Do you know the right questions to ask your nonprofit consultant competitors?
To me, “competitor analysis” brings up images of stalking your fellow consultants while wearing dark glasses and a trench coat with a fedora pulled down in the front while you take notes in pencil on a small pad, recording their every client.
Luckily, it need not be that complicated, or stealthy. In fact, a lot of people will be glad to talk.
The object of competitor analysis is to see where your niche fits in relationship to others who do the same or similar work. It is not to muscle them out of a job or stealing their clients. Through competitor analysis you should learn about yourself and how you can do business more efficiently. My guess is that you’ll even make friends and build collaboration with your competitors, or even get referrals, a nice win/win.
How do you start? Define your competitors.
Answer these questions about your work:
- Broadly, what do you do? (such as fundraising, accounting, marketing, etc.)
- Define your skill set more narrowly. What are your top three skills within what you do? (like grant proposal writing, special events organization, auditing, etc.)
- Do you specialize in, or at least prefer, one or more mission types? (health care, social services, environmental, etc.)
- What geographic area do you cover? (a county, a region, a state…?)
Now, let’s find some competitors:
- Look for resources that list people in your area who meet similar criteria to yours. (Professional association directories, chamber of commerce membership list, Google search)
- Examine the lists you find, and select 10 who seem like they are similar to you either in area, age, specialty or another attribute.
- Evaluate the presence online via their websites, LinkedIn pages, etc. Start making notes about what work they do, the kinds of clients they serve and what people say about them. On a separate page, gather contact information like their phone number and email address.
- Take five and make direct contact. Propose that you meet over coffee or lunch. Say that you are interested in getting to know them and their business better, and to explore ways you can offer each other help. (This is true. You can become valuable resources for each other through this process.)
Will everyone want to meet with you? No. Why not?
- Time: they’re busy with clients – good for them!
- Suspicion: you’re going to steal their secrets, or worse yet, their clients.
- Simply not seeing the value in it for them will all get in the way.
As a friend of mine would say, “bless and release.” Take someone’s willingness to meet as an important data point in your competitor analysis. Not everyone’s going to be “friendly competition.”
For those you do meet, what you hear probably won’t dissuade you from either going into your own consulting practice, or if you’re already consulting, focusing on your expertise. However, you may get a better idea of what you’re getting into, and whether you can do well in your chosen niche. At minimum, you’ll hear some interesting stories, you’ll probably make some good friends, and all without the fedora and trench coat.