Mates or threats: is making friends with your competitors risky business?

Solo business ownership is a pretty lonely road.

You’ve got to work a lot harder to build a network around you. But that means you get to choose who you spend time with.

That’s half the reason we ditched employment, right?

When I first started copywriting, I looked to other industries to make friends. Problem was – none of them really understood what I was going through or could offer specific advice.

So I cautiously started looking to my competitors – other copywriters – for support.

Ka-ching! I hit the jackpot of support, friendliness and grammar jokes.

Still, I held myself back from getting too committed to those relationships – after all, we both wanted clients. What if they pitched for the same jobs I did? Or took clients away from me?

As a newbie business owner, it was a natural worry.

But I’m a positive-minded chick. So I chose to start believing there’s probably enough room in the world for all of us. I say probably because the first step you need to take when sussing out a market is to see if there’s enough demand.

Imagine there are only 120 people in the world who want cinnamon-scented soy candles. How do you think three businesses creating the same candle are going to fair against each other? I reckon two would close their doors within 6 months.

Business ownership is a combo of analytical thinking and self-belief.

With Aussies spending approximately $8.5 billion per year on fitness services and equipment I feel pretty confident in my business. To supply all of those services and gear, there are over 39,000 fitness professionals in Australia. So despite there being other fitness copywriters around, I know there’s plenty of work available.

That’s the analytical side. But what about self-belief?

Well, I know there’s no one in the world exactly like me. So none of those other fitness copywriters are going to produce work exactly like mine. I trust that there are brands that are just the right fit for little ol’ me. (And so far, experience is proving it to be true.)

Three men and one woman are laughing and talking at the top of hill at sunset.

WHAT DO THE PRO'S THINK?

Okay, that’s great for copywriters. But what about the fitness industry?

Can you really be mates with your competition?

I asked some experienced fitness pros that exact question.

Owner and founder of Pilates franchise inLIFE Wellness, Scott Capelin, makes an effort to connect with competitors. “In my studio in Sydney, I’m in with five other fitness businesses. We’re all different and we all get along.

Last month I attended a fitness conference in Miami, then to Texas and California to visit lots of studios. I asked questions – some of the owners and staff were so open and helpful. It was really refreshing. If anyone ever wanted my advice or to see some figures, I’d happily show them if they had good intentions.

Some fitness business owners aren’t so forthcoming. There’s the obvious concern about stealing ideas and IP, and attempting to poach members.

Fitness people do sneaky mystery visits to other gyms and studios. I understand why. It would be refreshing if they requested a meeting and were open about their intentions. We can all learn from each other.

Mentality of abundance I reckon!”

Steph Abu Awad from Myo Strength Performance echoes Scott’s thoughts.

“I think it’s possible, but it depends on the person. I personally think there’s room for everyone to grow and build clients. The industry is massive and there are clients everywhere.

I have friends in the industry that can be seen as direct competitors, but I see it as the opposite. I see them as a person to bounce ideas off, pick their brains if I need a second opinion and learn from.

Not everyone thinks that way though, that’s why it’s person dependent. Some people might think you can’t be friends with competitors if they’re worried about losing clientele, or competitors “stealing” clients, but I’ve never had that issue.”

Business and Mindset Coach, Em Gee from Be Think Do Coaching believes there’s no competition.

“When we go into business, we’re told to do a competitor analysis. Of course, it’s good to look at what others are doing so you’ll know if your offers are competitive and your pricing is around the normal ballpark.

But there’s no competition because we’re all different people. No one else is you.

People connect with people, not businesses, and everyone has different people they like to connect with. Especially in the fitness industry. When people are investing in your service, they’re investing in you as a human being.

You need to recognise that even if someone does exactly what you’re doing, it’s not going to last for them.

I’ve had people copy what I do – literally word for word and it’s hurt. But if they’re having to do that it’s not going to last forever because they’re not able to draw upon their own resources.

It’s absolutely possible to be mates with your direct competitors because they’re not going to take clients away from you. The right people will be attracted to you and the right people will be attracted to them. Even if it looks like you have the same niche – there are still different aspects about you compared to the other person and those things will resonate more with certain people.

The most important thing to be wary of is yourself and how strong you are in your own self-belief. Work on yourself because that’s what shines through and what gets clients. Not the competitive mindset.

Collaboration over competition is very important. Connecting all our groups to build a community.

We need to work with our strengths and with each other, rather than against each other.”

Being friends with people running a similar business brings a bunch of benefits.

One of my best buddies is a copywriter!

We check in with each other to see how business, family and life are going. We ask each other’s opinions on headlines, new offers and when a tricky client situation pops up. I know she’s always there, a quick message away, and she knows I’m here for her too.

The only problem I’d see is if your services and offers are exactly the same and you’re both in the same location. Then you’ll be competing for the same clients which may create tension between you.

In that scenario, it comes down to your mindset, attitude and personality. If you’re seriously competitive then seeing your buddy land a lead that you’ve been chatting to will hurt.

But if you’ve got an abundance mindset it’s far less likely to bother you.

Plus, if you find yourself looking and sounding like another brand, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a few changes. Shaping your brand to follow someone else’s style won’t grow your business. (It also feels a bit ick.)

Instead, let your brand share its own special personality with the world.

One of the best ways to stand out is to have a strong tone of voice. How you communicate with your audience shows them the type of brand you are. The words you use create a distinction between you and every other fitness professional.

Need help figuring out how to create a strong brand voice? Let’s create some guidelines together to make your brand like no one else’s.

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