“It’s a dog eat dog world.”
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
In business, it’s natural to be somewhat wary of our competition. After all, they pose a threat to our livelihood, right?
Not necessarily! My hope is that you’re not in a completely saturated industry or niche that’s so incredibly tight where there’s not enough room for both you and those who do the same sort of work. Assuming you’re not in that situation, there’s much to be gained as a solopreneur by openly communicating with – and even coaching – your competitors.
Although I launched my freelance writing business just four years ago, several writers (some in the field far longer than me) have approached me to “talk shop” and learn about how to better manage, evolve, and market their solo-businesses. I’ve never turned any of them (my competitors!) away. And while I believe my insight and shared experiences have helped them a good deal, I’ve also found benefit professionally from giving them practical tips and advice.
Here’s what you stand to gain by treating your competitors like comrades:
Hey, if your competition is coming to you for advice, you’re obviously doing something right. Talk about a shot in the arm to boost your self-confidence! Consider it an honor that they thought to reach out to you for knowledge.
While you’re sharing some elements of your “secret sauce” and advising, you’ll likely discover new ideas, tools and approaches, too. As you open up about what has been working for you in business, they will surely share some of what has worked for them as well. Stay aware and ready to learn!
As a solopreneur, you don’t have unlimited capacity to take on new work, and you won’t be right for every project that crosses your path. By learning more about your competitors, you’ll be better able to outsource work or direct prospects to the right person for the job when you’re not available or when the job just isn’t a good match for you.
Potential for Referrals
That’s right! That good will that you’ll generate through being a friend rather than a foe to your competitors can translate to new clients and projects for you in return. Just as you on occasion may need to defer work to someone else, so will your competitors.
Occasionally, you may need to draw the line on just how much information and help you freely provide.
Use your discretion and good sense. If someone seems to be asking for too much detail, politely explain that you don’t feel comfortable disclosing that information and perhaps send them a link to an online resource instead where they can explore the topic. If someone starts to demand too much of your time (email after email or phone call after phone call), politely let them know that you’re very busy and gradually wean them to a level of communication that is manageable for you.
Is there risk associated with helping your competitors move their businesses forward?
Perhaps. But in my experience, the competitors I’ve helped have all had only the purest intentions to learn to do business better – and not at my expense. None of them have ever used what I’ve shared against me or have knowingly approached any of my clients in an attempt to steal them away.
That said; go with your gut before you sit down to have a heart-to-heart with a competitor. If someone seems less than authentic in their motives, don’t talk with them.
Remember, however, that most solopreneurs are good, honest people who support each other. So, be open to communicating with your competitors and enjoy the camaraderie and opportunities that follow.
What about you? How have relationships with your competitors helped you professionally?
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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