Put your competitors to work for you

Believe it or not, your competitors may actually help homebased businesses bring home the bacon, rake in the dough and earn some lettuce -- resulting in one yummy, profitable sandwich.

You may think your competitors are lower than the slime on a catfish's belly and good for nothing except taking bread out of your family's mouth. But believe it or not, they can actually help you bring home the bacon, rake in the dough and earn some lettuce -- resulting in one yummy, profitable sandwich for your homebased business. Here's how:

Plug your fiercest competitor's URL into LinkPopularity.com to see what sites are linking to it. Say you create handcrafted candles, for example. Type the URL of your competitor, Carriage Candles, into LinkPopularity.com, and you'll see about 100 sites that link to this URL, including "Corner Creations Crafts," "Resources for the Hobbyist and Small-Business Owner," and "Morgan Mailboxes and More Craft Links." If these sites link to your competitor, chances are, they'll link to you, too.

The e-mail in which you ask for a link is much like a sales letter -- you must state your case and direct all your powers of persuasion into prose so tight, not even light can escape it. Address the e-mail to a particular person if possible, briefly describe your site, and suggest a particular page within their site where your link could go.

Here's a spiffy idea from Money Tree Marketing by Patrick Bishop: Call competitors who are listed in the Yellow Pages. The reasons are twofold: First, you can pretend to be a customer and gauge their strengths, such as quality, prices or customer service. Then you can work on turning these strengths to your advantage. You may find, for example, that your competition is much bigger, so they can spend more on advertising and have a perceived dominance in the market. However, because of its size, the competing company may be slow to change; like an ocean liner, it takes them a long time to turn around once they've set their course. Your company, on the other hand, is more like a speedboat that can turn on a dime. If something isn't working, you can scrap it and try something else. Play up this strength in your marketing efforts.

Second, if the phone number listed in the Yellow Pages is disconnected, you can call the phone company and ask that the number be transferred to your business. Now you have a Yellow Pages ad, gratis!

Say your competitor has money burning a hole in his or her proverbial pocket and is spending it on newspaper ads, coupons and Yellow Pages ads. Offer a special deal to customers who send you a competitor's ad or coupon. You'll attract more customers, and your competitor will be paying for ragged holes in the newspaper or phone book.

Linda Formichelli has written for more than 70 magazines, including Entrepreneur's Start-Ups, Redbook, Woman's Day and Psychology Today. You can visit her online at www.twowriters.net. She also runs a site that's against intrusive advertising at www.badads.org.