This post is dedicated to all the paranoid businesspeople out there who are terrified of their competitors. You know, the people who run businesses centered around “consulting” who view any other “consulting” firm as a competitor. You can insert whatever industry you like in the quotes and this perspective will apply.
Knock it off – you’re limiting your business and isolating yourself from opportunities to grow. You’re effectively placing yourself on a deserted island in the ocean of business opportunities.
Not only are you limiting opportunities, you’re building a brand of naivete, immaturity and narrow thinking. The following also applies whether you’re a one-person shop or a multimillion dollar firm. Unless you’re Coke & Pepsi or some other similar truly competitive pairing of companies, you need to pay attention.
Those of you who know me know I network. A lot. That networking gets me in front of many other business owners and executives who play in a space similar to my firm.
I run a leadership development training firm. We have a specific business model. We focus on a few key knowledge areas where we have deep expertise. We deliver that knowledge through one-day training sessions with some focused coaching support afterward.
Networking gets “interesting” when I meet others who work in the leadership development coaching and training arena. During those meetings I’ve seen two destructive dynamics play out on occasion.
Unhealthy Behavior #1: Not having perspective
“You’re a competitor because you do leadership and I do leadership therefore we shouldn’t discuss our businesses with each other.”
Sometimes people lack perspective. They hear an industry and immediately go all paranoid and assume you’re directly competitive. Last time I checked, “leadership” was a pretty big space…
Take a moment to gather perspective. How big is the market? How big are your companies? Are there specific niches you target that are different from one another? Do you have different delivery models?
Upon getting some perspective you might learn you have complementary offerings. You might target dramatically different markets (geographies, demographics, customer company sizes, etc.).
I laugh when a sole proprietor says they compete with another sole proprietor. How big is the market? How big are you guys? I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of pie to go around and feed everyone.
Making this ingoing assumption that you’re directly competitive without assessing the market rings of immaturity and an inability to see the larger picture.
Instead, look for ways your businesses are complementary. How can you help one another enter new customers or markets? How can your offerings be synergistic? If you do classroom training and they offer online training, those businesses can be pretty powerful together, y’know? You can find these synergies by putting some precision around how you go to market and how you could grow the pie more together than you could on your own.
Unhealthy Behavior #2: Not trusting another party
“You’re gonna steal my stuff!” Yeah, that’s a conversation killer but I see that dynamic all the time.
People get paranoid and believe the other party will steal their customers, employees, or proprietary methodologies/technologies. They spend tons of money on legal agreements (non-competes, non-solicitations, NDA’s, and any other document a lawyer foists upon them to prey on paranoia). Couldn’t that money be better spent on marketing or new product development? Or maybe give your employees a bonus…
Business is based on trust. If I don’t trust you, all the legal agreements in the world won’t create trust. Try a mindset of doing business on a handshake and if you’re referring to legal agreements, you’re in a bad place.
Legal agreements are of last resort. I’m not saying not to have them – I’m simply advocating that you let your reputation and ethics govern the relationship rather than Subparagraph 27.A.2.ii.
Don’t steal employees. Don’t disclose confidential information. These are no-brainers. I expect these behaviors come with the handshake. When the first thing you do is shove a legal agreement in my face before we even talk about business, the conversation is pretty much over.
Instead, build a trust-based reputation. Uphold high ethics. Be forthright in your discussions. I had a great conversation the other day with someone who does compete with my firm in some very specific arenas but not in others. We were direct about not targeting specific clients of each other on one hand and referring business to each other in another area (and no, this isn’t market carving monopolistic behavior because, again, your company isn’t big enough to merit such scrutiny). Both of us win in that scenario.
Don’t be so paranoid. It limits your business and eliminates opportunities that could come your way. Being myopic and small-minded is the fastest way to isolate yourself from the rest of the business community. Going it alone in this economic environment is one of the last things you should be doing.
What self-limiting behaviors have you seen your organization exhibit? Who are good examples in your mind of not being narrow minded as it relates to competition? Please share…