Work Smarter, Not Harder: Five Ways to Turn the Competition into Partners

You’ve heard the old saying: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. The same has traditionally been said of one’s competition in business: in order to be successful, you must know your competition… so you can beat them.

Now, suppose you took a different approach. What if you and your competition could both be more successful by joining forces? If you are one of the many businesses struggling to gain an edge in the marketplace, perhaps a simple change of perspective is all you need. Instead of looking at your competition as “enemies,” start looking at them as your potential allies. These tips, along with a revamp in tactics, will help you turn a potential negative into a positive.

business partnership
Image by lumaxart / Flickr

Take that first step.

The hardest part of any project is just getting started. Begin your journey of identifying your potential allies by brainstorming all of the related businesses in your area. After all, businesses rarely exist in a vacuum, so think outside of the box to find any and all possible connections you can use to create your own dream team.

For example, if you are a landscaper, your circle might consist of other landscapers, architects, masons, sod suppliers, lawn equipment dealers, florists, designers, etc. The possibilities are endless so figure out who “your people” are and go introduce yourself. Leave them your business cards to hand out and be sure to offer to do the same for them.

Network, Network, Network.

Today, more than ever, it’s not what you know, but who you know. One of the main reasons so many businesses fail is that there are so many others offering the same or similar products or services. In order to stand out from the pack, know and be known.

Host a cocktail party or organize a softball game and invite everyone you identified as your competition/potential allies. Better yet, co-host the event and use your partner’s rolodex to cast a wider net. In this way, you also share the load of work and costs with someone else. Finally, whenever you receive an invitation from someone, no matter what it is…GO!

Put yourself out there.

So many golden opportunities to develop your business are missed by simply not being a part of the world around you. An excellent way to find allies is to get involved in the community as much as possible.

Get on the board for a local organization and make it a point to get to know the other members. If you are a real estate attorney and a fellow board member just happens to be a personal injury attorney, even though you are both lawyers (and thus, potential competitors), now you each know who to call when you run into someone (pun intended) who could use the other’s specialized services.

Think bigger.

When a customer needs a service that is not your specialty or a product you do not offer, tell them where they can go to find what they need. I know: it can be very easy to get lost in the “this doesn’t make sense – I’m sending this customer away” mentality.

Try to keep the big picture in mind when you are working with your competition and you could find that by referring out this one customer today, you are gaining business in spades down the road. Not only will the customer appreciate your integrity by pointing them in a more appropriate direction, just think of all the reputation points you earn with this one simple act.

Remember how beloved Macy’s was in the old classic “Miracle on 34th Street” for helping customers locate what they needed when the store didn’t have it? Yep, same idea applies here.

Moreover, the business to whom you refer the customer will not soon forget the referral. It will not be long before they return the favor and start sending people your way. Pretty soon, you will have built the type of stellar reputation that money just can’t buy.

Finally, maximize your returns.

The best business person is a “people person” who knows how to utilize the various strengths of the different people within his circle to create a better overall result.

Say you are a corporate event planner looking to expand your business. You decide to organize a fund-raiser for a local charity and incorporate the services of a local wedding planner. You are both in the planning world but you each have access to completely different facets: you know all of the corporate deep pockets who can afford to drop some cash for the charity and she knows all of the people who come together to create a rockin’ good time: the caterer, the band, the florist, the bartenders, etc.

By your willingness to share the credit with your co-host, you ensure the spotlight shines on all of you. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that her husband is in advertising and handles all of the press for your party, donated for the cause, of course. Win-win.

It’s time to start working smarter rather than harder. In these tough economic times, collaboration is key. Start getting your competition to work for you instead of against you and sit back while you both reap the rewards.

About the Author: Thomas Ford is Marketing Director of, a leading supplier of business cards and a wide variety of business and office printing materials.