Grow your business by collaborating, not competing

Working together with competitors is a winning strategy for your business - here's why.
"If people knew how to collaborate well," Morten Hansen said, "the world would simply work better."

We all work with colleagues, partners, and assistants on a daily basis, but what if there was an untapped category of professionals whose advice and skills we may well be ignoring? What about our competitors?

It sounds counterintuitive at first. You are competing with others for the same slice of the customer pie. Each person who goes to a competitor is a customer you missed. As people prefer what is familiar, in the future they are likely to return to your competitor. Why would you help them?

Many studies have covered the process of collaboration between rivals and found that in the long run, the process benefits both parties. Even behemoths like Apple and Samsung find ways to collaborate fruitfully - Samsung produces components for Apple devices and it is estimated it makes $110 profit for every iPhone X sold. On a smaller scale, YouTube creators from the same category often make videos together to boost each other's subscribers.

If working with your competitors is not a novel idea, can it work for freelancers? As independent professionals, we are on a never-ending learning spree. We are also looking for new avenues to promote our work and raise our visibility. When you reach out to people in direct competition to you, you are most likely to get relevant and useful benefits:

1. You (both) will learn more

In your respective fields of expertise, the competitor knows more than you, and you know more than them. We've all had different paths into freelancing and our businesses have been through many challenges. Sharing our knowledge and offering help to others is not only a great way to build trust and gain respect, but a chance for us to learn something in the process. As long as your collaboration is mutually beneficial, you are doing the right thing.

A member of our community, Sanne Van Broeck, has set up a collective with five other freelancers, at least one of which is her direct competitor, in order for them all to learn more. She doesn't believe in competition in her field, and says that we are stronger together.

2. You will expand your networks

Not all clients in the market will be a great fit for you, and they will respect you more if you point them to a better professional, rather than taking their money for substandard work. Even more importantly, we should all aim to innovate and learn rather than try to corner the market. There will always be a huge variety of designers, marketers, writers, and any other occupation, but there will always be clients as well. Knowing who your direct competitors are and collaborating with them will open the doors to more networking contacts and lead to more people interested in your work.

Frederik Daneels, a member of our community, found unexpected benefits when he recommended a friend for a client's vacancy. He eventually handed over his position to his new colleague and moved to a new opportunity in the company, opening a new door in his career.

3. You can help your industry grow

When people come together and offer support, everyone can improve and the quality of work in your field rises. This leads to more customers and higher rates.

For example, Freelance Business founder Elina has built a strong network around her Freelance Business Community, and she is a firm advocate of collaborating and learning from others. Even though much of the community is composed of freelancers, many of whom compete in the same field or niche, the support they share helps everyone become a better professional. Events like the recent Freelance Business for Marketing and Sales and the upcoming Freelance Business for Writers help spread knowledge and inspire the community to do more.

There will always be those who will try to get free exposure from you or steal your clients. Focus on finding honest and experienced collaborators, even if you are competing in the same field. It can be a rising tide which lifts all boats.

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