Collaboration- Not Competition
Oh, you know her, would you look at that hair
Yeah, you know her, check out those shoes
She looks like she stepped out of the middle of somebody's blues
She looks like the Sunday comics
She thinks she's Brenda Starr
Her nose job is real atomic
All she needs is an old knife scar
Yeah, she's so dull, come on rip her to shreds
She's so dull, come on rip her to shreds
- Blondie “Rip her to shreds”
I had a great consultation client in a unique situation this week, and I reccommended she team up with her main competitor to cut back on some costs. She was delighted with the suggestion and admitted she’d never thought of teaming up before. This kicked off a great discussion of women in business.
My reply to her was that a lot of women in business don’t consider the connection that collaboration benefits us all. This isn’t in our nature, but rather a culture that grooms us from birth to compete with one another. To hold each other down to get ahead. It’s getting better, but seeing women in business supporting each other is a new concept and not discussed.
It should be the first thing we’re taught as entrepreneurs, women or not.
I hate to admit it, but I was more than guilty of this toxic attitude when I had my shop. It was mostly my insecurities combined with being a younger business owner and a little immature, but also growing up female and groomed to slam. I’d panic if there were other baked goods at a food show I was doing, I had a meltdown when another vegan bakery opened, and I’d be annoyed when my competition would be sold at one of my vendors. It took me a few years to move on from this nasty practice and make my business friends in my direct competition. I’ve realized now in retrospect that hating on your direct competition is a bad move. It hurts your soul and it’s a negative business practice. You get nothing from it.
You are not allowed to hate someone who has a similar business to yours, you already have everything in common.
Here are 4 reasons you should take your direct competitor for dinner- as soon as you can.
You Can Learn From and Support Each Other
Veterans like my beloved Grandpa spend time at the Legion as only those who have been in the trenches can truly understand what it’s like. It’s theraputic to be around those who have been through what you have. Now Entrepreneurs haven’t seen the horrors that a veteran has, but it’s the basic idea is to have someone who can relate to kind of clients you deal with, service issues and unique challenges in your industry. You can complain to your friends and partner as much as you want at the end of the day, but they won’t understand what it’s like in the “trenches” of your business. Know who will? Your new business friend in your industry. Who else will understand you getting a scathing public review on Facebook in the middle of a busy workday? Butter going up 5 times this year? Your direct competition is the best friend you haven’t made yet.
Also, if you’re not following The Guild yet, do so immediately.
It Will Save You Money
Your direct competition probably buys the same or similar products as you. If you team up and buy a larger volume together, you’ll both save money. There are 2 small batch preserve companies in Ottawa who are BFF and I love it. They road trip to Montreal and beyond to buy their jars and produce together and save money. They also recently moved their business in together. They share sources and ideas and all of us are benefitting from their amazing products. Not to mention, you can carpool, room share, grab lunches and help man each others tables at trade and food shows.
You Can Tip Each Other off About Local Goings On
Know of a great food show coming up? A new vendor moving in, a hot new supplier or a nightmare vendor who doesn’t pay their bills on time? You and your new bestie can compare notes and look out for each other. No more learning the hard way.
You Can Have Each Others Back
In my first year of business, it was 95% just me all the time. Doing deliveries, cleaning, baking, frosting, providing customer service. It was exhausting. Thanks to my business BFF the late great B. Goods Cookies (now Brew Donkey) if I was behind on deliveries or needed a day off I could count on him to do my deliveries as we had the same clients. In return, he was allowed to call in the favour to be returned. It worked out great for both of us, and when you’re the only employee, it’s reassuring to have that plan B.
Old fashioned business professors will continue to preach the culture of destroying and undercutting the competition- they even did when I was in a reputable business school a little over a decade ago. It’s a bad look. As a new modern entrepreneur in Ottawa, you simply cannot afford to continue this practice. It’s toxic, and Ottawa is small. The food scene is even smaller. We’re lucky enough to have a culture of collaboration happening here already, and if you come out acting like a jerk- word will spread and you and your business won’t last long.
I understand it can be hard sometimes- feelings, ego and insecurities can blur what will be a great business decision on your part. Try your best to push it aside, make peace with your inner Regina George mean girl and reach out to your new friend.
What do you have to lose?