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Competition, Schmompetition

by Marcia Yudkin

Business is war. At this very moment, cut-throat competitors are trying to snatch away your best customers, recruit your employees and steal your ideas. Be manipulative and ruthless, because in the struggle for business survival, nice guys never end up on top.

Is that your vision of the world? Some very successful business people I know act otherwise.

Let's turn the view of business as a ferocious fight upside down and consider what you might gain by regarding companies in the same line of work as allies. 

First, by sharing information voluntarily with one another, you each learn faster and grow more healthily. A former business magazine editor I know once called up editors of other magazines in his niche to exchange ideas about what they were doing that was working and what wasn't. Suspicious at first, several took him up on the offer and soon experienced the value of discussing problems and solutions.

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Hardly ever do two businesses share precisely the same universe of probable customers. With the business magazines, the tone, coverage of topics, frequency and point of view differ enough that some customers prefer Magazine A to Magazine B and vice versa while others choose both C and D. The same goes for therapists, lawyers and accountants, where expertise, approach and personality make one professional appeal most to Client X and another to Client Y.

Second, by joining forces where appropriate and acting cordially toward one another you can increase the size of your shared market. After all, isn't that the idea behind trade associations and industry advertising, like the "Got Milk?" campaign? I've watched several Internet marketing 
companies profitably write for and advertise in each other's publications and cover each other's conferences. Trying to cut each other down wouldn't be as smart.

Third, you can help smooth out rough spots for each other more reliably than by seeking aid from outsiders. Peter Bowerman, a commercial writer in Atlanta and the author of The Well-Fed Writer, organized a peer group to meet once a month or so. "The upshot is that I now know the work of 6-7 writers," he says, "people to whom I'm very comfortable referring to clients when I'm too busy, out of town, or if the project is out of my scope of expertise."

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Such bridge-building works not only for independent professionals like photographers, graphic designers and consultants but even for, say, dry cleaners. When your pipes burst, you'll appreciate being chummy with someone who has the right equipment with capacity to spare.

Fourth, you'll have boosters already lined up if you decide to shift gears. That business editor eventually decided to go solo as a writer. Not in any pre-planned way but conveniently enough, his roster of assignments filled up right from the start because of the fellow editors he'd come to know. Likewise, if you want to retire or sell your business, you'll already be on cordial, not warring, terms with potential buyers by following the "ally" philosophy.

Copyright 2002 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved. 

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