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Are you afraid of your competitors?

© December 2005 Tony Lawrence

At Find What Distinguishes You From Your Competitors, Catherine Franz has some good suggestions on analyzing your competition's strengths and weaknesses against your own.

But do you always need to worry about the competition?

A few years back, I went to a BNI orientation meeting. I probably wouldn't have joined because BNI is much too high pressure, sell, sell, sell and just doesn't match my much more laid back style. But interestingly, I didn't have the opportunity to make that decision, because I ran into another consultant there who was already a member, and he immediately black-balled me on the grounds of competition. That's BNI's general policy: a group can have, for example, multiple lawyers, but not multiple Real Estate lawyers.

I could have protested, because in reality neither of us cross paths: the other guy is a Windows consultant and programmer, I do only Linux and Unix, so we are actually more like a Real Estate lawyer vs. a Divorce lawyer. But I let it go, probably because I already knew I had no interest in BNI. Still, I found it curious that the other consultant was so afraid of even the perception of competition.

As I said, I'm much more relaxed about that. I've never lacked for business, usually have more than I want, and in fact often give away leads and customers to other consultants because I'm too busy or just don't want the work. So it may be that I'm in a different position and just don't have the gnawing hunger for business that some folks experience. But I think it's more than that: I think some people worry far too much about their competitors when they should be paying more attention to themselves.

Quite a few years ago I was chatting at a party with someone I didn't know who turned out to be a MIS manager at a fairly large corporation. Obviously we had some common ground, but he expressed astonishment that I didn't work through consultant agencies. He told me that he only contracted through agencies, and would never even consider approaching a one man shop like me. He was surprised that I had any customers at all, never mind sometimes more than I want. But for every person like that, who wants to order up consultants like deli meat, there are other companies who don't want to see the consultant du jour; they want an on going relationship with one person who knows them, their business and their systems. That's where I come in, and in such a situation, I have absolutely no reason to fear competition (unless, of course, I screw up badly and get kicked out). If I do the work I'm hired to do, and do it well, I'm going to get called back again and again because I'm a reliable known quantity.

But can't someone else do it better? Potentially, sure. And if they really can, more power to them. I'll happily step aside and have them take over - I do that when a company switches from Unix to Windows servers, for example. Why should I offer services that someone else can do better?

Worry most about the value you offer and not about anyone else. You can learn from your competitors as Catherine suggests, but primarily your attitude should be "let them learn from me".

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Are you afraid of your competitors?

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