It’s been a difficult year, with feelings, especially political ones, running high, and society seeming to fracture. There are a lot of unknowns out there, and when faced with the unknown, people tend to huddle together with the familiar, fearing or lashing out against those not of their “tribe”, whatever their tribe might be.
It’s no different with small businesses. I see a lot of people and industries that seem afraid of bonding with their competitors to offer more to customers; who see everyone in their line of business as a threat. I’m not saying that there’s more than enough work to go round; what I’m saying is that behaving kindly towards your competitors might see you doing better with your business.
Here are some tips.
Talk to your competitors; network
How do you know who to trust? I’ve found the fellow editors I trust and recommend on to through friendship groups, friends of (editing) friends on social media and networking. Even I shy away from recommending clients to unknowns, but get to know people, chat to them about your industry, help them out and let them help you. In this way, you can build up a network of people who can support you, and who you can recommend clients to.
Rather than saying no straight out, recommend on
It happens to all of us: feast and famine. If you have a lot of work on, too much to take on that extra client, why not recommend them on to a trusted colleague? They will think better of you if you find them someone to work with rather than just saying no and leaving them to get on with it. Maybe your name will pop into their mind when they have the next job.
Help the client find their best fit
If a prospect comes to you with a particular type of work that isn’t your best offering, recommend them on to someone who will be a great fit. I don’t do a lot of fiction editing now, and certainly don’t edit certain genres. I will always seek to recommend the prospect on to someone else who I know will do a better job, making it clear that this is not where my specialism lies, but making sure they know what I do. Hopefully the warm, fuzzy feeling of being sent on to someone who can help will extend over into remembering me when they have that piece of work that’s better suited to me.
Reciprocity and karma
Even if those prospects you’ve recommended on don’t come back to you, I’m pretty well certain that the person you recommended them on to will do likewise when they’re busy or confronted with something in which you excel. I know this has happened for me.
Cover clients without stealing them
A friend and I cover each other’s regular clients when one of us is on holiday (this of course means that if we meet up with each other, all hell tends to let loose …) We wouldn’t dream of stealing those clients, of poaching clients, saying, “Why don’t you stay with me now”. What a relief to know you can go on holiday – or be ill – and have someone to look after – but not steal – your regulars!
If you’re nasty about a competitor, it’s likely to backfire on you
I’ve seen a few examples of either direct nastiness about a competitor’s services or people scoring points in industry forums. What I’ll say here is that if a potential customer or partner sees that kind of behaviour, I think they’re going to be much less likely to buy from you, and would be less likely to recommend you to others. If we’re in the same industry, I wouldn’t be inclined to pass work on to you.
This goes for being nasty about customers, too
Yes, we all need to let off steam, and have private places to do that. If you’re rude about a customer in public, you may well make people wonder how discreet you’re going to be about any work you do for them (what if they needed to do a return after a genuine problem?) and I’d have concerns about anyone I’d send over to you.
Be kind. Work with people not against them. Help others out.
That’s it, really. It’s just my thoughts, gleaned from 7 years in business working out how it all works: it’s called coopetition when people cooperate and work together rather than in conflict. I’ve felt happier and more comfortable working in this way, and I also know that people will recommend clients over to me and I can take the odd holiday!