Detective work is a daily task for many fact-finding entrepreneurs.
They not only keep their eyes open for successful habits and strategies they can emulate. They actively seek out information from people who are in their same field.
At least the smart ones do. And the really small biz detective who’s also a smart marketer even shares what she finds.
Here’s a cautionary tale I heard years ago about sneaky detective work and protecting company information:
A certain software engineer was on a flight from San Jose to the east coast. Traveling from Silicon Valley to a semiconductor company back east, he was mentally gearing up for a very important sales presentation. His was one of a few top companies in his field that all had a shot at this large sale. Millions of dollars were up for grabs.
Conveniently in the very next row up and across from him was a large man with his laptop open. He was a big guy, but not so big that his computer wasn’t completely exposed to the view of anyone within two rows who might be interested in what was showing on his screen.
My engineer friend stashed his paperback in favor of a thorough and leisurely gander at his #1 competitor’s Powerpoint slides. Hey, he figured as long as they were on full display…
When the plane landed, he smiled at the man for unwittingly sharing an obscene amount of his competitor’s proprietary technology, and exited the jet without saying a word.
I’m told the meeting with this engineer’s customers went very well.
Well? What would you have done? Would you have averted your eyes when you saw your competition’s presentation to the exact same group of decision makers you were going to meet with that very day?
The techies I know are riveted by other techies’ stuff. Most can’t help themselves. It’s in their DNA to discover and learn new technology…they are fact-finding machines.
The story makes a point about the difference between technology and information (and it’s an extreme situation) but it gets me thinking about where ideas come from.
Technology is still a valuable commodity. Think of the stir caused when one of Apple’s employees leaves a prototype in a public lounge! Information? Not so much. There’s more information produced in 48 hours than the whole of recorded human existence before 2003. (According to Gary Vee at Infusionsoft last month.)
A small business detective gathers facts to serve customers and improve their business. And it’s easy to do online…
I’m giving you permission to “spy” on your competition — except this online detective work is all out in the open. And if you’re chatting with a colleague at a meet-up or industry convention, it’s not even detective work. It’s just sharing.
Now, I’m not talking about sharing information that a company produces for their paying customers…that’s unethical, if you ask me. If someone makes a point to ask you not to share a link, please have the decency to go along! They worked hard and spent money to produced it. It belongs to that company.
The “spying” I’m talking about is email, blog posts, and the like. Do you do read your competitors’ stuff? Do you visit their websites?
I do. All the time. You should see my email inbox. I’m subscribed to several dozen small email marketing agencies’ and copywriters’ lists.
I want to see what the industry is talking about. I’m curious about their customers and their services. I ask questions and answer them when I can on Quora, LinkedIn Groups, and Twitter . These are excellent places to pipe in when you have an opinion about something or when you have some helpful tip to share. Colleagues do that, after all.
I hope you do this too! Here’s your free pass. Go right now and sign up to their lists, subscribe to posts on Facebook, join the groups that that serve your same customers, and subscribe to their RSS feeds.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Smart research, fact-finding, detective work — whatever you want to call it — is actually the precursor to the fine art of collaboration.
While you may not exactly be on the same team, knowing what your colleagues and friends are doing in your industry will actually help you connect better with your audience. You’ll also begin to make valuable connections in your field that may come in handy the next time your struggling with a specific problem.
The fact of the matter is: Your business is probably not that unique…just the way you happen to do it and the people you naturally attract. This is especially true for small businesses.
The point is not to copy them (never!) but to learn from them. An hour of detective work within your industry, among it’s leaders and its customers, will do wonders for your business.
Truth be told I tweet my colleagues’ good stuff and comment on their posts, too. I figure we’re all in this new media/communication era together…and it is called “the web” for a reason. They know I’m watching them and even talking about them online.
The more I know about what works and what doesn’t, and how other copywriters and email services are serving their clients, the better job I’m going to do for mine.
I know lots of email folks and fellow copywriters who subscribe to my list, too. Welcome, one and all! Shoot me a message! I would love to hear from each and every one of you! An educated and savvy industry raises the bar for everyone…and our customers benefit.
So back to the engineer story…what would YOU have done? Would you have read your book or the stranger’s slides? Comments welcome!