How to beat competition without firing a shot

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You and your competition have a lot in common, but each company has its distinctive offering whether in terms of products, service, relationships, or perceptions. Your business growth will come from concentrating on the segment unaffected by competition. The business is a reflection of the people who run it, so taking a close look at the unique qualities of your team is a good place to start.

Once you are confident in your distinctive abilities, it’s time to join the competition by working in mutually beneficial partnerships.

Now, I know what you are thinking. “If I cooperate with my competition, they can take advantage of me. What if somebody walks off with my client or ideas?” The solution to that is evaluating business opportunities in terms of what Dr. Saras Sarasvathy calls “affordable loss,” or never betting more than what you can afford to lose. That way, even if a relationship sours, your business will be able to withstand the blow.

Secondly, the gain outweighs the risk. Operating in an environment of cooperation will empower you with positive energy and a sense of wellbeing. Too many business people get burnt out by the constant rat race. Maintaining your emotional equilibrium for the long haul is critical to your success.

Beyond that, an outlook of cooperation will present you with many more opportunities than competition ever could. And even if you encounter a lemon once in a while, the other successful relationships will make up for it abundantly.

How to get rid of competition through cooperation

*Build up your confidence – fear of competition is a clear signal that you are not sufficiently sure of your own place. Security in your right and ability to bring something worthwhile to the table is a great antidote to the fixation on competition. There is only one you. Nobody else has your blend on innate abilities, outlooks, skills, and experiences. The illusion that you are no different than the others is just that – an illusion. God doesn’t work with a cookie cutter.

* Define your uniqueness – start out by taking a close look at who you are, what you know, and why it matters. What do you know that others don’t? What’s your unique voice and perspective? Where do you challenge the accepted assumptions? How do you defy the common sense? What are your areas of excellence? On the other hand, in which areas are you less efficient? Encourage you team members to ask the same questions. Take the time to do this as a team.

* Identify your competition – make a list of your top competitors. What are the distinct advantages of each? Where do they excel? Why would the clients turn to them instead of coming to you?

*Explore the opportunity – consider whether any of your competitors complement you. What resources do they have that you could take advantage of if you were to cooperate? What do you have to offer them? How can you work together?

* Identify your boundaries – consider which parts of your business must remain outside the cooperation scheme. Which parts of your business are too vulnerable to be shared? If a relationship were to break down, what would be the critical parts to protect? What are you willing to share and what stays behind locked doors?

*Make sure your team is on the same page – cooperative thinking may not come naturally to some of your team members. You wouldn’t want them to double guess your decision or to make assumptions about your motives. They may view cooperation as a sign of weakness or an affront to their “team spirit.” On the other hand, team members can help you identify many of the issues at play. Explain your rationale and the pros and cons of both the competitive and cooperating approaches. Get them on board.

Get to know your competition. Personally. – People prefer doing business with people they like. Having a good relationship makes it easier to work together. So before you build a venture together, get to know each other. Set up a meeting with each one of your competitors, preferably in a neutral setting. Having food around is a great way to break the ice. Tell them that since you are in the same space anyway, you may as well get to know each other. Chances are they are concerned enough about you to agree to the meeting. Repeat until you build solid rapport.

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