You’re building your business and networking like crazy. You go to one. . . two. . . three events and then all of a sudden, you start running into your competitors. When you do, run, like crazy, to the other side of the room. Avoid them at all costs!
Really? Your competitors could be your strongest supporters. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to network with them. Here are some reasons why.
It’s better to know than to be in the dark. Discussing business and clients helps you know your competitor’s sweet spot, and vice versa. When you get a job in their sweet spot, ask them for help. You may end up with less revenue, but you benefit from the experience, and so does your client. Your competitor will be flattered. And chances are, when the situation is reversed, they’ll call on you.
They could help you out in a pinch. While our plans never take in down time, it happens. Someone gets sick. Someone has an accident. You can ignore your customers when it happens or you can call on a partner to help you out. If you’ve developed a relationship with a competitor, you’ve got it covered.
Partners make you stronger. As you take on new business, you may get the opportunity to bid on a project that is outside your expertise. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to work with a non-profit – and your resume lacks the experience. Or maybe you are very young and successful but your presentation will be made to the board of directors – a generation older than you. Whatever the case, going in with a partner gives your presentation added panache.
There’s economy in numbers. When you find a perfect partner, everything becomes easier. You can advertise together. Market your businesses together. Speak at different functions. Each of you can cover more events together. It won’t work for everyone, but keep your options open. If you’re a graphic designer who designs websites (but you don’t really like to do the programming), it might be great idea to partner with a developer who programs websites (and designs them himself). Maybe you’re a self-help coach that sometimes gets asked to coach someone on finding a dating partner. It’s not your expertise, but you know a coach who specializes in that field. Working together with the right person makes your business stronger.
Learn from the best. Experience trumps knowledge. You may be certain of how you want to handle a project. In your mind, you’ve got the plan worked out thoroughly. But checking in with a competitor and asking about advice for working with a certain industry can pay off big time. You might avoid a big mistake – something that you would have never considered.
Validation builds confidence. Working for ourselves, we sometimes do not have the opportunity to run ideas by co-workers. If you’ve developed a relationship with a competitor, running ideas through him or her will help both of you. You’ll get feedback valuable to your success and your competitors will feel privileged that you’ve confided in them. If you are worried about eventual leaks, ask for confidentiality.
Certainly not every competitor is going to be a good partner or someone to work with on a joint venture. But unless you know your competitor and the clients they work with, you won’t know what you’re missing.
Mary Jefferson, Make It Count Marketing
Mary Jefferson is owner of Make It Count Marketing – a Rockville, MD consulting firm experienced in creating marketing solutions designed to work for your company. The premise behind Make It Count Marketing is that solutions are designed for your particular needs to bring results and not drain your bottom line.