A good first place to look for potential competitors is online. Do a search using your product or service and the name of the country you want to export to as keywords.
Once you have found potential competitors look for customer reviews on websites, on social media, and on their own websites. Why do customers use their services or buy their products? Remember that customer perception can be as important as fact.
Find out more about using the internet to source information on your competitors from the International Trade Centres' Secrets of Electronic Commerce: A guide for Small and Medium-sized exporters (second edition).
Online business directories
Online business directories for your target markets can be useful for identifying possible customers (if you sell to other businesses) and competitors. Here is a sample of directories for some of New Zealand's top export markets:
Yellow Book USA - The fifth largest publisher of yellow pages in the United States and part of the Yell Group of international directories.
SuperPages - Search by category, business name, city, and state. You can also do a nationwide search.
Switchboard Yellow Pages - Search by business name or a limited range of categories.
MisterWhat - Easily find businesses and services in the United States. Search by business name or state, or browse using maps and business categories.
Yell.com - A member of the Yell Group, an international directories business.
MisterWhat - Easily find businesses and services in the United Kingdom. Search by business name or country, or browse using maps and business categories.
|Europages - Allows searching by company name, product or service, or business sector, and you can narrow searches by country.|
|AME Info Business Directory - Allows searching and browsing of a database containing 299,593 companies, indexed according to the North American Classification System.|
|Japan Telephone Directory - This English version allows you to search by business name, region or category.|
Kompass - A business directory listing more than two million companies in 70 countries.
Kellysearch - Search over two million companies worldwide for product, service and company information. You can also browse the directory by industry sector.
Search Engine Guide - This site provides links to search engines, portals, and directories arranged by industry.
Alibaba - A worldwide directory of suppliers.
Attend conferences, events or trade shows
An easy way to research your competitors is to attend conferences, exhibitions and trade shows. Visit your competitors' stands, listen, look at their material, take their free handouts and assess their competitive strength in their own country.
The 10times website has an extensive list of trade shows grouped by city and industry.
Pay a consultant
If you lack the time to complete the research yourself, consider contracting an export business consultant. You may also find specialist export branding companies or global media and communications experts who already have existing information on your competitors.
Before you commit to spending money with a consultant, check their credentials and talk to some of their existing customers.
An exploratory trip gives you the opportunity to examine the competition first hand and find out exactly who you are up against.
Good planning is essential to get the maximum benefit for the amount of time, energy and money invested in your visit. Find out exactly where your competitors are located. It is important to plan as much as you can before you leave.
Visit the library
Larger city libraries stock overseas business directories, magazines and journals. Researching entries or adverts in these publications can help you identify competitors. Some libraries also offer extensive online global business directories and databases, which you can access free of charge. Some services may be limited to library members only.
Checking local and international news coverage of companies (both online and in print) is another way of finding out information about companies. If available, register for competitors' e-newsletters.
Network with other businesses and exporters
Develop your networks by starting with contacts you already have (such as business associates or professional advisers on banking, accountancy or legal matters). Some of your suppliers (including marketing and PR companies) may have clients who are exporting that you could approach for information about markets and competitors.
Actively seek out opportunities to talk to other exporters. They can offer valuable insights into the level of competition in your target markets. You are likely to find other exporters in the membership of industry organisations, Chambers of Commerce, Business New Zealand or Export New Zealand.
Many associations can also supply research specific to your industry, much of which is based on 'hands-on' information collected from their members over the years.