“We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
By now, you have probably heard the term “Coopetition.” Coopetition is a contraction of the words cooperation and competition, meaning essentially cooperative competition. In the business world, coopetition means collaborating or partnering with your competitors in an innovative way so that both parties benefit. The most successful entrepreneurs realize early on that the old military adage, “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy … Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” applies just as well to the business world. Of course, we all know that your competitors are not truly your enemies (at least I hope they aren’t!), but the idea of keeping them close is the point. A creative collaboration with your biggest competitor in the same industry may be the best opportunity for boosting your business.
Many of you are already familiar with the idea of collaborating with your competitors through membership in an industry specific professional association. For example, I am a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), the premiere association for my industry. I attend the annual conference every year as a participant or presenter, belong to a local organizers’ neighborhood (an informal chapter), frequently engage in discussion on the organizers’ email list, and serve as a mentor and business coach to new organizers and organizers-to-be. I have partnered with other organizers in various ways, as well as share referrals back and forth. This coopetition with other organizers has enriched my business in ways that are immeasurable. I’ve benefited greatly from these relationships and from keeping an open mind in my approach to dealing with my competitors.
It is smart business to capitalize on the positive aspects of a competitive situation. However, for coopetition to work effectively, both parties need to clearly define their roles, making sure not to overstep boundaries. The goal is to find a way to partner with your competitor (read: colleague!) so that both parties can substantially benefit from the collaboration. Look around at your competition, and identify competitors that share the same zest for business and success that you do. You want to make sure that you align yourself with a competitor that you respect and admire, and that exudes the same sense of professionalism and level of expertise.
What are some ways that you can engage in coopetition that will boost your business? Here are some examples of strategic alliances between competitors that are innovative, creative, and effective:
- Develop a joint venture project together. Some of the best business ideas are born out of competitors joining together. For example, in my industry, organizers are collaborating together to offer certification prep courses, train new organizers, design organizing products, etc.
- Share a booth at an expo, tradeshow or business showcase. Not only will this help each party keep costs down, but as we all know, two minds are often better than one. You may come up with great new ideas to market your industry and businesses, offer more products, and gain more attention from participants and the media.
- Co-present with a competitor. Co-presenting is a wonderful tool when done well. I have had the opportunity to present with colleagues to offer workshops that I may not have been able to do on my own. The participants benefit from hearing two different presenters, which helps keep the workshop fresh and interesting. Each presenter only has to do half the work, which makes your job easier overall.
- Advertise with a competitor. Advertising is expensive. Sharing that expense with a colleague or competitor to promote types of service, your industry, or an event you are doing together is a great way to maximize advertising costs.
- Refer leads to each other. This is probably the most common form of coopetition. But don’t lose sight of how powerful it is! What you give out almost always comes back. If you cannot service a prospective client, find a colleague or competitor that can. The potential client will view you as a true professional and resource-provider, and the competitor will be grateful and will usually reciprocate in the future.
- Co-author an article or book together. Writing does not come easy to many people. Consider sharing writing responsibility by co-authoring an article or book with a competitor. This may be the most effective way to get published in your industry. For example, if you teamed up with 9 competitors in your industry and all wrote one chapter, voila, a 10-chapter book is born!
- Offer a teleclass or webinar together. You’ve probably seen this many times where two business experts team up to offer a teleclass or webinar together. Many times they are in complementary industries, such as an interior designer (or life coach, or wardrobe consultant, etc.) and professional organizer, or a financial planner and accountant. Again, two minds are better than one, work is shared among the presenters, and the participants get to hear from two experts. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.
Think broadly, keep an open mind, and seek out collaborative opportunities to boost your business with coopetition. Used wisely, it is a fantastic tool to add to your business.