Why It Makes Sense to Make Your Competitors Your Comrades

You’ve heard it before…

“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!

Alternative Options
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?

6 comments on “Why It Makes Sense to Make Your Competitors Your Comrades
  1. Hi Dawn, excellent thoughts, as always. I think that as solopreneurs we need to make sure that we are codifying our knowledge into content pieces with value associated with it. Whether that means a Kindle course, and information product or even a membership site. When we add new knowledge, we can re-codify.

    Then, when we want to give to competitors, there is a value attached. In some cases the relationship will warrant the making a purchase, and in other case it will warrant us giving them the information in product form.

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Hi Charles, Thank you for your thoughts on this! I do agree with you when it comes to coaching/educating on a larger scale. There’s definitely nothing wrong with monetizing your experience and establishing a system that others can pay for if they want some very detailed information that you might otherwise not want to provide for free. The competitors I’m speaking of are those who I have some specific connection with. Mostly local people – some farther away – who I’ve established a relationship or familiarity with to one degree or another. My goal isn’t to be a professional peer coach so I’ve opted to go the pro bono route – and I’ve learned where to draw the line so that it doesn’t get out of hand. I don’t see myself systematizing and monetizing anytime soon, but it certainly is something others should consider if they want to share their knowledge on a larger scale.

  2. BeMoreHealthful says:

    One of the things I’ve learned in the past year as I’ve been building my health coaching business is that the MORE I communicate with other coaches doing similar things, the more we were able to HELP each other out since we weren’t serving the exact same markets. Even when the markets are similar, it’s never felt like competition, because we’re working towards the same larger goal.

    The idea that there isn’t enough of the pie to go around creates unnecessary stress, friction and (in my opinion) an unhealthy idea of what business has to be. I believe that business should come from a place of serving others while being paid enough to live your life, not a game of shoving others out of the way so that your light shines brighter and bigger than others around you.


    • dawnmentzer says:

      Hi Rachel! Thank you for sharing about your own experience! What a great example of how communicating with competitors can make us better – and help us serve our clients more effectively. As you point out, fostering an environment where we can lift each other up rather than cut each other down reduces stress and helps us focus on fulfilling our business missions.

  3. Tim Allen says:

    I almost laughed out loud reading this because I told one of your competitors this very thing. I can’t get over how small businesses can on one hand be dependent upon a free-market economy, then turn around and be so dismissive of their competitors. I am grateful to have a cooperative, courteous relationship with ad reps from other local publications. Can we compete? No doubt, but it does not have to be ugly and can indeed even become a partnership of sorts (just don’t tell my boss!). 🙂

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tim! You’re so right…it really is counter-intuitive to feel threatened or dis competitors. We’re fortunate to be able to choose our career paths and the industries we wish to work in. And don’t worry, I’ll keep what you shared under wraps! 😉

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