Dear Karen: How can I research my competitors?
Answer: Use Google to set up alerts that tell you when your competitors are in the news. Also explore rivals' websites and other places — newspapers, blogs and consumer reviews — where they are being discussed, said Todd Foulks, vice president of a New York investor group.
Try to get their credit reports from Dun & Bradstreet, and see what the reports tell you about their finances. Attend local and regional business events and meet your competitors face-to-face. "Get to know them," Foulks said, "and instead of being competitors, they could become partners in a strategic alliance."
Encouraging clients to pay faster
Dear Karen: Payments to my small business are slow. How can I speed them up?
Answer: Bill clients immediately. "Many small businesses do not send out their invoices in a timely fashion," said Rhonda Abrams, chief executive of the Planning Shop, a publisher of books about small business.