work + life
The case for acknowledging, befriending, and talking up your awesome competition (and still boost your business)
by Brittany Taylor
published May 30, 2016
updated May 30, 2018
¶ The very first mistake I made at my first job as a web editor was retweeting a competitor. You know the phrase “blew a fuse”? Well, my shiny new boss blew an entire fuse box. Community over competition? Please. This was a duck-and-cover situation, y’all.
I don’t like it, but I get it. I came to content marketing from the magazine world, where the struggle to be the best in one’s niche is savage. That struggle involves intimately knowing the ins and outs of your competitor’s business while simultaneously pretending that competitor doesn’t exist.
Yeah, it’s just as fun as it sounds. /eye roll
There are a bunch of reasons I moved from magazines to content marketing. This one was a biggie. I hated seeing my competition do a great, great thing and not be able to talk about it because they were my competition. I wanted to build a network of peers, not an isolationist regime. I wanted community over competition.
And you should, too.
Change your mindset, change your life: corny, cheesy, and true (even if you don’t want to believe it right now).
When I first started my online business, I thought it would be a grand idea to keep tabs on my competition. All the old business books tell you to do competitive research, so that’s what I did. But there were a few things I realized pretty quickly:
I decided to try an experiment: I changed the name of the blog reader category that pulled in their posts from “content competitors” to “content colleagues.”
The experiment worked, guys. It sounds stupid, but that one little change transformed how I viewed the entrepreneurs who work in the same space I do.
Creating a community, even if it only existed in my mind, motivated me to work harder, to learn from my competitors colleagues, and to want to get to know them on both a personal and professional level. They felt like friends who were working in the next room, people I could commiserate with and celebrate with.
Be part of the online boss community! Here's a primer to help you get started.
How would you feel if your biggest competition tagged you in an Instagram post and gushed about how awesome your last project was? I’m pretty sure my heart would explode into thousands of rainbow sprinkles. Your experience may vary.
The thing about praise is that it doesn’t matter who it comes from; it always makes you feel good. Your competitors aren’t immune to that. That means that regardless of who you are, how long you’ve been in the business, and how well you know a particular person in your industry, your good vibes will warm that person’s heart.
Dopamine and serotonin are addictive, y’all. We always want more, and we’ll go pretty far to get it. Far enough to, say, return the praise. Or refer a client. Or collaborate on a project. Or ask for advice. Or meet up for coffee. Or share a room at a conference.
PSA: Those pinging sounds you hear are all those wins piling up.
Did you know 80 percent of small business' new clients come from referrals? It's true!
You know what it’s like to be stuck at a dinner table with a fighting couple? They’re throwing subtle digs at each other while you’re wondering how to get someone to pass you the bread basket without making eye contact. It’s hella awkward, y’all.
That’s what it’s like for your audience when they watch you and a competitor try to one-up each other or diss each other or subtly complain on social media about how so-and-so is copying your ideas. They don’t want to book either of you, they just want to get the hell out of the crossfire.
Dudes, the way out of this situation is not to pretend that your competition doesn’t exist. The way out is to spark a genuine love fest.
Not sold? OK. Let me phrase this differently.
¶ Which would you rather be?
Let's take a minute to talk about business values. I'm betting "petty" isn't on your list...
So, how do you step beyond reframing your thinking, so that your competitors become colleagues in reality as well as in your mind? Through action, friends, through small, patient acts of thoughtfulness that may one day build into a relationship between you and them that will improve your business.
We’re all in this together
Running a business is hard. It’s even harder if you’re doing it in a room by yourself with only a wifi connection tethering you to your team. We can all make it easier for each other by pushing the green jelly monster aside, choosing our kindest words and our most generous deeds, and putting them in service of a fellow boss.
I know choosing community over competition sounds hard. But really truly, it comes back to you in the end.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.