza restaurant didn’t “steal” you away from your regular pizza joint; you simply chose something better. Your regular pizza joint has every opportunity to step up their game and win you back. So it’s all ethical.
Here’s how your business can win more customers.
3 STEPS TO STEAL CUSTOMERS FROM COMPETITORS
STEP 1 – DETERMINE WHO YOU WANT TO COMPETE WITH
STEP 2 – RISE TO THE SAME LEVEL AS THEM
STEP 3 – GET IN FRONT OF THEM
Sounds pretty basic, right? But let me explain some specific strategies that will help you get the most out of this exercise…
STEP 1 – DETERMINE WHO YOU WANT TO COMPETE WITH
When I first started selling handbags on the craft show circuit, I looked at anyone who was also selling handbags at the same craft shows, as my competition. Or really, any other person making and selling handbags in my city.
But that’s not who my competition really was.
There’s room for more than one handbag vendor at a craft show or in a city, and each one can be successful, if each handbag vendor is targeting a different type of customer.
A handbag vendor selling glamorous rhinestone-studded evening bags is not really in competition with a vendor selling laptop bags because they’re targeting completely different customers.
Yes, both businesses are targeting customers shopping for a handbag, but the wants/needs of those customers are much different.
And those wants/needs are what a target market should be based on; “someone who needs a handbag” is waaaay too vague.
A craft show shopper who has $50 to spend on a new laptop bag isn’t likely to spend that money on a rhinestone evening clutch, regardless of whether the vendor selling laptop bags is at the craft show or not.
The customers of the laptop bag business will never be the customers of the evening bag business (never say never but it’s highly unlikely) ; they’re targeting completely different customers.
Those vendors are not in competition with each other. And for the evening bag business to compete with the laptop bag business would lead them in the wrong direction.
They may be following the laptop bag business around the city, trying to get into the same craft shows and boutiques.
But the evening bag business would be better off setting their sights on completely different craft shows and retailers.
Imagine the success the evening bag vendor would have if they opted to sell at a bridal expo instead of the craft show their laptop bag competitor was selling at downtown. Or if they focused on getting their bags into bridal boutiques instead of the local gift shops their laptop bag competitor was in.
To build a successful craft business, you must point it in the right direction. You must know what success looks like.
Instead of looking at the competition that’s right in front of you, expand your horizons.
Think about where you want to take your business and find one that’s already there.
That’s what you want to compete with.
Which business do you look at as a “role model”?
Your business’s role model may not even sell the same product as yours.
The business you “look up to” and strive to compete with should definitely target the same market as you, but they don’t necessarily need to be selling the same type of product.
For example, if I wanted to sell faux leather handbags to vegans, I would look for a business I admire that also targets vegans. That may be a business that also sells faux leather handbags, or it could be one that sells faux leather shoes to vegans.
If that vegan shoe company is featured in magazines, stocked by retailers, and selling at trade shows, I know my vegan bag company is also likely to also be a fit for those same magazines, retailers, and events. Especially if I mimic my business after them.
Find a business that’s targeting the same market your business is targeting and has reached a level of success you’d like your business to reach.
It’s more important to find a business targeting the same market as you than it is to find a business selling the same product as you.
Aren’t sure who your target market is, or if you’re currently targeting a market that you can make money from? HOW TO FIND A GOLDMINE OF CUSTOMERS will help.
Don’t go too big (e.g. I may love to make handbags that are admired in the same way Hermes bags are, but Hermes is too big of a “competitor”).
And don’t go too small.
Find a balance by choosing a competitor that’s where you would love to see your business in 5 years. We’ll slowly get you there.
STEP 2 – RISE TO THE SAME LEVEL AS YOUR COMPETITOR
Typically, when I’m helping businesses gain more customers, I ask them to look at their competitors and see where they can differ from them.
In HOW TO SELL HANDMADE BEYOND FRIENDS & FAMILY I share a worksheet to help you identify your competition’s strengths and weaknesses and zig where they zag.
For example, you would start by looking at your competitor and rating each area of their business:
Then you would use the same graph to rate your business, so you can easily see where your differences are, and where you have an opportunity to improve your business and pull ahead of your competitor:
This creates an advantage that helps your business stand out from the competition.
It is important for your business to have a USP (unique selling position) to set it apart and give consumers a reason to buy from you.
But in this scenario, we’re looking at a different type of competition; one that’s not really your competitor yet, but that you hope to be in competition with one day.
Because of that, I’m going to encourage you to study your competition (or business role model) so you can determine how to work your way up to their level.
You don’t want your business to be a carbon copy of your competitor’s. But you do want to mimic their best practices while putting your unique spin on things.
Study each aspect of their business.
I find it helps to break a business into the following categories:
Under each of those categories, take a close look at the elements of your competitor’s business.
- Materials used
- What their price tags look like
- Style of hangtags and information on them
- How their products are packaged after a sale or how they’re shipped
- Price points they offer
- Sales or promotions they run
- Wholesale pricing
Continue looking at all areas of a business to learn more about your competition.
For example, under MARKET and SELL you may explore the following elements:
- Marketing channels – do they use:
- Social media
- Paid advertising
- Marketing methods (how do they use each marketing channel?)
- What type of content do they post to social media?
- What type of content do they send in newsletters?
- Which keywords do they rank for on Google? (a tool like Ahrefs will help you find competitor keyword information)
- Marketing channels – do they use:
- Sales channels; do they have:
- Etsy shop
- Wholesale accounts
- Sales tactics
- Do they run promotions
- How often do they release a new collection?
- How do they launch a new product?
- Sales channels; do they have:
Once you understand how your competitor operates, consider what type of work your business requires and make a plan for how you’ll move it towards the same level as your competitor.
You don’t have to get on their level right away, but you must have a plan to get there or for how you’re going to fake it ‘til you make it.
For example, let’s say I defined Mat & Nat as my “competitor” for my vegan handbag business. Mat & Nat likely hires professional photographers and models to photograph their new bag collections in a studio. I don’t have the budget to do that now, but if their bags are photographed with a clean white background, I may make a lightbox, purchase a ring light, and use Canva to remove any seams in the background.
As another example, let’s look at pricing. I may not be able to charge as much as Mat & Nat does for their bags because I don’t have the same brand recognition as them and therefore, consumers may not be willing to pay top dollar for a bag from an unknown business. Or perhaps my quality and craftsmanship will take some time to fine tune. However, I can make a plan to build a high-end brand and slowly raise my prices as my brand and skills evolve. I would want to position my brand as “high end” from the start and charge accordingly.
As you compare your business to your (soon to be) competitor’s business, you must look at your business with critical eyes and be open to change.
If your competitor is on a level you’re not, there’s a reason.
Instead of refusing to see the differences between what they’re doing and what you’re doing, or downplaying the value of their marketing, or thinking: my photography isn’t as good as theirs, but it’s good enough, or brushing off the importance of good branding for a small business, etc. etc., look at each aspect as important and figure out how you’ll rise to their level.
Each detail, no matter how small it may seem, has gotten your competitor to where they are today.
If your competition seems head and shoulders above where your business currently is, don’t look for a new competitor. Simply make a plan for how you can chip away and slowly grow your business to their level.
You want to mimic your competitor’s business, but not copy it.
Take the key elements each area of their business embodies and implement those, but you can add your unique spin.
For example, looking at SELLING -> Website -> Product Photography, I may notice that Mat & Nat’s product photography is very clean, crisp, bright, and minimalist, and each bag is photographed with a seamless, white background.
I would want my product photography to also have those characteristics (clean, crisp, minimalist), however, I may choose to photograph my bags with a grey background instead of white.
Study each aspect of your competitor’s business and define their best practices.
Then consider how you can start to make improvements to your business to eventually get each element to their level.
STEP 3 – GET IN FRONT OF YOUR COMPETITION
Have you noticed when you go to search for a business on Google, you’ll often see ads for their competitors above their website? Or, if you search a topic on YouTube and click to watch a video, you often have to watch 5 seconds of an ad first.
For example, if you’re about to watch a YouTube video on how to grow your Instagram followers, you may have to first listen to someone tell you that they built a 6-figure business in 1 year and if you sign up for their course, you can too. They know, if someone is interested in how to grow their Instagram following, they’re likely an entrepreneur and may be interested in a course on how to build a successful business.
That’s a strategic (and smart) move by the smaller or less-known business.
Businesses are paying for ads to appear when someone searches for their competition because they know they’re targeting the same market and if they can get their business in front of their competitor’s customers, they have a good chance of making a sale.
Once you know who your business’s competition is and have built a business that has the opportunity to be on the same level as them, get out in front of them.
You may not have the marketing budget now to pay to get your business in front of them. But your business can be their shadow until you’re big enough to make them your shadow.
Find where and how they market their business and then go after the same opportunities.
Use the tools that are out there to track your competitor. Such as:
- Google Alerts so you’re notified when your competitor is mentioned online
- Monitor Backlinks to find who’s linking back to your competitor’s website
- Ahrefs for finding which keywords your competitor is ranking in Google for
- Mediatoolkit to find where a business has been mentioned
Once you find marketing information about your competitor, you can use it to your advantage.
If they’ve just be featured in the local paper for a piece on how their vegan business gives back to local animal shelters, consider how your business can do its part to care for animals, then contact the journalist who wrote the piece and pitch a similar story.
If they’ve just listed a new boutique in the “Where to Find Us” section of their website, look up that boutique, send them your lookbook (here’s how to create one), and request a meeting with the store owner or buyer.
If your competitor is on a higher level than your ready to compete with, try to find the path they took to get to where they are.
For example, Mat & Nat may be getting their products into Nordstrom, which is way too big of a retailer for my one-person handbag business to supply. However, I may find old articles, press releases, timelines, etc. that give me an idea of how they’ve grown, and the stepping stones they’ve taken.
Then I can try to mimic those same stepping stones.
If they started by selling at craft shows and then got their bags into dozens of stores around their city, and eventually their province, I would start with craft shows and then work on getting into local boutiques.
You can also take what your competition is currently doing, and just scale it down.
For example, if Mat & Nat was just featured in InStyle magazine for a piece on sustainable fashion, I wouldn’t pitch my products to InStyle magazine. Instead, I may pitch a similar story idea to a local fashion magazine or to the style editor at a local newspaper.
Google your competitor to find as much information you can about their marketing and sales efforts. For example:
- Find where they’ve been featured in magazines – I would search “magazines mat & nat” to find the type of magazines they’ve been featured in and the types of stories they’ve been featured for; these will give you ideas for press releases.
- Find out who’s mentioning them on social media – I could go on Instagram and search the hashtag: matandnat (i.e. #matandnat) to find which influencers are mentioning them and showcasing their bags.
- Find out what type of stores they sell in – if I search “mat and nat” on Google and look at several pages of results, I’ll be able to find online and offline retailers that carry their products.
- Find which blogs have written about them – I may also find blogs that have featured Mat & Nat by searching “mat and nat” on Google and looking through the results
Once you have lots of information, make a plan to mimic the places and ways they market, as well as the places they sell (or started selling) their products.
Be inspired by your “competitor” and make a long-term plan to grow your business to their level; it won’t happen overnight.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!