I was watching Drew Pritchard of Salvage Hunters fame on television the other evening. For those of you who have never seen the show, he restores architectural salvage and sells it on to business and private individuals looking for something different for their interior design ...
He's carved out a nice little niche for himself building on his strengths, combining his eye for design with his closet hoarding tendencies. I don't know a lot about his line of business as neither he, nor his clients feature in my target market.
However when he's striking a deal buying from other dealers he makes a point of saying, "Both of us have got to make a profit out of this". That got me thinking about the whole subject of collaboration in business.
According to my dictionary, the word collaboration is defined as 'working jointly with shared results'. Sounds straightforward, doesn't it? So, no earth shattering information there. However, the second meaning added in 'working with the enemy' usually used in terms of wartime invasion forces.
Can you collaborate with your perceived enemy ... your competitors? Now, I work with smaller companies and the really successful ones have, like Drew from Salvage Hunters, carved out their niche in the market for their type of products, and focus on becoming the expert in that particular area.
There is always loads of competition for solutions to their client's needs so business can be hard to find and yes, it is easy to get caught up in a war of attrition with these perceived competitors.
Then you erode your profit through price wars or spend it on expensive marketing or advertising trying all the time to get across why you're better than they are.
Even when seeking business via networking, I see people get hung up on excluding anyone who remotely offers similar services from their network groups.
What if you recognised and acknowledged each other's value and where you can help each other? After all, you both know people who have the sort of problem or ambition that you want to work with. If you have read any of my prior blog posts, you will know that these are exactly the sort of people who make great referral partners.
Still not convinced? Why not try a little exercise looking at your competitors through a collaborative lens, do a comparative SWOT analysis to tease out where you can turn your strengths, weaknesses and threats into real opportunities by collaborating.
Here are some areas to explore in that analysis. Remember you're trying to tease out the differences so be honest with yourself.
What are you good at and what are they good at? What are your respective core skills and expertise? Do you have access to markets that the other person can't or hasn't penetrated? For both parties what type of client do you attract and equally who doesn't buy from you? Is your competition better placed or culturally better suited to some clients than you? Do you have spare capacity to help out?
Leading on from that where are your respective challenges? Is finding more clients the pressure or delivering to the standard you promised? Is it certain expertise, knowledge or skills that you lack? Could you manage that big contract easily on your own? Could you win it in the first place?
Business rarely works in isolation. World economics and events will impact on your clients to want less or more of your services. Industry-wide skills shortages can impact on your ability to deliver. New innovations come along all the time and new players will pop up to challenge you. Are you both facing the same problems are there ways you can work together to overcome them?
Now you've teased out some research into your competition what are the opportunities to help each other out.
- Could you use your spare capacity to deliver their product when they are overloaded?
- Could they add in special expertise when your client's need challenge you?
- Could you work in partnership or subcontractors in order to win larger contracts?
- Could you just refer each other because for some reason this particular client is not right for you, but is right for them?
Remember through your collaborative lens it's SWOT not SWAT. O for opportunities rather than A for attrition. And to quote Drew Pritchard take care that "both of you make a profit out of this".
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.