Want to improve your business? Study your competition.

Think they're not as good as you? Great--learn from their mistakes. If their marketing campaign failed, find out why.

Yes, you should be learning from their successes, too. Are they expanding to grow market share? Study how they did it, so you can emulate them.

Pay particular attention to start-ups. They often generate a lot of buzz--your customers or clients might notice. What are they doing new or different? Think of these as free opportunities to research your market to see what's working and why.

If a competitor has discovered a way to attract consumers, or has found success penetrating a region that previously saw little sales growth, pay attention. That competitor just might open up opportunities for you to come in and do it even better.

Acquisitions, bankruptcies and start-ups cause the competitive landscape to be in constant flux, so looking at them will help you re-evaluate your direction.

Evaluating the competition is a fluid process--especially if you see success as a long-term achievement and not just a short-term win. You have spent significant amounts of time, energy and money to build your company; it is in your interest to stay relevant, no matter what.