Don't pay so much attention to the competition. They don't matter.
I realize this goes against everything anyone's ever taught you, but hang with me here for a minute... "Don't pay attention to the competition? But... They're who I'm up against! How can I ignore them?" Firstly, I didn't say "ignore them." I said, "don't pay SO MUCH attention to them."
Now, before you think I'm daft, I don't mean you should operate your business in a vacuum, and not take chances, and be completely blind to what's happening in the market and business world you live in. That's just stupid.
What I mean is this:
Every second you spend worrying (there's that word again...) about your competition is doing, what your competition thinks about you (let's face it - they probably aren't even thinking about you right now), what your competition may (or may not) be doing better than you, is a second that you're not spending doing what you do best. In my case, that's coming up with kick-ass creative for my clients.
I certainly have some big competition in this town - from designers with crazy skills (hey, I give props where they're due!) to agencies with budgets that make my head spin - and I respect them all. But I don't fear them. I have something to offer that they simply don't: Me. That's my upper hand. My secret weapon. My super power.
I don't design in a vacuum. I research current trends. I pay attention to what is and isn't the "next big thing." And I chose, based on that research, combined with a hefty dose of gut instinct, which of those next big things I want to incorporate and run with, and which of those I don't. Sometimes I'm right, and sometimes I'm wrong - but I know the decisions I made were mine to make. And I own those decisions. What I never do is base my decisions on keeping up with my competition.
When you base your decisions on what the competition is doing right now, and then adjusting your path to do what they're doing, then you might as well go work for your competition and throw on a name tag that reads, "Hi, my name is Follower." While you're worrying about what your competition is doing "right now," they're probably doing some great work for someone that could have (and should have) been YOUR customer. Continually focusing on keeping up with the competition means you'll never see the opportunities to overtake the competition. You'll always be eating their dust as they blow past you.
Do your own thing, take your own chances, be brave and draw your own lines in the sand. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Learn. Do what you know how to do, do it well every time, and then work and challenge yourself to do it even better next time. Be yourself and trust yourself. Every. Single. Day.
And before you know it, your competition might just start paying attention to you.