Can the comparison game in business be both toxic and helpful? Why sure, but (like all great things), it depends on how you’re framing the question in your mind and the lens you’re using to view your competition. Allow me a few minutes to explain (it’s worth the read to save you another night of lost sleep).

First, let’s call out this sucker for what it is. The comparison game usually looks like this: You stand up two full-length mirrors — one of your business and one of your competitor’s business — and start pinpointing the good in your archnemesis (strong verbiage used purely for effect) and the bad in your reflection. As you do, you’re subconsciously turning your reflection into the evil twin sister, while adding a halo around your competitor’s luscious locks and blemish-free skin.

Sounds pretty terrible. And most of the time? It is. Let’s start there, since we’re already feeling a little bad about what this game feels like (I’ll end on a high note, so stick with me through this toxic sludge with me, will ya?).

Shifting Your Energy? It’s Toxic

Chances are you’ve tripped over the expression perception is reality a time or two in your lifespan.

It’s true when we market our businesses — the way the customer perceives our value is the amount they’ll exchange us for it.

And it’s true with how we perceive our value — the position where we perceive we are now compared to everyone else is how we’ll show up for the people we serve.

The problem is, this perception is usually flawed. That blemish-free reflection wasn’t perfect skin you saw in your competitor’s mirror. It was the mint filter used to hide the wrinkles, smooth the appearance of the aging spots, and whiten their teeth. (Worth noting, the mint filter on Instagram is my current favorite and surprisingly few people are using it). That same filter isn’t put on your business’s reflection as you compare the two because you’re intimately familiar with all the inner workings. Worse yet, you tend to add blemishes that typically don’t belong there, beating yourself up for, well, something only you’re really paying attention to.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking at others in our industry — in fact, I argue we need to look sideways now and then — but when we enter this toxic mentality, it shifts how we’re able to deliver and that’s where we can fall down the slippery slope of destructive attitude.

I named my business The Focus-Driven Biz because focus on our main purpose is crazy vital for success. So vital, in fact, that it’s the first thing we talk about in my business building course. And yet, so often we jolt our focus away from that purpose by comparing ourselves to others. Rather than helping people, we hurt our growth by spending an extraordinary and unhealthy amount of time staring at our competition’s perfect little reflection. That energy shift moves us in a new direction each week, makes us feel stuck when we’re not making as much progress as them, and takes the heat right out of our hot air balloon.

Fueling Your Energy? It’s Helpful

It’s easy for me to sit on this side of the screen and write about the importance of lasering in on YOUR purpose, YOUR mission, and honing YOUR vision. But truth time? There’s not a flying pig’s leg chance that it’ll stop. And frankly, there ARE times when playing the comparison game can be extremely helpful.

As you feel yourself begin to slip down the greased-up slope of comparing your business to others, look for ways to make this game fuel your business rather than shut it down mentally for you. Here are some examples.

Let Them Fail First

You know that age old advice to fail forward? It’s excellent! But what if we could let our competition fall on their faces, get a little bruised up, and avoid that charade altogether for our own business? The comparison game lets us do that.

By researching your competition’s wins and losses, you’re able to identify clear patterns about what’s working with your audience and what looks desireable in idea-land but is a bust in the real world. Here are a few places to spy on your competition effectively:

  • The Way Back When Machine lets you see which headlines stuck around for the long-haul and which were quickly kicked, likely because conversion rates dropped.
  • Spy on Facebook Ads to see what’s working and what people are actively avoiding in their newsfeed. The article linked here does a great job of breaking down how.
  • Really Good Emails gives you creative energy about how emails are being used effectively in your industry.

As you perform a litmus test of your own copy, content, and tactics while comparing your strategies against those of your competition, you’ll win. You’ll avoid their same mistakes and give yourself the tailwind needed to finish the race out strong.

Own Your Journey

Ultimately, you’re on your own path. You have unique roadblocks, hurdles, schedules, resources, and yes, even audiences. If you try to do an apples-to-apples comparison, you’ll launch yourself down a rabbit hole of toxicity. But, if you compare through the lens of data, you’ll uncover opportunities you might not have seen before (and tactical errors you might have made without playing the game).

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