I’ve spent a good deal of my time writing business plans for other people and the part of the plan that I loath is the competitive analysis. Not because I don’t think that having that information is valuable, indeed, it is, but because the over all approach to competition in business is archaic and, to go all hippie on you for a moment, leads to a contraction rather than an expansion of energy.
We humans are obsessed with being better than one another and although healthy competition is the source of great innovation, getting caught up in trying to out-do another or positioning what we are up do based on beating out someone else is a very small way to live.
Before stating the following, I will acknowledge that it is a bit of a green-new-age view to say there really can be enough for everyone. So much about how business is being done now is moving towards transparency, community and human connection. It is no longer the best strategy to be stingy with your information. With social networking making it possible to tap into world markets, we’re no longer limited by our geography and so more and more people who are in similar industries are sharing information and resources instead of hiding and hording their brilliance. I like the way things are going.
In my previous life as a stylist, I was engaged in a particularly competitive and caddy industry. But I’d have none of it. It’s pretty typical for a salon to guard their client list like some precious stone. If a stylist leaves one place for another, they are shooed out the door and warned about lawsuits should they try to solicit the clientele. To this I say, you have got to be kidding me. Have you ever found a stylist that you love? You would follow them anywhere. If a salon refused to tell you where they went, you’d find out some other way and then trash that salon for being so low level and stingy. So I’d gladly tell them where they went, would even print off the client list for the stylist and give it them. Let the consumer make the decision. Focus on being awesome, not on trying to keep someone else from doing well. What I found over and over again was that our clients would follow their stylist, realize that is was our community and culture that they loved and then they’d come back.
And other businesses like yours? Make friends with them. They are not your rivals, but your partners in creating the same work in the world as you. We would do our best to get to know the other salons, what they specialized in and what kind of client would like to go there. That way if we couldn’t accommodate someone, we knew where to send them. I know, I know, it’s counter intuitive. What if you send them somewhere else and they never come back? That might happen. But when they think of you, they’ll think of the exceptional service you gave them, that it was more important that they were served than that you made the sale.
A girl called for a last minute appointment once and we couldn’t accommodate her. She was driving and on her cell phone so I told her I’d take care of her and get back to her. I called the salon down the road and made her an appointment. I even called her the following day to make sure she was satisfied with her experience at the other salon. She was, she loved her hair and was happy with the person who did it. What happened next? She referred six people to us in the following week. We may have lost her business, but we gained much more.
Give it a try, create alliances, share your gifts, be generous. The only thing you really have to lose is a stingy contracted attitude.