Good morning, Saturday people!
Switching it up for Toni who is working hard down at New York Comicon, I come to you bearing some advice on a topic that I’ve felt many different ways about through the years, and watched myself have all kinds of reactions to (some which were even surprising to me). Competition. That’s right, we are going to talk about competitors, and if you’re making wares that you’re selling, I suspect you’ve already encountered this and probably also have strong feelings about it, or maybe you’re still not sure how you want to feel about it.
So here we go. We’ve all heard that a little competition is a healthy thing, and I fully believe that’s true. Knowing that there are other people out there doing something the same or similar to what you’re doing can have many different effects and one of them is to drive you to make your product better, of a higher quality, of a different focus. It forces you to look at your product – whatever it is – and makes you try to find a way to set you apart from those who are doing something similar. This is fantastic in that it creates innovation within your making.
But that’s the easy part of dealing with the competition. It gets more difficult when you can see negative impacts on your business and when you have to deal with competition right in your back yard – or across the dealer’s room, if you’re vending at a convention or marketplace. So. You’ve found someone who make something similar to you, or possibly the same. Now what? Do you scope out their wares to figure out if they are better than you? Absolutely you should. If someone is doing something better, you need to know what it is, and if you’re a cut above, you need to see what you must do to stay in that position. Now… does that mean you need to hate this person with the passion of a thousand firey burning suns? Not necessarily. After all, they’re doing just the same thing you are – trying to make money in making something they love.
And who can fault them that? I certainly can’t. So, you’ve found your competition, you’ve scoped them out online, in person, and perhaps even bought something to see how it holds up. Eventually, you will need to come face to face with this person, and talk to them. This can be especially hard if they are making what you are making, and not just something similar or a different product with the same technique. First thing’s first… suck it up, buttercup. I mean it. You can’t judge a person without meeting them first, so give them a chance to impress you with their stunning personality. There’s several very good business reasons to do this, though it may not be obvious at first.
The first reason is knowledge. This person has a wealth of knowledge that comes from different backgrounds as yours, and this could mean a whole lot of good things for you, but remember, information like this will only be offered if they trust you and don’t feel that your business is a threat to theirs. There’s a lot of money floating around the world, and lots in every industry. There’s plenty to go around, and remember, customers like to taste the rainbow of people who make the things that they like. I have many clients who cross over with a number of other people making the same item, and you can’t let that get to you. In fact, if you’re sour about it, your clients will pick up on it. So go and talk to your competitor, even if it makes your insides clench, and see if you can make a business associate out of them.
These new business associate friends (AKA competitors) may be willing to share with you the various marketplaces they sell at, if you ask them, and if you genuinely care about how well they do, they may even share some of their more successful ones with you. Not only that, if you do work some of the same selling shows, you can share war stories, success stories, and stories of sadness and moneylessness. This is invaluable information as you’re getting the story of someone’s experience that you don’t have to pay for to find out. They have paid their entry fees to learn, and if you’re wise and kind and caring, you can ask them to share it with you.
Your not so competitive competitors may also share some supplier/supply information with you. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked with competitors about where they source their supplies, not only to see that I am getting the best deal around but for another, broader idea. If my competitors have good quality materials, then they will drive up the price of the market for the product, due to the quality. This is a Very Good Thing. Think of it this way, someone can be a brilliant maker, but if they’re using terrible supplies or materials and charging just as much as someone else with a higher quality supplier, then they are dragging down your value. This doesn’t just effect you, it effects all of the people who do what you do. You want people to be willing to pay premium dollar for your product and hard work, but that doesn’t depend solely on your quality. Where suppliers are often a well kept trade secret, they are also one that should be considered a commodity to help all of the makers add value to their work and let the customers decide between the skill of the maker.
Your friendly competition (who was once your deadly nemesis), can provide you with even further insight and information. Generally speaking, no two makers are alike. We all develop our own techniques, styles and selling philosophies that make us unique and desirable. When you become able to see yourselves as different enough that you can see that though you may share customers but your targets are actually quite different, it makes you more liken to co-workers and associates. More like a part of a secret society, than competition. If you’re able to develop a relationship like this, it can bear even more fruit, and that isn’t just easing your mind when you see them. Think about being able to talk shop with someone. Being able to talk about your process and being able to get feedback on the difficult things that you deal with and finding out other solutions. Think about sharing your struggles and your victories and finding out that other people have the same problems (possibly even with the same clients). Think about talking about how to resolve issues, work through a problem in your construction process, or even someone to call if you’re in a tight spot and need access to a special tool that only someone in your trade may have. You might find that you now have someone who understands all the things that you struggle with, and who might be able to provide insight, solutions and if you ask really nicely… they might even offer to help.
Courtesy of timeoutabudhabi.com
I hope that these insights have helped you to look at your competitors a little bit differently. Entrepreneurs need to help each other out to a point, but it’s so easy to stare across a selling floor and judge others (or yourself) too harshly. Remember that you are more similar than you are different, and learning to embrace that will help to ease some of the pressures that you might think are unavoidable. So, put on your big person pants and go over and talk to your competition. Find out if they really are as evil as you think they are, then you know whether or not they are actually a nemesis or a fighter who is in the same corner as you.