“Know your enemy and know yourself” – Sun Tzu
Okay, enemies might be a strong word in the case of everyday business competition. It is rare in today’s business world that a business owner must be on guard to protect himself and his family from a competitor as he would protect them from an active enemy. A serious entrepreneur will recognize that 1) competition is always going to be there, and 2) there is much to learn from competitors.
1) Level Playing Field?
Just as you are free to start a business, your competitors are free to start theirs. Is the playing field level? Probably not. You or your competitor may have different contacts and/or “ins” the day you set up shop. If those types of advantages are not in your favor when you set out, it’s up to you to determine what comes next. You can be bitter and blame failures on your lack of connections in comparison to your competitor. Good luck with that. Or, you can move ahead with your plan, anticipating that you will likely lose some business without giving up hope of ever gaining that business.
People love underdogs! Use your lack of connections to your advantage. Play up the fact that you are working solely on your own skills and commitment. You will be surprised how many people respond to this.
2) What Do You Mean, NO Do-overs?
With very few exceptions, every business has competitors. When you get called out for lacking something your competitor has or for a mistake, the fact that a competitor business even exists can sting. Your instinct might be to go on the defensive and make excuses, but the better approach is to study your competitor. What has he done that makes him special? What can you do to be even more special to customers?
3) Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Well, why not? You and your competitor have already decided on your own that you have something special to offer that the big generic companies do not. You have both placed your lives and your fortunes into a small basket and are pedaling as fast as you can to keep your heads above water. Why can’t you be friendly? Odds are you are each seeking a different niche in a big market. You don’t have to be best friends, but, odds are both of you would benefit from an occasional meal together.
If actual person-to-person friendship is not possible, at the very least, learn from your competition. What do they have you don’t have? What do you have that they don’t? What are they doing right? What can you take away from them that you are not doing now? Make their ideas your own by putting your own spin on them, but don’t NOT do things simply because your competition does.
4) Being Young and New has Advantages
If your competitor has been successfully in business for a while, you may actually have an advantage. Use your energies to produce more, deliver more and imagine more than them. Young, new businesses offer energy and ideas rarely seen in fat, happy, old competitors. Deliver the impossible, break molds and simply work harder and smarter.
5) Do the Do-Si-Do
When you can’t beat them, join them! Maybe your two companies can work together and serve an entire market, thus blocking other competition? Swing your partner and all of that. This is not rolling on your back in submission, it’s about going in with serious intentions to fill a spot your competitor is not covering and combining resources. Their resources might be much larger than yours but do not let that intimidate you. Your mission and message is just as strong but is, ultimately, more effective when used as part of a team rather than on its own.
Whatever your business, keep in mind that competition exists and it need not be ugly and adversarial. Play your strengths, find your weaknesses and work on them and, if need be, work with your “enemies.” No matter what, remind yourself that you are not all hunting the same wooly mammoth—no one is going to go hungry. Flexibility, being able to admit that you might have missed some marketing or services and the willingness to work with competitors is what is going to get you through the 21st century.
Author: George Meszaros is a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Success Harbor. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content.
Published: May 23, 2014