A few weeks ago at an intensive 2 day course, I quickly realised I was sat next to a competitor, and we were going to be sat next to each other for the whole course.    My initial reaction was fear.   Fear that my business would not stack up favourably against hers and fear that I wouldn’t be able to be open on the course about challenges I faced.    However, within minutes of talking to each other I realised this was not a situation to be feared but one to be embraced and I am truly thankful that I was sitting next to Sara from Find The Crafty Fox.

We both run mobile pottery painting studios and although we are based in different areas our ‘patches’ overlap at Newcastle.    One of the first things that struck me was the similarity in our approaches which is quite different to the perceived wisdom.   So, for example neither of us view children’s parties as being a core offering (most other ceramic businesses would see this aspect as being their bread and butter).  The main focus of our businesses currently is capturing hand and footprints on ceramic items via running sessions in nurseries.

Since the course we have kept in touch and meet up every couple of months to reflect on our businesses, discuss whats worked and what hasn’t and learn from each other.  At our last meeting we were talking about the fact neither of us blog as much as we should and Sara suggested we each wrote a blog on our experience of working together.

So here are my 5 reasons why I’m so glad I  collaborated with my competition rather than fearing or ignoring them:

 

  1. You can learn so much from each other! Sara and I have built our businesses in very different ways and that means we challenged each other’s assumptions on the best way to secure bookings.   Should you call the nurseries or send leaflets or do a mix of both?  Should you contact head office rather than the individual nurseries when looking at nursery chains? We both had our beliefs but seeing that someone else had been successful with a different approach just opened up our thinking.
  2. You look at your business through a different lens – and something becomes blindingly obvious. For me, it suddenly became clear that I was foolish to be moving away from the nursery market when it was nowhere near saturation point and is the easiest market to tap into.
  3.  The other person REALLY understands the issues.  It has been invaluable to be able to talk to someone who faces exactly the same issues as you and to bounce ideas around to overcome them.   I’ve asked for help/input/guidance from many people since I started my business for various challenges and they have all been helpful.   But when working with a competitor theres a sense of relief that you don’t need to explain anything and its so inspiring to realise someone, doing exactly the same as you, has actually climbed that wall you have been trying to get over.
  4. You can work smarter together & reduce costs. Our stock is very similar and we’ve realised there’s potential to reduce not only cost of stock by buying more but also significantly reducing delivery costs.
  5. Teamwork and camaraderie – running a business can be a lonely place so it is really good to have time scheduled on a regular basis to work on (rather than in) the business and assess and reflect on various aspects. In our last meeting we talked about blogging and the fact its always on our to do list but we never do it.  So we committed to each other that we’d each write a blog on this topic.

I’m looking forward to many more constructive, idea generating, business building meetings with Sara and seeing both our businesses grow.