I've always been sold the lie that to succeed in life you have to 'out do' your competition. Maybe you're reading this and thinking, well, you do don't you? And I guess it depends on how you define 'out-doing' your rivals. If you're in any form of business you will, more than likely, be constantly looking for ways to get more business by standing out amongst your competitors. We all, after all, want to be the best at what we do, don't we? We want someone to choose our services over someone similar. So what's wrong with that? Nothing at all. The problem is how you view your competition. To out-do your competition implies a sort of one-up-man ship, like you have no interest in them other than the threat of what they can rob from you: you find out that they won the pitch you went for and you're seething with jealously, or you find out they had a bad financial year and you secretly relish the fact. And maybe you think they're not worth a look in, but that's even more of a worry. Your competition is important, and here's why.
1. They are your one of your greatest keys to getting new business.
If you bury your head in the sand and ignore your competition, or if, in contrast, you follow their every move like big brother (distant and removed), you are missing the point entirely. I used to think that connecting with others in similar fields was less important than connecting with 'potential clients'. What is my competition going to do other than steel my precious ideas and business? A hell of a lot, actually. Since connecting with more creatives they have been the greatest source of help and encouragement; they have given me tips to improve, and, when they have too much work on, they have passed some to me, as I do for them. Many creative freelancers have also gone on to set up their own businesses and become art directors who might commission me. The ones I've connected with in the early stages will probably be more likely to use me later on.
2. They have a profound understanding of your business
If they're having a bad financial year the chances are you may do too. If they're your competition they face the same problems you do; the same setbacks; the same clients who are cutting budgets. When good competition is doing badly it should ring alarm bells - how can you do things differently to avoid a crisis? When your competition is doing well it should give confirmation that you can do so too. Admittedly you may have to have a slightly different approach in order to have something unique within your industry to offer, but the fact is that you're all in the same boat and can be a great source of support and motivation.
3. Good competition never steals clients
There's no such thing as bad competition, only good. You may have heard of competitors who steal business or copy ideas but how long can that sustain them before their clients smell a rat? I'm not saying rivals are always caught cheating (undortunately), but all I'm saying is that good competition is good for a reason- they have something about them that attracts clients consistently, they go the extra mile, they communicate. Such competition wouldn't dream of harming such a great reputation by stealing from you. Instead, such people or businesses are a dream to get to know and collaborate with, and the ones that cheat aren't worth getting to know at all.
4. No competition is exactly the same.
Your competition is never a direct repeat of your own business - there are always differences. The key is channelling your differences well. If you connect with your competition you can learn things from them and vice versa - whether there are aspects you would improve upon or implement. Don't just assume they do business in the same way as you - they may have a completely different outlook and talking to them can spur other ideas for you. There is a distinct difference between getting inspiration and copying. Those that respect their industry will seek to give and find inspiration, those that don't will settle for second best which stands out a mile.
5. They make you produce better work
There are many illustrators and designers whose work inspires me and pushes me on to do better. Seeing competitors' work that is better than yours can either make you feel extremely down-hearted, or it can give you the drive to want to develop your skills; to be inspired by it and try new things. There will always be people who are better than you at what you do, this doesn't mean you should stay where you are in your career or feel dismayed – it means that there is so much scope to continually improve and develop your work that you should feel like the world's your oyster (admittedly not the easiest way to feel after comparing your work to the work of geniuses!). My best work has come from seeing something incredible and trying to take elements of it to work into stuff I'm already doing - I never try to copy or reproduce, but by implementing different aspects I can hopefully produce something completely new and exciting.
6. There is enough work for everyone
I believe that if you're good enough at what you do and invest considerable energy into it that there will be work for you - it may not always be exactly as you imagined and it doesn't mean you will always be doing work you love 100% of the time, but it does mean that people want to work with people who have passion for their industry. Such businesses or freelancers don't give up too easily, they seek ways to develop and collaborate and acquire new work. By hiding your ideas you are also hiding them from potential clients. I used to do work for a company that wouldn't list their clients on their website in case their competition poached them. The sad thing was that this actually put off potential clients because the company didn't look like they'd worked with any good brands, despite their experience of doing so. Don't stab yourself in the foot by being overprotective, by all means patent your work if relevant or avoid giving early stages of projects away, but don't sit on work that could be the key to more business. People can steal your ideas, but they cannot steal your ingenuity or professionalism.
What do you think? Are you wary of your competition? Do you think your competition can be a positive influence?