Working With The Enemy
For many small business owners, competition is just that: Another company or individual who threatens to take market share away from them. But suppose, for a moment, that your competitors weren’t the enemy. What if they were, instead, possible partners?
Early in running my marketing firm, I heard another marketing consultant speak at a networking event. My immediate instinct was to panic. She’ll take all the business in the room! How can I compete with her?
For months I grimaced when I thought of her. Then my husband flipped my thinking. He encouraged me to contact her, just for a tête-a-tête. I could get advice from her about growing my business. It would be good to swallow my pride.
And so, grudgingly, I did it. Looking back, I think she was probably flattered that a newbie wanted her opinion on how to run a marketing firm. I would be now. At any rate, she gave me some good advice...and some business.
She brought me in to work on projects she didn’t have time for. She slowly introduced me to a client project that she eventually handed over to me. At the time, it was my biggest client.
Simply by changing my mindset about how this woman would eat up the market, I ended up learning a lot from her and growing my business.
Changes your perspective, doesn’t it?
I encourage you to think about other people that work in your field. Maybe you’ve envied their client lists, or wondered how they handle certain tasks. Be brave and ask. Take the owner to lunch and ask for advice. Make it clear you’re not out to steal his trade secrets, but only want to learn from another professional in your industry.
Now, take everything I said before about getting business from a competitor with a grain of salt. You certainly can’t walk in and demand they share their business with you. But as your relationship grows and you understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses, there may be room to partner. I work with firms who are weak in writing, while I outsource PR to other firms. Doing this helps you offer more services without having to take on work you don’t enjoy doing.
How to find enemies to turn to friends
You probably have a few companies in mind that you’d like to reach out to, but if not, here are some tips for building new relationships.
- Search online. If you work virtually, you don’t have to limit yourself to local competitors.
- Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
- Pay attention to what they’re talking about and engage them in conversation on social sites.
- Read their blogs. This in and of itself may help you with your own business.
- Reach out with a short e-mail introducing yourself and your firm. Compliment them on work they’ve done. If they’re local, invite them to lunch. If not, ask if they’d have half an hour to chat.
Worst case is they say no. You probably don’t want to learn from this type of person anyway. But in a best case scenario, you’ll get ideas about how to expand your business, and you just might find a new stream of revenue.
Susan Payton is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in marketing communications, copywriting and blog posts. She’s written two books: 101 Entrepreneur Tips and Internet Marketing Strategies for Entrepreneurs, and has blogged for several sites, including The Marketing Eggspert Blog, as well as Mashable, Small Business Trends, FutureSimple, BizLaunch and Lead411. Follow her on Twitter @eggmarketing.