Dealing With the "Competition"
Some Dos and Don'ts for Small Business Owners
As a small business owner, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the
seemingly contradictory notions of competition and collaboration. This pondering
began with an article in Entrepreneur magazine that contained a list of
factors that "contribute to a poor marketing mindset." Parts of the article were
appallingly contrary to my own marketing mindset, prompting me to write the
following letter to the editor:
As a longtime entrepreneur who understands the importance of marketing,
I've always been a great fan of guerrilla marketing guru Jay Conrad
Levinson. So while I gained much from he and Al Lautenslager's article
Mind Over Market (March 2005), one of the marketing-sabotaging attitudes
they trumpeted left me cold.
Apparently those of us who are guilty of "lacking a competitive spirit,
not having a killer instinct, and not playing to win" are doomed to failure.
This may be what I refer to as a "genderalization" but based on my
experience working with other women business owner's, this kind of
eat-or-be-eaten approach just doesn't resonate with the majority of my
In fact, rather than trying to "kill" or "beat" my competition, I go out
of my way to refer prospective clients who would be better served by more
traditional employment vs. entrepreneurial-oriented career counselors. I
also actively courted two highly successful "competitors" in the form of
Barbara Sher (I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was) and Barbara
Winter (Making a Living Without a Job). Together we produced and share in
the profits of a 24-set CD program for aspiring entrepreneurs called
Making Dreams Happen (ChangingCourse.com/mdhcds.htm).
A perhaps more accurate interpretation of what some may see as lacking
competitive spirit is the conviction on the part of many women that there is
something wrong with a definition of success that says in order for me to
win, someone else has to lose. It's also the kind of win-win-win marketing
strategy that has me and my competitor's laughing all the way to the bank."
Dreamer in Residence
(As an important aside, something as simple as a letter to the editor can
serve as a great no-cost way to market yourself or your business. In addition to
hopefully making some readers rethink their approach to competition, the letter
led to more exposure. An Entrepreneur columnist writing a book on marketing is
including my story in her chapter on collaborative marketing and I was
interviewed by Kiplinger magazine for a feature on dream jobs coming out this
September. Best of all, for zero advertising dollars, I promoted my work and
that of my "competitors" to Entrepreneur's over half a million subscribers.)
So how do can you work with the competition?
"Compliment" Your "Competitors" Work
By "compliment" I don't mean praise, although I readily encourage that too.
What I mean is that if you like an individual's or a company's way of thinking
or doing something, whether that's teaching, or furniture design, or floral
arranging, or food preparation, then find a way to contribute to their body of
work, process, concept, or technique in such a way that everyone is richer for
For example, what makes my working relationship with
Barbara Sher and Barbara Winter so utterly delightful is precisely the fact that
our philosophies are so very similar. For example, the obstacle part of
what Barbara Sher refers to as "Wishes and Obstacles" I've always called "Work
Arounds." based on my belief that when it comes to changing course, problems are
simply things to be worked around. What Barbara Winter calls profit centers (a
concept she pioneered) I refer to as income streams.
It's impossible for there not to be some degree of
overlap in our respective messages. Just try, for instance, to talk about
tapping into your inner genius, battling resistance, or getting support for a
dream (just three of Barbara Sher's many areas of expertise), or making a living
without a job or jumpstarting your entrepreneurial spirit (Barbara Winter's
passion and the titles of fist and newest life-changing books respectively), or
the steps involved in escaping the job world, the Life First Approach to Career
Planning, being an "opportunity analyst," or How to Feel as Bright and Capable
as Everyone Seems to Think You Are (ChangingCourse.com/handbook.htm)
(my specialties) without also talking about things like fear, challenges, gifts,
hopes and dreams, creative careers, Find Your Calling, dream bashers,
dream supporters, obstacles, self-doubt, self-marketing and all the rest that go
into getting from "here to there."
But there is a solution...
Credit Your Sources
As a public speaker and seminar leader for over 25
years and a writer of sorts for the last ten, ethically speaking, it's always
been incredibly important to me to credit my sources. Partly I think it comes
from my strong need to "do the right thing." It also comes from the fact that I
come from a long line of story tellers.
If you've ever listened to me speak on Turning Ideas
into Income, How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You
Are, or Outside the Box Career Planning, then you've heard me tell lots of
stories. But having been in the speaking business
for as long as I have, I know a lot of speakers who "pick up material here and
there" but don't always credit the here or the there. Like the corporate VP who
attended an event I spoke at in Dallas last month who "jokingly" told me after
my presentation that he was going to "steal" one of my stories. There's no
question he'll use my story but somehow I have my doubts as to whether he'll
credit me as the source.
Precisely because I do know how these things go, I
always make it a point to reference my sources. For example, when I talk about
Dream Busters, I often repeat Barbara Winter's marvelous exchange with a
workshop participant who lamented that she, "always wanted to be a professional
caricaturist, but everyone says there's no money in it." To which Barbara wisely
asked, "And, how many professional caricaturists have you spoken with?"
And although quotes are public domain, I'm so
fanatical about crediting my sources that I often find myself not only
referencing the source of the quote but the person who turned me on the quote as
well! For example, as part of that same story, Barbara Winter goes onto share a
wonderful bit of Sufi philosophy that goes something to the effect of, "When
embarking on a journey, never ask for directions from someone who has never left
I've learned a ton from both Barbara Winter and
Barbara Sher. And I like to think they have learned from me as well. We all have
our own way of coming at a problem. It was my own personal process of taking the
leap from the corporate world to self-employment that has had the most profound
impact on how I approach a topic near and dear to each of our hearts helping
other people work at what you love.
I'm all for giving credit. But sometimes this business of
claiming credit can go too far. For example, while in England delivering a
workshop called Fearless Marketing, Barbara received an email from the people
representing Rhonda Britten, author of a book called Fearless Living. Barbara
was told to cease and desist using the word "fearless" in her materials, the
insinuation being that Ms. Britten has a lock on that word. In mock retaliation
Barbara and her sister decided they're going to own the word "the." Knowing a
good idea when I hear one, I'm claiming the word "and."
A similar thing happened to me a decade ago. After
attending a conference where I'd handed out some flyers for my newsletter
bearing the headline, "Do You Feel Like You're Living in a Dilbert Cartoon?" I
receive a similarly threatening letter from the law firm representing the
company that had owned the rights to Dilbert products. Since my newsletter would
in no way diminish their profits, in fact it may even enhance them, my little
newsletter was in no way a threat. But then, if you have a "kill the
competition" marketing mindset, then everyone is a threat.
Entrepreneur magazine is famous for taking people to court
that use the word entrepreneur in their business name. And international
powerhouse McDonald's has stooped to suing local pubs owned by generations of
McDonald families in Scotland.
What all of this means to you as an aspiring business owner
is this: Just because you use common sense when marketing your business, doesn't
mean others will. On the other hand, don't become be so protective of your work
that you never get it there for fear that someone will "steal" your idea.
I'm a savvy enough to know that there are situations where
you'd be wise to be wary of the competition. But for most small business owners,
competition shouldn't be an overriding concern. Not everyone gets that. When I
tell my non-entrepreneur friends of my plan to train other people to set up
their own creative career consulting businesses around the country, their
response is always the same: Aren't you training the competition?
I suppose I am. But the way I see it, is it's a big world
out there. I'm only one person and I'm not the least bit worried that a couple
of dozen or for that matter a couple of hundred people doing what I do is going
to put a dent in my business. As far as I'm concerned, the more people who are
spreading the word that you really can make a living doing what you love on your
own terms, the better!
Learn how you can Fast Track Your Dream of working at
what you love on your own terms.
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About the Author
"Profiting From Your Passions®" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and iVillage.com. An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.
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