the gift of stiff competition: what to do when your bright idea is someone else’s too

Starbucks is often credited with putting mom & pop coffee shops out of business. But this is a bad rap.

Just how many mom & pop coffee shops – slinging espresso & steaming soy milk – were there before Starbucks became a household name? Not as many as there are now. That’s for sure.

Has that hurt Starbucks business? Nope – not a bit.

It also hasn’t hurt the mom & pop coffee shop business. Main street espresso bars open up to a willing audience. No one to “convert” to $4 coffee drinks, we hand over our hard earned cash wholeheartedly.

Having a Starbucks on one corner & an indie on the opposite is great for both businesses. The Starbucks marketing behemoth causes awareness. Indies cause fierce loyalty. Both experience a raised [coffee] bar.

Here is a perfect example of where competition causes business to thrive – not die.

But what about you & your tiny business? Can your business accept the gift of stiff competition?

Lea wrote in last week with a question about competition. Or the possibility of competition. And what to do about it when you want to build your network, your community, and your customer base.

I’m still trying to pinpoint my focus.  I’m a Gemini, so of course I want to do it all.  I think because I want to do it all, I am reluctant to point my peeps to people who are doing what I might want to do.  Does that make sense?  At the same time, I understand that we all do what we do in unique ways, and a major intention of mine is to provide resources for indiepreneurs and to create a network with sense of community.  So I want to kick this miserly inclination without kicking myself in the behind.

Just like with indie coffeeshops and Starbucks, the online community is a place where competition can cause us to thrive not die. Instead of considering your actions in reaction to others, consider how your actions & your business is complementary to others. This is not a zero-sum game. This is about cooperation – not competition, in the traditional sense.

Not sure where to start? Consider these three ways to view your competition as allies in your mutual success.

Have you been suffering from a lack of direction?

Take a look at your competition. What’s their angle? What do they offer? What are their strengths?

When it comes to direction, the gift of competition is simple: it forces you to clarify what makes you great. Competition allows you to see how your unique talents fit a hole in the market.

Competition asks you to identify what sets you apart, amplify those talents, and present them to your audience in a way that says, “This is what I’m all about!”

Once you differentiate, you’ll find that decisions are easier to make, sales pages are easier to write, and attention is easier to garner.

Have you been suffering from a lack of clients?

Good news: competition is great for boosting your client load.

When I wrote my first ebook, it was really the only ebook available to the Etsy-style arts & crafts market. It was a tough sell – $15 for a pdf? Really?

Over time, more & more people have released ebooks. Some very similar to mine. The more & more ebooks are on the market, the more I sell.

Similarly, I call myself a business coach. Google “creative business coach” and I rank pretty highly. But I notice more & more creative business coaches setting up shop every day. This hasn’t effected my client load at all. I’m coaching more than I ever have and have clients wait listed 6-8 weeks in advance.

The fact is that a year ago, far fewer people were searching for business coaches. There simply was no demand. Because more people are calling themselves business coaches, more people are looking for the services of business coaches. The supply has led to an increase in demand.

Don’t shun your competition. Welcome it. Work together to increase the awareness of your product or service.

Have you been suffering from a lack of support?

We all know the hardest part of working for yourself is having only yourself for company.

You’ve been tempted – admit it – to court your competition as friends & supporters. But then you thought better of it. You decided that would be silly. Trade secrets and all that…

My best friend offers creative business consulting services. For quite a bit, her services cost less than mine. She sells ebooks. We serve a similar market. We know similar people in need of our services.

Doesn’t bother me in the least.

Your competition can be your greatest allies. They will expand your horizons (and you them), they will inspire you (and you them), and they will teach you what you need to get to the next level (and you them).

These truly are the gifts of stiff competition. Are you willing to accept them?

Continue the conversation...

19 comments on “the gift of stiff competition: what to do when your bright idea is someone else’s too

  1. Amy says:

    Yes! I’ve noticed in the last 4-6 weeks or so that my favourite bloggers have written posts that have been floating around in my brain. I hadn’t gotten around to writing them yet because I’m working on another project, and for a split second, I thought, “Darn, they beat me to it!” But what came after that was, “Wow! I’ve got similar ideas to *these* awesome people?!” Crazy confidence boost! And I realized/remembered that virtually every topic out there has been addressed in numerous ways, each appealing to different kinds of people and each sparking the same epiphany from a different angle.

    • tara gentile says:

      Ooooh! Amy, that’s how you know you’re settling right into where you belong. Just keep pushing at the edges!

  2. Chloe says:

    Yes! I’ve actually started training my competition. I work as a birth doula, which is not at all a familiar concept in my region. So I started training other women to do the same work I do. Each of us is different so each of us attracts our own clients, but having 8 people talk about being a doula is more effective for education and advertising than just me. Plus we can help each other out when needed. It was lonely being the only doula…with “competition” I’ve been so much more on top of my game!

    • tara gentile says:

      Yes! This is a great angle too. It sounds like you’re not only training them, but you’re organizing them. You’re not just an expert, you’re a leader. Leaders don’t tend to have competition – they have movements. LOVE it!

  3. Ellie Di says:

    I love this! I had honestly never thought about what competition means to me as an up-and-coming tiny business outside of the traditional ideas that I’d get squeezed out. I know a lot of people in my arena, and it’s a huge relief to finally be able to relax back into feeling friendly instead of slightly wary.

  4. On the other side, I was shocked when I was ‘friends’ with someone on fb that had a similar business, when I started talking to her about it. “I won’t talk about anything business related and you will find most small business will not share their sources or information either” Wow I was surprised. I am hoping that is not the standard answer. I have kept the belief that all of us hard working mom’s out there need to stick together in the entrepreneurial jungle out there. Glad there are some of you that agree!

    • tara gentile says:

      Yep, keeping each other in the dark doesn’t help anyone. And, in fact, it hurts everyone. Sure, don’t give away your trade secrets if you don’t want to (but maybe reconsider that, too…) – but there’s no reason not to talk about how to do our work & our businesses better!

  5. Gina Bell says:

    Your post title sure caught my attention today Tara. Just yesterday I noticed some buzz building about a new co-marketing collaborative kinda like the one I’ve been leaning in to launch. At first I thought “crap! they beat me to the punch!”… but then, I felt my entire presence dig in as in okay 1) let’s get clear about how we are different and, 2) how is my idea better ;) I was excited before but now I have a fire lit under me. Yes, as surprising as it is, competition can be a great, great thing. xo

  6. Chantelle says:

    I always strikes me as odd when one small business person won’t help another. My supplies are mostly organic and sustainable fabrics, so what kind of green business would I be if I refused to help someone gain access to these products? I feel like the more people using the products I use means a wider variety and better prices. As well as the other things you mentioned, wider availablity of the product will highten customer awareness.
    Feeling threatened by others ideas seems to have it’s root cause in insecurity about the value of what you are offering yourself. If you feel great about what you make or the service you provide then you feel better about competitiion.

  7. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this read. I myself have been stewing over community NOT competition. You helped me quite a bit.

  8. Lea says:

    This is so awesome, Tara, it makes me cry! (Which is what i do when i come upon a great inspiring truth!) I have so much to express in response that I will write a blog post! … ;) TBC

  9. Steve Rice says:

    Love this perspective, Tara. I think you have something there.

    Actually our local coffee shop (Broadway Café) in the Westport area of Kansas City, MO actually put the Starbucks (which had prime corner real estate on the busy intersection) out of business because of their loyal fan base.

    Broadway was just 2 doors down, but the micro community within that neighborhood in KC kept one open and the other folded…no worries, though, Starbucks stayed open a mile or so up the street. :)

    I like the differentiation you made between the large business raising awareness that the smaller businesses can benefit from. I’m going to see my business that way from now on. Thanks.

  10. Wise words! I actually think the web development industry is extraordinary about community/collaboration among competitors. Maybe because it’s just so *big* (client needs/preferences range so widely). Anyway, I’ve always felt very lucky for that.

  11. There’s a phrase that’s been on my mind for most of this year and I couldn’t help hear it repeatedly as I read your article on competition:
    A rising tide floats all boats.
    Grow, be inspired, and learn from your competition! What’s your favourite way to keep in touch with like-minded coaches?

    • Adrienn says:

      A rising tide floats all boats. What a great quote!
      Tara, I found you at the right time!
      So much to learn!

  12. Evelyn says:

    I have a bed and breakfast in Brooklyn via airbnb. At first I noticed that there are a lot more listings at airbnb and I got a little afraid that I will not be booked. Bbut I also know that with almost 100 positive reviews my reputation will make someone stay at my place. Now I’m actually helping friends set up their places as sometimes I have to turn people away. I think part of my fear is that there isn’t enough. We don’t believe in abundance. When there is enough for everyone. And I know I provide a different service than others.

  13. Bring it on! It would be totally BORING without competition :D

  14. Christiane says:

    Competition inspires me…I learn from these people ;) Great post!