Communication is the backbone of all relationships. When I teach college courses on interpersonal communication, I introduce the difference between competition and collaboration. The simplified definition is that “competition” has a win-lose outcome—one side benefits and the other does not—whereas “collaboration” is win-win.
Even though organizations in the same marketplace compete with each other for resources, customers, and employees, those same competitors benefit from collaboration in supporting the community and industry-wide events like expos, festivals, and conferences. The breweries in Grand Rapids are a great example. Dozens of vendors offered samples at the Grand Rapids Wine, Beer, and Food Festival in DeVos Place in November. Technically, each of the vendors competes with the others, and yet those businesses collaborated to celebrate and help participants discover, enjoy, and learn more about beer, wine, and food with a strong representation from local organizations.

Similarly, Apple, Microsoft, and Google are three of the giants in the software industry. Yet, they frequently work together to encourage young people to learn to write software code and to establish industry-wide practices. While they compete for customers, they also define their message in a way that attracts specific customers. Apple promotes creativity, Microsoft promotes productivity, and Google advocates access. All three corporations frequently work together to promote technology and enter into new markets.

For employees and owners of small businesses, it is equally important to focus more on collaborating with individuals in other organizations rather than competing. This list identifies six reasons that compel some individuals to work together with “competitors.”

1. Learn Their Stories: One goal of a professional conference is to allow experts to share what they have done that has worked as well as what failed. While those lessons are often universal, there is an advantage to hearing stories from individuals in the same community. The challenges others have faced in the same marketplace can provide insights to make your business more successful.

2. Learn Their “Why”: Every organization has a unique mission even when they perform many of the same services. As you discover more about what other organizations value, it becomes easier to understand how each organization operates and prioritizes objectives. It becomes clear how similar actions are used to fulfill an organization’s unique long-term goals and vision.

3. Learn What They Offer: Pricing, services, products, specialties, experience, and vendors are unique variables for every organization. Distinguishing between companies can prove difficult for even the savviest shopper. Collaborating with your competitors to discuss your product and service lines can help both organizations ensure they are meeting the current needs of customers and anticipating changes in the marketplace.

4. Industry Support: Technology changes rapidly, which in turn affects every organization. Especially in very small companies, it is essential to have colleagues on whom you can rely to learn about how they are dealing with the latest software update or the law that recently took effect or arrival of a new competitor. Even in large companies, individuals from other organizations will have different insights into the same upcoming changes and with more points of view to consider, it can be easier to find the best solution to deal with new challenges.

5. Differentiate: If you can put into words what makes your business stand out among others, it will be easier to attract clients from your target market. Although price and customer service are vital, customer loyalty is strongest when a customer experiences a special connection. That bond can form with an employee or specific product or service or some other aspect of the organization. When you distinguish your organization, potential customers who connect with your mission will be in a better position to choose an organization that aligns with their own beliefs.

6. Referrals: If you knew a potential client would be better served by a different organization than your own, would you make a referral? That question helps distinguish the difference between collaboration and competition and raises an important point about entrepreneurship. An organization that does not serve the needs of potential clients may need to pivot and experiment with new products or services. There are short-term gains in accepting a client who might be better served elsewhere. However, making referrals can help establish long-term relationships with others from organizations in the same industry, which helps foster mutual respect among the leaders and employees of “competitors.”

These are six reasons, but there are many others. Please comment on this article to share your experiences with collaboration.

Post by Curtis Burdette, author of Frame Your First Dollar