Every week, I find leaflets stuffed into my mailbox from two different supermarket chains touting their specials. At first, I thought this price war reflected a desperate competitive struggle.
Then I discovered my error: both supermarkets are actually owned by the same parent corporation.
The fierce competition between them is an illusion, purposely created because they understand one of the most counter-intuitive marketing secrets: competition is good for business.
So many entrepreneurs constantly look over their shoulder, concerned that their competitors will copy them, undercut them, and snatch away their hard-won segment of the market. The “if my competitor wins, then I lose” mindset holds many entrepreneurs back.
On the other hand, over my years in business I have learned to be grateful to my rivals.
The Perks of a Crowded Market
New entrepreneurs often look for niches where there is “no competition.” They assume that since no one else is vying for that slice of the pie, they will easily gobble it up. This is a classic beginner’s blunder. I know that because I made the same mistake when I was a newbie.
What does a crowded market signify? Proven demand for an offering. When there are lots of people buying and selling a particular product or service, that market is mature and diverse. Diversity means people have different needs and preferences, and no one business can serve them all.
On the other hand, what does “no competition” mean? While you may dominate the market, it might not do much for your bank balance: low competition often indicates low demand.
Of course, we all admire the trailblazers who single-handedly create new markets. However, the innovator is often not the one who makes the real money. Google was not the first search engine, nor was Facebook the first social network. Many successful companies are able to secure their own market by capitalizing on the weaknesses of competitors.
Obviously you can’t just waltz into a crowded marketplace and make a mint, but if you enjoy that field and you have the guts to weather the ups and downs of business, competition is a big neon sign directing you towards a solid opportunity.
Thank you to all my competitors for helping me find my own unique profitable niche where I can stand out.
My Competitors Save Me $$$
Believe it or not, competitors can slash your start-up costs by solving an expensive marketing challenge: creating a demand for your product or service. Let’s say that I invent a new super-duper kind of shoe. Since no one has my innovative footwear on their wish list, I will have to work extremely hard to educate the consumer about what it is and why they need it. If I had some competition, we’d basically split the cost of this complicated and expensive marketing process.
On the other hand, if the bakery across town is selling cupcakes like hotcakes, then clearly there is demand for cupcakes. When you build a business in an existing niche, you are helping that niche to mature and diversify. Your cupcakes are inevitably different: more upscale, or healthy, or convenient to your side of town. So you are actually helping each other. Thanks to your respective marketing efforts, everyone’s now thinking that no birthday party, Kiddush or afternoon coffee break is complete without cupcakes.
“There are two ways to grow,” wrote Seth Godin in Small is the New Big. “By stealing from the competition or by growing the market. The first path is slow and painful and difficult. The second path is where the magic of fast growth kicks in.”
Thank you to all my competitors who work so hard to develop my market, creating more demand for my services.
Why I Help My Rivals Succeed
In today’s world, the name of the game is “content marketing.” We don’t jealously guard our trade secrets anymore, but rather we share them generously. In every industry, entrepreneurs are promoting their brand by presenting at conferences, writing articles, and sharing in networking groups.
Take the example of Soferet, an email community group for Orthodox Jewish writers with close to 800 members worldwide, moderated by Yocheved Frischman. Intense discussions of writing opportunities and challenges rage on around the clock. Many of the members are competitors, all vying for a limited pool of opportunities. The old win-lose mindset would be: “If I help this competitor to pen and publish her writings, there will be less room in this marketplace for my writings.” Win-win thinking says: “If I help her, then I will develop the Jewish writing market and create collaborations that will boost my own career.”
Fraternizing with your competition does have an element of risk. They could use the information against you, or “copy you.” Sharing requires trust, yet isolation is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. For every one person who will stab you in the back, there are 50 who will be open to genuine collaboration, referrals and sharing.
So join networking groups in your industry. Or better yet, start your own. And then invite all your rivals to participate. Share your expertise and contacts — and make the most of theirs.
Thank you to all my competitors who’ve taught me so much about better ways to work and deliver outstanding results. I use the knowledge I’ve gained from you every day of the week. I hope you feel that I have helped you too!
The Power of Collaboration
Let’s say there are two parenting coaches, Esther and Frieda. Win-lose thinking dictates that they should jealously guard their territory. With the win-win mindset, Esther and Frieda will instead get together and brainstorm how they can help each other. They may discover that Esther is an expert on teenager issues, while Frieda doesn’t enjoy working with those cases. On the other hand, she’s a potty training expert. The potential for referrals and cross promotions immediately becomes obvious.
What if they’re both potty pros? Even better! Maybe Esther speaks Yiddish and does home visits, while Frieda specializes in special needs kids. Maybe Esther can take on Frieda’s clients while she’s on maternity leave. Esther and Frieda could also band together and create a potty training seminar. They could even bring in other experts and launch an event that no toddler mommy in town will dare miss.
These days when people ask me, how can I boost my sales and leads, the first thing I recommend is that you partner with others in related fields. Do not underestimate the power of collaboration. Three close collaborators can bring you more profits than ten thousand people who saw your ad.
Whenever I start to feel insecure about whether my competition is “getting ahead,” I remind myself that I am innately different from them. I take the advice of kosher cooking queen Jamie Geller: “No one else can be you, but you. That’s your special unique gift, your power, your edge, and why you were brought into this world.”
Thanks to Mishpacha magazine for permission to rework and reprint this column, which first appeared in Family First. Major credit goes to my Mishpacha editors Bassi Gruen and Sarah Glazer.
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