Do you blanch at the prospect of confronting your competition on the doorsteps of the people you share as potential customers?
Can you feel the blood rush to your feet at the very idea?
You could spend a chunk of your career taking a long sideways sneer at your peers and rivals. Many freelancers do just that. Believe me, you don’t want to bow to that particularly bitter and twisted mindset. It will eat away at you psychologically, curb your focus and stunt the progress of your business.
That sense of panic might stem from any of a number of sources – for example:
- You have a sense of perfection in your process or in your finished product (e.g., ‘they never do things properly’, ‘my way is the right way’)
- The opposite can also be true: your low self-esteem allows you to believe that your rivals are better than you
- You harbour a misplaced sense of entitlement
- You feel insecure, that trends are against you
- Fear that the other team will swoop on your patch and dominate because they’re bigger and shinier
- Plain, visceral envy
- You tell yourself ‘There’ll never be enough work to go round’
And so on. Succumbing to any one of these will hurt you; and your competition will be none the wiser as they get on with their work.
Furthermore, every one of these points of view is a choice. If you’re experiencing any one of these mind-worms, you need to take the necessary actions to realign yourself.
What do I mean by ‘competition’?
It could be the other people or businesses working in your space.
It may be that they have newer, maybe radically different solutions to the ones you offer.
Or is it that they are the establishment and you are the feisty newcomer?
Do you think your competitor is the multiple service operator who hoovers up everyone’s business cards at your regular networking gigs? And deals out their own with equal vigour?
What about the online directory of semi-pros knocking out one-size solutions for a tenner-or-less a pop?
Do you see a lot of yourself in the people you’re always coming up against in pitch situations and it makes it harder for you to raise your competitive game?
There are fixes for each and all of these. You have to be willing to make adjustments.
That’s good news.
It all comes back to your business goals and your personal investment in them.
Put this at the heart of your strategy for dealing with the idea of competition and what it means to you, and you can make serious shifts in perspective and outcome.
There are a few things going on here if you happen to be viewing your potential rivals in any of the ways I’ve just touched on.
Each of the stereotypes I’ve described has the potential to become someone you can build a relationship with, that will completely remodel not just the way you see them but the way they fit into your business world for your joint benefit.
So I’m going to lay out a few options to help you reposition yourself with your competition.
It matters because, by the time you’ve processed your approach to competitors, you’ll see them as potential allies, supporters, partners, mentors, providers – an essential cohort of buddies on your path from insecurity, through stability, to success.
It’s within your power to make the change and it’s down to you to make it happen.
If at first you’re not interested in engaging with a particular competitor, you might like to consider what attributes the two of you have in common and the ones that make you different.
Research them. List them. Be specific.
Then ask yourself questions that guide you towards ways you could evolve your own business to be different:
How can I do this one thing better than them?
How can I do this one thing in a way that is completely fresh, unique?
Take those of your competitors whom you most admire – perhaps most aspire to be like – to benchmark yourself against.
Find specific areas where you can prove yourself to be not simply better but uniquely beneficial to your customers in a specific way.
With this knowledge you can work on framing your marketing messages to reflect this uniqueness.
Such differentiation is a basic tool of any marketing framework. It allows you to identify how you can separate yourself from your competition and be seen as the only one doing what you do, in the way you do it.
And if differentiation is not your goal, the process of benchmarking yourself against other businesses like you gives you the tools to see more clearly the value in your own offering.
Show yourself some grit in recognising that there will be enough work to go round.
That’s not to say you should ignore the threat of competition, but you need to put it in perspective.
Try an alternative point of view.
How well do you know your rivals? It would be a disarming tactic to bring them into your circle of allies.
It means there’s no room for pedestals. Not the one you’re on. And definitely not the one you’ve put them on.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find you bump into some of them at business and networking events. These are opportunities to get to know them. You’ll have common ground, shared interests, so kicking off a conversation shouldn’t be that difficult.
Where might this lead?
You could make a new friend. A friend in a business context can be a powerful ally, someone you can share the joys and woes of the world with. Plain, simple and, at worst, good for the soul.
(Start with a spirit of friendship. My own preferred way of warming up this kind of relationship is inviting them to meet over coffee in a good hotel or café that has decent light, low noise and efficient, low-energy service – you need to be able to relax comfortably into the meeting with minimum distraction. Neutral space has its benefits, as does somewhere you feel right at home.)
But it needn’t end there. How about…
A relationship of mutual exchange or help.
Expertise, skill, knowledge might become currency between you. Stuck on something? Pick up the phone and ask how they would solve it. It’s mutual, so they can pick your brain too. It’s important to maintain equal commitment with this kind of relationship, so don’t let it get out of balance.
If this works for you, you might think about growing the numbers on this basis and running your own mastermind group. The value of this could be enormous to each of you.
A relationship of opportunity.
Early on in the getting-to-know-you process you might mutually stumble on areas where working in harmony is a more beneficial proposition than working alone or opposed.
Seed projects, pitches, answering procurement calls are at your fingertips if you can nurture a relationship in this way. Don’t try to push the conversation too hard in this direction: if you see signs of synergy let the subject develop naturally.
A relationship of mutual commercial benefit.
Want to make it more concrete? Hire each other. Become each other’s client/supplier.
Base who calls the shots on who brings the work in. This will change from one project to the next. Work to individual strengths so that the quality of project is elevated to a standard that neither of you could have delivered alone.
Handling a larger project could be achieved by ramping up this style of collaboration. Use these same tactics to pull together a whole bunch of you and your peers to offer a once-only proposition and a top-drawer solution.
Off with the blinkers
These approaches could end at the close of a project. They might equally be the birthing of long-term, formal partnerships or corporate entities. If those kinds of opportunities arise, the choice is yours (back to your goals).
By being open, aware and inclusive you have the power to make a lot happen for the benefit of your freelance life.
At the very least, you’ll have reached new levels of understanding and respect with your peers.
For many of us, putting some of these ideas into practice will be a bit like stepping out of the nursery for the first time. It really is worth harnessing a bit of courage and taking the plunge.
These are just outline approaches. If you want to try them out, be sure to tailor tactics and methods to your own personality and professional situation. Make it a habit and it could soon feel like second nature.
Do you have any experiences of collaborating with competitors?
We’d love to know how you get on or if you have your own tried and tested methods for making your competitors, your peers and rivals all part of your framework for success – comments are welcome below.
You can dig much deeper into the whole area of collaboration here.
Now, go knock’em dead. (Well, you know…)
Your free chapters 1,2 & 3 of The Collaboration Game are waiting for you –