Don’t Fear Your Competitor, Collaborate With Them

This is a repub­li­ca­tion of an arti­cle that I wrote in 2004 (Willamette Gal­ley, Soci­ety of Tech­ni­cal Communication).

Don’t Fear Your Com­peti­tor, Col­lab­o­rate With Them

What if you viewed your com­peti­tors as refer­ral part­ners? By that I mean some­one to whom you refer work and clients that aren’t ideal for you but are bet­ter suited to them. Imag­ine those col­leagues rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing in kind so that you all have more ideal clients.

Real World Examples

Before going for­ward with the con­cepts of abun­dance and niche-making, I’d like to share two true work stories:

The Hard Worker

As a gov­ern­ment worker, I worked closely with a col­league who despite her heavy work­load refused to share her duties with the group. This was a long time civil ser­vant of excel­lent cal­iber who had no chance of los­ing her job.

The Nasty Networker

After just start­ing my sole pro­pri­etor­ship, I hit the net­work­ing cir­cuit that included a cham­ber of com­merce event. After hav­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing the venue and being soaked by the rain, I had the mis­for­tune to meet the Nasty Net­worker. She had some­thing neg­a­tive to say about my pro­fes­sion and exclaimed how she was already doing in large scale what I was endeav­or­ing to offer as one of my many ser­vices. I was sum­mar­ily dis­missed and put in my place.

What do these peo­ple have in com­mon? Fear. They thought that I would take work away and that I was a threat. In both cases, I was no threat. With “The Hard Worker,” her feel­ings of fear were self-induced. “The Nasty Net­worker,” while desir­ing to fend off the com­pe­ti­tion is actu­ally repelling a poten­tial refer­ral part­ner. If she believed that there was enough work for her and for me, maybe she would not be so off-putting. That brings us to the con­cept of abundance.


In my vir­tual assis­tance train­ing, we were taught the con­cept of abun­dance, that there is enough work out there for every­one, and that you need to make your­self attrac­tive (in the busi­ness sense) so that your ideal client will be attracted to you. I’ve come to believe this con­cept and actu­ally embrace it.

I gladly refer poten­tial clients to oth­ers in my pro­fes­sion or a com­ple­men­tary busi­ness once I real­ize there isn’t a match. Hap­pily, those to whom I refer busi­ness are grate­ful and they send me busi­ness as well.

Ideal Client

It doesn’t do any good if there is enough work avail­able if you aren’t attract­ing it. Ask your­self if your mes­sage is attract­ing your ideal client. Your ideal client is the per­son with whom you most like to work doing the work that you most enjoy. Make sure that your mar­ket­ing col­lat­eral mate­ri­als tar­get that ideal client as well.

You’ve been to those net­work­ing events in which every­one intro­duces them­self and speaks briefly about their pro­fes­sion. Even though you’re in a ubiq­ui­tous pro­fes­sion, don’t be the net­worker who says, “I do what Bob does.” Instead, stress your uniqueness.

Which tech­ni­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in Web devel­op­ment most fits your needs?

Joe: “I design Web sites.”
Grant: “See me about get­ting your small busi­ness Web site up in a week using my low cost tem­plate system.”
Gena: “I spe­cial­ize in get­ting to know my cor­po­rate clients’ busi­nesses and ensure that their Web site matches their brand­ing image.”

Although the above exam­ple may be an exag­ger­a­tion, see how Grant and Gena can become refer­ral part­ners for each other since they are going after dif­fer­ent clients? See how no one is really attracted to Joe as a generic provider because it is unclear what he can do? Make sure that your mar­ket­ing mes­sage addresses your unique niche as well as who your ideal cus­tomer is.


Wouldn’t it be great if your com­peti­tor became your refer­ral part­ner? Embrace the con­cept of abun­dance and refer busi­ness to your col­leagues when there isn’t a good match of the client or the work for you. Make sure that you know who your ideal client is and con­vey that mes­sage in your mar­ket­ing col­lat­eral mate­ri­als and when you net­work. Then don’t be sur­prised when your ideal client con­tacts you.

Don’t Fear Your Com­peti­tor, Col­lab­o­rate With Them. © 2004 Kristy Schn­abel. All rights reserved.