This is an edited excerpt of a post that originally appeared on Forbes.com on April 27, 2015.
It’s not that I’m not competitive — believe me, I am. I have ambitious goals for my company and our clients and the drive to make them happen.
But I spend very little time worrying about what my competitors are up to. I’m aware of it, but I don’t stress about it because that mindset will only get you so far as an entrepreneur. If you want to successfully build an organization from scratch, you have to go beyond simply beating other people’s (often mediocre) benchmarks.
Here’s how embracing our competition helps us reach our long-term goals.
I’m Free to Make High-Value Referrals
We’re a specialty agency — we create editorial content for B2B brands, mainly enterprise tech companies and financial services firms. If someone comes to me looking for, say, a consumer marketing plan, I’d steer them to one of a handful of trusted agencies who I know do that sort of work well, even though they’re technically my competition.
Yes, it’s revenue I “lost,” but I can live with that. I know what we’re great at — and what we’re not.
I also make good referrals when the potential client is a direct competitor of one of our retainer clients. We avoid a conflict of interest, and the company gets its marketing needs competently addressed.
These moves will come as a surprise to some people, but it in a good way. It shows integrity.
I Can Call for Backup When I Need It
Having warm relationships with my competitors also means I can get backup when I need it. At one point last year, I found myself in a jam. A deadline for ordering some trade show collateral was coming up fast and my design team was fully booked.
I reached out to another agency owner whose design skills I respected and asked for a favor. Within an hour, I had the file I needed in hand. (I promise I’ll find a way to return the favor, Maren!)
I Can Work to Elevate the Whole Industry
Real “thought leaders” don’t spend their time cutting down other people in their industry; they work to build everyone up.
For me, that means being generous with praise for competitors, in public as well as private. I even freely share my competitors’ content on my social channels.
If you’re used to a more dog-eat-dog mindset, this approach may feel uncomfortable at first. But I’ve seen it work at our company, as well as for leaders of other organizations. Nicer guys and gals really do finish first.
Visit Forbes.com to read the entire post and learn about how a more pragmatic, cooperative approach toward your competition can help support your long-term growth.