I started the research for this article with the intention of helping out would-be cheap hosting providers. Really, though, this kind of lesson applies to startups and businesses of all kinds (in addition to cheap hosting providers, of course). What's the lesson? Business Advice from Sun Tzu
It's one that the Wall Street Journal covered extensively not too long ago in an article titled ‘If You Want To Beat ‘Em, Learn From ‘Em First.' The article details the ways that you can learn from your competitors.
Keeping Your Enemies Closer
As the old saying goes: “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” This statement was originally written down by Sun Tzu in his epic work ‘On the Art of War.' The book is complex and full of mind-bending strategies, but the concept is simple enough: keep a close watch on your competitors because you can learn from them.
What can you learn? Find out how much revenue your competitors rake in. Discover who their clients are, what their market is, and why they remain competitive. In the case of web hosting, you might think about what makes a site like GoDaddy so immensely popular. Or, you may wonder how GoDaddy has handled PR issues. All of this can be researched easily. There's something else that you can learn too.
Avoid Mistakes Made
The other vital thing that you can learn about competitors is the mistakes that they've made. History repeats itself, but you don't have to be the one repeating those mistakes. You can, however, take a good look at the obvious missteps, how the problem was handled, and how you can better the current issue.
For example: if company X got into a PR mess because they promised Y service but couldn't deliver, you can create a similar Y service — only better. You could also point out how company X went wrong, and how your company will be better (indirectly, of course, to avoid any litigation). Where can you get all of this information?
Don't Beat Around the Bush
Call that competing hosting (or other) company. Ask about plans, drill customer service reps about details, and find out what you need to know. You can also Google many of these things, and you can read through client reviews. People that have used a service will likely talk about it. Just make sure you ask.