In order to monitor competitors, you need to dedicate some time to planning the whole process. Rather than just googling them every so often, you are better off using a systematic approach. If you monitor your competition, you will be aware of any threats that might pose a risk to your new venture. This might simply be a new product they are introducing which you won't be offering, or some completely new management who have a new vision for the company.
Set up a 'listening post' on the internet using some free tools, such as Google Alerts and Google Reader, to monitor your competitor's name for mentions across the web, or any other keywords you feel are important. This doesn't take long to do, and then once you've done it you simply wait for the information to come to you. If you follow all of your competitor's blogs through Google Reader, then you can be safe in the knowledge that any new information they make public you will be aware of.
You could take this a step further and actually 'scrape' your competitors sites, which can be ideal for businesses that have a large website. If there is so much information on it that you find it difficult to make sense of it all, then this is ideal for you. Check out IntelligentEye if you're interested in this.
Monitoring competitor pricing is another useful tool. Even if you are small, our own £35/month package should cover you, and for that you will have all your competitor's pricing data pooled into your own log in area for simple analysis. Monitoring competitor pricing is of course only applicable to ecommerce businesses, but at least check it out if that's what you are starting up.
Where else can you get intelligence on your competitors? In all honesty, being proactive is all that is really necessary. Look at competitor's advertising, what products/services are they pushing and why? who are they aiming it at? If you are on their mailing list, take a look at what they are sending out to you.
The key to monitoring competitors is the ability to gather data from every aspect of your competitor's businesses and then condensing it so that you can learn from it.
This post is about how start ups forget to monitor competitors, but an ever bigger sin is actually doing it but then failing to act on it! Whether you are doing competitor price monitoring, social media monitoring, or a combination of the lot, unless you act on the information you have gathered, you won't be strengthening your position in your marketplace. So if you want your new venture to stand out from the crowd, make sure you put this intelligence to use and ACT ON IT!