Mary Ellen Bates is someone whose opinion I value in my professional life. She is a librarian by training like me, but also makes her living from providing market research and competitor analysis to businesses like I do too. The personality traits that we share of being curious individuals who are persistent, creative and having the tenacity of a pit bull also ring true.
However, the true value of Mary Ellen is her wisdom and experience on how to run a business - those transferable skills that all business owners must develop to be successful. How to think strategically, how to get rid of the information fog or uncertainty, see a situation for what it is, and then organise and articulate for action. Mary Ellen's experience and ideas are generously given, and are very relevant for me. It's so great when you find someone who is from your kind of tribe, and gets what you do.
Mary Ellen is a competitor of mine too. Although we live in different parts of the world, common experiences, plus her unique geographical insights, use of technology and wisdom makes my business better. I can anticipate trends, strategise about how to solve problems and be more competent at my job. She understands my niche, and I can copy or improve on how she does things.
Just remember your competitors aren't just a business that does pretty much what you do. Technology and changing customer preferences can be more damaging to a business than what your main competitor can ever be.