Back in 2012 I joined a local referral group, part of Gold Star Referral Clubs. If you aren’t familiar with how referral groups often work, typically it is a group of business professionals who get together on a regular basis, and support one another through referrals and cross promotion. For example, Bob, who sells life insurance is in a referral group with other professionals, including Jennifer, an accountant. Bob has a client who expresses the need for an accountant…so Bob refers his client to Jennifer.
Most groups only allow one representative or organization to occupy one “slot” at a time. So in Bob’s group, he is the only life insurance agent; Jennifer is the only accountant, and so on. In other words, you cannot have two members in the same group who would compete with one another.
While the purpose for this rule and structure is perfectly reasonable, I have noticed in recent years that the lines of true competition are often blurred. For example, as a producer for content marketing and a developer of intellectual property, my work may compliment the services of a web design firm or marketing agency (although we may share the same SIC classification). However, it still begs the question: would a representative from such an agency, when meeting me, see me as one to threaten their business, or add value to it?
It really depends on their mindset. Do they see others in the world as competitors or potential partners? Do they only compete? Or do they see opportunities to collaborate?
A startling example of the later mindset was recently shown to me when I sat down with a fellow Gold Star member, Galo Fraga. Galo runs his own commercial printing company, Fraga Graphic Solutions. He has spent his entire life in the industry (even as a child, as his father owns a printing company in his native Ecuador), and he has worked in it at every level.
After moving to central Ohio eight years ago, Galo took a job with a major, large-scale commercial printing company. “Two years into my employment,” Galo recalls, “I realized that what I really wanted was to open my own business. And I told them so.”
My eyes bugged out as I heard him say this. At first, I thought: Is this guy crazy? That’s the last thing I would do! “Really?” I replied. “And what was their reaction?”
That’s when I was reminded that the older I get, the more I still have to learn.
“They were completely supportive,” Galo replied. “They appreciated what I brought to their business, and encouraged me to learn as much as I needed in order to make my future transition—whenever that would occur—a successful one.”
Indeed, it would be another five years before Galo actually realized his dream. It took astute planning, and preparation, all the while leveraging his service and experience at his employer for all it was worth. And yet this begged another question: what about his previous clients? Did Galo take them along?
“That was never my interest or intent,” Galo acknowledges. “My previous employer was fair to me, and it was important to me to do this ethically.” The fact is, while Galo was moving on to technically become a competitor, in reality, today they often collaborate side-by-side. Indeed, Fraga Graphic Solutions is a small-medium scale service provider. When a client comes along whose needs are better met by his previous, larger-scale employer, he works with them to fulfill the job, and vice versa.
It is a prosperous relationship between “competitors.” By thinking beyond competition and realizing the value of collaboration, everybody wins—especially their customers.
Might they still compete for projects from time to time? Indeed they may—and that’s good. But part of being competitive is knowing your limitations, and focusing on doing what you do best (and becoming known for it—which is essential to brand building).
There are a lot of businesses out there that want to do it all—because they want all your business, regardless of how well they can deliver. That often does not serve the best interests of the customer. But as the old saying goes: Jack of all Trades; Master of None.
With all due respect to those of you named Jack…I prefer to be called Master, even if it means sharing the stage.