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How to Learn About Your Competition Ethical ways to get the goods on your competitors before you start your own business

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Q: I want to start a business based on an idea I received from a former co-worker whom I will call Jane. Jane and I planned to go into business together using what she learned when she worked for a company that has no known competitors. But Jane has passed away.

The company she worked for is for sale, but I think the owner is asking too much. I still believe I could run it bigger and better, so how do I find out about his business without asking him outright? If I act like I am interested in purchasing it only to find out how he operates, well, that would be unethical.

A: Businesses without competitors are either monopolies or serving small, niche markets in which reputation can be very important, so your ethical sensitivity to not ripping off the owner may be quite meaningful to your ultimate success in this business. At the same time, you obviously need to get the technical know-how necessary to operate it.

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