The Value of Building Relationships with Competitors
Here we are in part 4 of my 5-part “Being Human in Business” series. Last week, we looked at why we need to give other business owners’ grace when they stumble and try to figure entrepreneurship out.
If last week was about grace in our professional relationships, today is about overlooked opportunity.
In today's story, we'll look at:
THE VALUE OF CONNECTING WITH OUR COMPETITORS, HUMAN TO HUMAN
If you’re like me, maybe at some point you have been afraid to befriend and build relationships with competitive business owners. Let’s look at why that is a common feeling and explore what benefits might be hiding beneath our fears of making that human connection with “the competition.”
Fear and distrust keep us from reaching out to competitors.
If I had to make a list of mistakes I made in the early years of my business, being afraid of creating relationships with competitors is easily one of them.
Early on, I had some common concerns that maybe you share.
If I were to try and befriend a competitor, I thought they might:
- Steal my ideas
- Steal my clients
- Think I’m weird (spoiler alert: that cat is out of the bag)
- Make fun of me on social media
- Make me feel inadequate and talentless
I let these things stop me from reaching out to other branding, writing, and web design creatives. I didn’t want to myself or my business to be vulnerable in these ways.
But then, last year, I had a problem that was stopping the growth and development of my business. And I realized - having relationships with competitors was the perfect solution and opportunity to grow my business. Let me tell you why....
“Community over competition” and building relationships with other professionals in your field can be a huge, overlooked opportunity for your business.
So last year, I experienced a new problem in my business: managing too much interest at one time. I had just co-hosted my first branded speaking event, Small Business Gut Check. The event had generated so much interest and connected me to dozens of prospective clients.
However, not all of these prospective clients were an ideal fit for my services, approach, or time availability. So I had to tell several people simply, “So sorry, I’m not a fit and not sure who would be. Good luck!”
If this isn’t the definition of the “It’s not you - it’s me” conversation, I’m not sure what is!
And in short, it didn’t feel great. I always want to be a great resource to small business owners. I run my business for the long game and the big picture. The client who is not a fit today could be ready in a year - or a have a sister that’d benefit from what I do, etc. So I really hated the feeling of having no resources - no referrals - to give them.
So late last year, I vowed this wouldn’t happen again.
I faced my fear of meeting the competition.
I emailed a dozen branding professionals.
I asked them to real coffees and virtual coffees.
And the results were surprising.
None of my fears were realized.
In fact, I discovered these major BENEFITS to meeting and getting to know people in my industry:
- Empathy: I found camaraderie - people who understand the high’s and low’s of the work I do!
- Support: I found support - so many enjoyed getting to know me and my story. I felt less concerned that I was bringing an enemy close and instead gaining a friend.
- Appreciation for Differences: I saw close up just how very different we all are - everyone I talked to had a unique story and perspective on branding. They had great sides of their businesses - some overlapped with mine, some complimented.
- Collaboration: I discovered opportunity for collaboration and partnerships within several businesses that I would have never considered.
- Friendships: I gained friendships with so many professionals whose work I admire and we’ve been cheering each other on.
- A Strong Referral Network: And it solved my referral problem! With just a few meetings, I built up a fantastic network of entrepreneurs that I love referring prospective clients to!
This year, I’ve had the great opportunity to not be “empty-handed” when I meet new people who aren’t a fit for what we do or aren’t ready. I’ve been making new connections, helping others grow their businesses, and receiving new referrals in return constantly. And it feels like I have value to offer, even when I am not the right service provider. It's the right feeling and it's the kind of business I want to run - that honors the prospective client as much as possible.
I’m sure there are still people to be wary of who don’t subscribe to the “community over competition” concept. But while not every competitive relationship is guaranteed to be helpful and healthy, I’ve learned that creating them has been worth overcoming my fear. These kinds of relationships have added tremendous value to my business and I think there’s a good chance they could add value to yours.
I think the key is the golden rule and doing unto others as you’d have done unto you. Treat people well, seek out those who have a community mindset, and ask them to coffee - you may surprise yourself and gain both a friend and a professional opportunity you may have never considered.
Build your own community and develop stronger business relationships
If you’ve enjoyed this topic, I’ve developed 3 exclusive video trainings that explore business relationships more in-depth!
These trainings include:
- The Biggest Networking Mistake We All Make
- Ideal Clients, Not All The Clients: Why Your Business is Not for Everyone
- Negotiate Better: Inventing Options for Mutual Gain
They are included in “The Business Relationship Bundle” from my new, first-ever video education series, “Skip to Action TV: Season 1.”
You can find more information on this bundle and get the first episode of the season for FREE here.
Wrapping Up Next Week
We’ll be “human” for one more week with next week’s story exploring our own humanity as business owners and how we may be selling ourselves short when we present who we are to ideal clients and customers.
Til then - let me know what questions you have and anything you might want to hear more about in a series. Planning for next month and always enjoy your feedback and requests!
- "Why (And How) You Should Befriend Your Competitors" (Entrepreneur)
- "Partner or Competitor? Frenemies in Business" (Forbes)
- "10 Ways It Pays To Work With Your Competitors" (Huffington Post)