As I reflected on this past year, I’ve been thinking about competitors…those who do what we do.
I’m not big on quotes, but this happens to be one of my favorites: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Along these lines, let me tell you a story.
When I first moved back to central Ohio from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first things I wanted to do to get my business established here was to network with others who either did what I do or did complementary work (graphic designers, web site developers, marketing agencies and so forth).
When I asked around to get some names of others I should connect with, I came up with a list and began reaching out, asking if they’d be willing to meet for coffee to connect and learn more about each other’s businesses. Many of them were very willing to do so. They took time to sit down with me, generously sharing their knowledge and advice. But, one in particular was not so willing. In fact, when I contacted her, she replied, “You’re a competitor—why would I want to meet with you?”
This simply floored me.
I had come from a world where it was common to network with others who do the same work as you. In the Bay Area, I had a strong network of other consultants and small firms who provided pretty much the same services I did. In fact, some of my favorite colleagues competed directly with me—the difference was, we never saw it that way. Our belief was that there’s enough work to go around for all of us and that not everyone specializes in everything….so it makes sense to have a robust network of other pros ready to refer work to, which we often did. My number one source of new business was referrals. I’m fairly certain that was partly because I was so open to creating connections with others.
When I moved back to central Ohio, however, I found that some had a different mentality. It was more of a territorial type of mindset. This was difficult for me to adjust to. Being an open and genuine person by nature, I didn’t know how to react to the concept that someone wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. Instead, they’d actually be rude and dismissive—not even taking the time to find a polite way to say “no, thank you” to a meeting with me.
Then, I’ve run into others who have had the attitude of not needing to build a connection with those who do anything similar to what they do. Or, they just plain have an attitude. Again, the question is why?
It’s always been my belief that people want to work with those who are genuine–and who genuinely believe in helping others. To me, connecting with others who do what I do or with those who do complementary work is a rush because I know that at some point, we may be able to work together. Or, I may be able to connect them with a client that might be a perfect fit. This, for me, is one of the joys of being independent. I can leverage my network to help my clients and colleagues. The more professionals I know, the more I can bring to the table to help others.
Regarding competition, I rarely feel as though I’m truly “competing” with others as much as I am with myself. I hold high standards and try to focus more on that than on worrying about what others are doing. In fact, it can really get you off your game if you become so focused on the competition that you’re not paying enough attention to knocking it out of the park with your own clients.
So, in the new year, I resolve to try harder than ever to make connections with others—and never to make anyone feel the way that “competitor” made me feel. For me, it’s more about collaboration than it is about competition.