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Should You Partner With Competitors (or Fight Them Tooth & Nail)? FS202

In every significant marketplace there is competition.

In many ways, competition is a great thing — it drives innovation, it pushes businesses to be better and it gives customers choices.

When we’re vying for the same customers, it’s tempting to hide away with our ideas and keep our precious audiences to ourselves. But is this really the best way?

Should we be afraid of the competition? Should we distance ourselves from them in hopes that customers will choose us over them?

Or do we have more to gain by reaching out, starting relationships, maybe even partnering with our competition?

This week I talked to Natalie Franke on the Courage & Clarity podcast. She’s the founder of The Rising Tide Society, an international network of creatives who believe in the concept of “Community over Competition”.

We decided to expand on our own experience with these juicy questions — let’s get into it 🙂

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“Should you partner with competitors or fight them tooth and nail?”

Building a Tribe

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” –Seth Godin

In my conversation with Natalie this week, she shared this quote.

It got me thinking — we’re all out there trying to be the chief of our own tribes, but how do our competitors factor into the equation? Could they be part of our tribe (and vice versa)?

It’s way easier to hide behind a beautiful, perfectly curated, magazine-style platform without ever really putting ourselves out there.

In order to connect with others and build an online tribe, you need to be willing to get vulnerable.

The actual Merriam-Webster definition of vulnerable is this: “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded”.

Not exactly appealing when you put it like that, right?

This is a scary premise for many of us — it means being our real selves online. And being real means some people won’t like you (or, as Natalie puts it, some people will be “gently repelled” from you.)

But if you think about any person who you feel deeply connected to online, it’s likely that you know as much about them as you know about your close friends.

You know what they’re working on, struggling with, and eating for dinner. You may even know the names of their pets and what they would order off of a cocktail menu.

In order to build true community, you have to treat your online platforms like you would a conversation with a friend.

And as Natalie puts it: Don’t try to be a cooler, smarter, better looking version of yourself. Just keep it real.

Which way are you better off?

Authentic, meaningful connection can only happen when we’re willing to open up. That’s all well and good when we’re talking customers, but competitors? Should we reveal ourselves to them?

In this podcast episode, Corbett makes a simple suggestion: “Ask yourself, which way am I better off?”

Are you better off going it alone? Or are you better off partnering with like-minded entrepreneurs who also have audiences of their own?

If you really believe your idea is so good you’re actually better off keeping to yourself, that’s one option.

But if you choose to partner, you may be able to expand your reach together.

You can tap into a slightly different audience, come up with fresh ideas to up-level your business, and have some fun forging real relationships.

There’s absolutely a chance that someone might steal one of your ideas (for this reason you don’t have to, nor should you expose all of your business to your competitors.) But maybe this risk is part of what it means to be vulnerable.

Scarcity vs. abundance

With a scarcity mindset, there are a finite number of customers available. In this scenario, fighting the competition to get ahead makes total sense because if your competitor wins, you get less.

But an abundance mindset is different. An abundance mindset says there’s enough pie for everyone to have some, because when we come together, the pie expands.

Here’s how Natalie put it: “The struggle is not with competing against one another. The struggle really is educating the public on why what you’re offering is actually of value.”

An abundance mindset might not be possible for every industry out there, but for most of us online creative types it’s totally relevant.

Let’s say you’re a photographer. You could look at the consumer landscape and say, “there are only so many people out there who want to be photographed. If I promote another photographer, she might do better than me, and then I lose.”

If you’ve thought that before, then congratulations! You’re a human being in business. It’s completely natural to assume the competition is the enemy.

But here’s another scenario. You’re still a photographer, and you see another photographer on Instagram. You like her style, click with her messaging and form a real connection. You decide to partner and host a workshop for other photographers together.

In one scenario, you’re working furiously in solitude to get ahead. That can work — it can also get lonely and take longer to get where you’re going.

In another scenario you’re connecting, making a new friendship, tapping into a secondary audience, getting pushed out of your comfort zone and maybe even discovering a new revenue stream (would you even have hosted that workshop without that partnership?)

So when you’re out there building your tribe and finding your voice online, fight the temptation to shout into a megaphone on social media or present a perfectly polished version of yourself.

Have the courage to be vulnerable and truly connect — even if the person on the other end is your competition.

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