Whether you're launching a new product or service, or revising the strategy of your current business, it's critical that you know your competition and the marketplace. An analytical review of your competitors will help you chart your course.

How big are your competitors’ audiences? Use a web tracking service to get a sense of how many visitors competing websites receive. Comparative data is not an exact science, since these tools can’t actually measure the traffic on every site online. But you should be able to get a sense of how your site compares with the competition by analyzing numbers from these services and matching them with your own traffic. Also look at how your competitors are doing accumulating Facebook fans, Twitter followers and comments on news stories or blog posts. This will give you a sense of how much engagement your competition has with its audience.

Contact your competition. Simply position yourself as someone who would like to talk shop. In the short term, it will probably give you more knowledge about your market and what has worked and not worked so far. (They'll let you know if you ask a question that's too sensitive.) And building relationships with the competition could open up the potential for partnerships down the road.

Set up alerts. Set up news alerts based on keywords that will bring you news any time someone writes about your competition.

Research publicly traded companies. You can find financial information through public disclosures and 10-K forms. It can be difficult to separate a specific business segment from a large corporation, but reading through the reports will give you details that may help paint the picture.

Research privately held companies. Finding information on privately held companies can be more challenging. But you’re a journalist, right? So you should know how to investigate, dig and research a topic.

Taken from Entrepreneurial Journalism: Revenue and Marketing, a self-directed course by Mark Briggs at Poynter NewsU.

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