Hey there, this is Julie Bee, and you’re listening to They Don’t Teach THIS in Business School. One thing I learned in business school is the importance of protecting your intellectual property and proprietary knowledge and systems.
There’s a flip-side to that, though, that I did not learn in business school.
The importance of talking with your competitors and industry peers. While, yes, it’s important to protect your secret recipe for success, I think that having a few competitors and industry peers in your network is very important for business owners.
This is definitely a skill that I learned over time. At first, I was wary of any business owner who could be considered a competitor. I didn’t want to share anything with them. But over time, I began to open up a bit. I then started to see how a mutual sharing of knowledge and insights could benefit those in the room – even if some of them were direct competitors.
The reason this is beneficial is that it can help you quickly determine if what you’re experiencing in business is similar to what others in your industry are experiencing. It gives you a baseline on things like market conditions and customer buying behavior. It can provide insight into legislation that may impact your business. Sharing with a group of peers and competitors can also help you identify resources you didn’t know existed.
These peers and competitors would be vetted by you, of course. You don’t trust them with all of your information right away. But over time, as trust is built, you can establish these relationships. What you’ll learn is that, even if on the surface you and another business owner look like direct competition who sell the same service or product, their ideal customer and your ideal customer may be completely different. These people not only become trusted sounding boards; they can also become great referral partners.
Along with the potential of referral partners, it’s also nice to have a peer who really understands your industry and the challenges you face – because they’re dealing with similar circumstances. Once that trust is built, you can gather a lot of insights by asking those individuals some questions.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting you walk into a group of strangers who are peers or competitors, and then share your secret recipe with them to see if they’ll share their recipes (they won’t). You wouldn’t want to share anything that makes your business truly special. But if you are experiencing a change in customer behavior and you’re curious if others in your industry are seeing it, that is something you can ask. Or if you need a new CPA, that group of peers may have a few options for you.
There’s a reason industry associations exist – groups that are full of perceived competitors. It’s this type of group that can help you when no one else seems to really understand the very important problem you’re trying to solve.
And remember, trust is a two-way street. You’ll get what you give in this type of relationship.
Business owners make a lot of decisions. Often, we’re left to our own devices in finding solutions to some of our most challenging questions and problems. If you build a network of a few peers and competitors you can trust, those relationships can help you shorten the gap between the problem you face and the solution you need.
I’m Julie Bee, and They Don’t Teach This in Business School.