Stop Competing – Start Collaborating!

Even if you already know what your USP is, I encourage you to read this post on unique selling propositions to get what makes your business special very clearly defined in your mind. You might even want to write yourself some notes. Before you finish read Create Your USP By Looking At What Your Competitors Aren’t Claiming.

Choose the wide or narrow pathFocusing on the broad path of competition instead of the narrow path of collaborating will not get you through the challenging economic times we are now facing. Every business should already be differentiating themselves
through a USP – a unique selling proposition.

I want to point out for my regular readers that I always put links to additional information in my posts, but I do not always tell you specifically why you should go read them. I hope you realize that means those two links (above) are really important to your success. If you want to survive or even prosper you simply must stop thinking in terms of competing.

I know that will be a hard idea to swallow for those who have been raised competing from birth or at least since they started school and sports. We have been conditioned to believe that competition is a worthy goal in every way from sports to grades.

Competition creates winners and losers. On a more basic level, it created a world where some have far more than they need and others are starving. Do we really want to perpetuate this model?

I ask especially those who consider themselves Christians to compare this to what Jesus taught. At some point – and now would be a good time – we have to decide who we really are and who (or $$ what $$) we choose to worship.

Many businesses have “competitors” who aren’t really competing.  Maybe your business sells wholesale specialty woods and makes some cabinet parts but doesn’t make entire cabinets. A company that makes replacement cabinet doors is just as likely to be a customer as a competitor.  While there IS definitely product overlap, the more competitors we can collaborate with the more business each of you will have.

When too many businesses compete for exactly the same audience they are fighting over a limited pie and creating winners and losers.  Selling products that are commodities – which I will define as the same products widely available for roughly the same price – is a recipe for failure.

“2010 will see collaboration become the new competition. Markets around the world are crying out for collaboration as innovation and differentiation become scarce in a sea of commoditised products and processes.” ~ Barrett ~

If you only sell the same thing everyone else sells and others are willing to sell those products at less than their cost of sales, you will be in a price war that is going to put all of you out of business. The further the dollar slides the more desperate people will get. More of them will sell at below profitable levels and your sales and profits will keep declining.

If that is your current business model you need to make a change. Start adding different products that are NOT commodities. Consider offering products that your clients are likely to have to buy online so that they have an additional reason to buy from you (to save on shipping).

Since these are necessities, if someone is running low that will prompt them to go ahead and order – and if they could use both what you sell and that you’ll get the order. This time of year people are likely to need more baking supplies or even give organic gifts to friends and family. If you have an online gift store we could buy gifts, what we need to bake holiday cookies and organic staples too.

Yes, this means you will either have to stock that inventory too (if you ship products yourself) or find a partner who can ship them together. Or work out a way of splitting the cost of shipping from both locations that saves the buyer money and increases your sales.

The number one way to increase sales is to offer free shipping.

If you are interested in being healthy – even if you are a tiny ecommerce store – you could order extras when you order them for yourself and offer these items that people like me buy regularly online:

If you have a small local store, are an independent grocer, belong to an organic coop, or are involved in Community Supported Agriculture these same staples would be perfect to offer your groups. You could also carry Ezekiel sprouted bread and other hard-to-locate but highly popular products.

Encourage your local independent markets and stores to buy locally and sell these specific items.  Every day someone like me (or maybe many someones) drives by your small grocery to drive 30-60 miles to Whole Foods – probably to buy only a handful of items they really want and can not buy locally.

U.S. Food Inflation Graph 2009 2010

U.S. Food Inflation Graph 2009 2010

If you stock what they want they won’t need to make that drive and they’ll buy their commoditized groceries from you too!  Having sought out these products for decades now, I have some additional tips for you. Make a section just for these items instead of spreading them all over the store.  That makes it easier for those who are interested to know what you have and see any new items of interest you decide to stock.

Be sure to make your new products obvious:

  1. Add them to your weekly advertising
  2. Put up or offer fliers on the checkstands – even those who aren’t interested are likely to immediately think of someone they know who would be interested
  3. Add these products in the description or special sections of your Local Search Directory Listings
  4. Add coupons wherever you have that capability such as Merchant Circle or Yelp listings

You can take this even further by offering locally raised products and grass-fed meat.  As the dollar buys less and less there is one thing that will always be a valuable form of exchange – and it isn’t gold. It is FOOD! Small communities could actually do business in grocery store gift certificates instead of cash because everyone buys something at a grocery store and even if they didn’t they could trade them to someone who did!

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Gail Gardner

Small Business Marketing Strategist at GrowMap
Creator and owner of, Gail is primarily known for mentoring small businesses and encouraging bloggers to join collaborations to share skills and support small business.


  1. I like the idea of exchanging with food. It is very true that food is a basic necessity and in today’s world where the euros are crumpling, it is probably better to get food than money. Crazy that we are back to barter trade, but that is how the world is today
    Zac would love you to read ..Ibike bicycle accessories for IphoneMy Profile

    • Hi Zac,

      The value of currencies around the world are declining. Even if you make $100/hr you might be better off growing food. There are some great videos on YouTube about planting permaculture food forests. They are far less work than gardening and do not require tractors, tillers, etc. once they’re established.
      Gail Gardner would love you to read ..Stop Competing – Start Collaborating!My Profile

  2. Something worth mentioning – I have a custom line of travel mugs & cold to-go tumblers I sell online at Amazon. It’s a little expensive to sell that way, because I use Fulfillment by Amazon but think of it this way.

    Selling on Amazon is like a huge collaboration. I ship them my products, they warehouse them, pack them and ship them. The nice thing is that they cross-sell, so if someone is looking at a product with a similar theme as mine, oftentimes they will buy mine as well. The beauty is that Amazon offers free shipping for orders above $25 which I think is a huge part of why people tend to buy more when you use FBA.

    So, for anyone not in a p0sition to sell directly to the public, I really think Amazon is a great alternate option. They basically do all the work – and yes, you pay them for it, but IMO it is worth it.
    Bethany would love you to read ..My Secret For Finding Rare Items On CraigslistMy Profile

  3. We really do not need to compete. But instead, we must give what the people really needs with value for their money. Definite, it will help us grow our business.
    Anne would love you to read ..Custom Simpson Wood DoorsMy Profile

  4. Good collaboration usually needs equal parties for an equal exchange of value. If unequal values exist then the lesser party needs more “sweat equity.”

  5. If there is no competition,it monopoly and monopoly is not in favor of customers. Competition always give benefit to customer as well as companies.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with the issues raised here. Particluarly about if we follow Jesus or $$. If you really want to be in touch with who you really are then you have really got to be honest about what you are doing. If you can bring something good into people lives, that’s what they are looking for and you will be rewarded.

    I hope you will check out my site about Swedish massage because I believe in todays world that is something to help people get in touch with themselves too.

  7. I think collaboration has an advantage for other business. It is not all applicable to all business to have a collaboration, because competition is always present nowadays. Trusting and having a good relationship with your business partner will be a great help if you want to have a successful business.
    shane would love you to read ..Florida Traffic Tickets – Traffic Citations Cost More Than Ever In Florida Despite Ability To Pay High FinesMy Profile

    • Hi Shane,

      There will always be other people and companies that do what you do, but that doesn’t mean you have to compete with them. There is room for more than one successful business in every niche and those who collaborate will benefit greatly from doing so.
      growmap would love you to read ..Support Small BusinessesMy Profile

  8. Great post..very informative. I like the idea of transforming competition into collaboration..

  9. As a business consultant too, I would agree with your ideas posted in your blog. I do really believe that collaborating is a very good idea. In the word of business competition is always there. Just do unique ideas for your business. Thanks for having this kind of post. I know many could learn from this.

  10. Nice article! I love the way you share the informations with us. Thanks for this post.
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  11. Whether we like it or not, business is where to find the biggest competition in the world. It’s like a battle of survival. When you’re not competitive, then your business will surely sink and be overshadowed by other businesses. This is the reason why business owners use any possible means in maintaining their business. And one of these is through online marketing.
    Alex would love you to read ..Florida Traffic Tickets – Traffic Citations Cost More Than Ever In Florida Despite Ability To Pay High FinesMy Profile

  12. Contibuting by esuring quality is also important than collaborating in a fair business strategy.
    Mika would love you to read ..Firewire CameraMy Profile

  13. I wrote a blog post about this two days ago! I’ll include it in the CommentLuv if anyone wants to read. It’s true that when people in the same niche start working together they both benefit from it. I included the example with links but that’s just one way that making friends online can help webmasters.

    By the way, is this a typo? “many stores – even superstores – do not carry a single fluoride-free offering.” Don’t you want to say that stores don’t offer toothpaste with fluoride?
    Techie would love you to read ..An Example of Non Traditional Link BuildingMy Profile

  14. One way to combine competition and collaboration is to work with competitors to publicly stage a competition. Think Papa Johns and Pizza Hut (without the lawsuits). How much publicity has their pizza war garnered?

  15. Like the article so much. Simple but it has the deep message to everyone. Very informative and lots of ideas I totally agree with the collaborating than competing. I just want to share this thoughts, “Once you reach the top there’s no other way but to go down”.

  16. Hi, You are right, Collaboration is a good Strategy to get Sales. Recently, I discovered this when i collaborated with Brands like Nikon , Steiner and Celestron Binoculars. My Sales of Space Binoculars increased suddenly when i promoted these brands as well on my website for sale.

  17. Even though we’re in competitive market but still we can stand out by our own and that is the power of differentiation or having a unique selling proposition. It’s all about selling what you have and telling the market its uniqueness and therefore it will truly cater those who needed and wanted your products. And I totally agree with you, it’s all about collaborating or sharing your uniqueness and innovative products to the market. Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

  18. Hello Gail,

    I am absolutely with you on this topic. I understand your point and I agree with you. Collaborating is indeed a better way to help each other reach the top instead of competing with one another which can be very messy sometimes. Let’s take for example the commenting tribe I am in, I hope you are familiar with it. The purpose of that tribe if for every member to help each other promote their blogs by commenting to each others posts.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Ana/Traffic Generation Cafe would love you to read ..How to Drive Traffic To a New Blog Through a Commenting TribeMy Profile

  19. Indeed, this is the best option if you need to make a business to work fine. If you compete with all others you will not have success.

  20. like the photos you use…2 road divide on your post “Stop Competing – Start Collaborating!”

  21. Skylight Repair says:

    You make some interesting points. Thinking about what your competition doesn’t do is essential. What I got out of that is to remember to revisit this on occasion. You might find you have become “better” without realizing it.
    Skylight Repair would love you to read ..Roofing ContractorMy Profile

  22. I do like to see brands collaborating visibly on a product, Jack Daniels and TGI fridays for example… I always get the Jack Daniels sauce :)
    Tom would love you to read ..Wireless Parking Sensors UKMy Profile

  23. Collaboration has created many successful businesses and while it’s not new it’s not well understood. This was a good post. I’ve done an MBA and while there was some learning about collaboration it was mostly competition, competition, competition, but as you mentioned, there are really not that many direct competitors anymore because of the length and breadth of the USPs we are able to create in our business models because of modern technology, particularly the internet.
    James would love you to read ..HSV – What is ItMy Profile

  24. auto transport quote says:

    Just like the old saying… If you can’t beat them, join them. Collaboration is a great way to uplift your business. There are some points that your business is good and there are some points that the other is better. By collaborating, you can have both great things at the same time.

  25. yes this is a very good solution. good job guys n nice info
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  26. Collaboration is the key to success. let’s get started!

  27. thanks for reminding about differentiation. i think now, natural or organic product become the number one product nowadays. but we need to expertise in product that we’ve chose to produce. so there won’t be waste of time or effort
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  28. The title of your post is catchy! We should always start working together if we want to achieve something better. As the old adage goes, “two heads are better than one”, and true enough, greater things can be done if we collaborate.

  29. I very like with the title.. what for competing if with collaborating we can do something special.. ^^

  30. Twitter Marketing says:

    I agree with the post even if in the title itself. Why we always competing ours selves, our works, our products, etc. We should collaborate. We share ideas to each other, so that all of us will go on top just the way the other is. Great post you have there.

  31. Product differentiation is the key to monopolistic competition. You see it in different industries all the time. I feel that it’s the only way to truly dominate a market which has several competitors. Consistently coming out with something new will keep your target audience interested and your competition at bay.

  32. collaboration is cool!!! but i wonder how local businesses can get help collaborating with competitors……

  33. Collaboration by referral works, but collaboration with your direct competition, I dont thinks so!
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    • Hi Manie,

      I know that many think it won’t work, but it can. Let’s take SEO services as an example. The very best SEO agencies are too busy to accept more work. They have to either sub-contract it out or refer people to others which is collaborating with their direct competition.

      There are many different levels of SEO skills, expertise, offerings. Instead of seeing them all as competitors those who work together will all stay busier.
      growmap would love you to read ..Building Traffic Using Anchor TextMy Profile

  34. Collaboration instead of competition, hmm that will never work, right?
    What am I thinking is something like a store offering sofas for sales and then recommending an other store to buy sofa covers. But I think in reality the first store would rather stock up on sofa covers then recommend something else.. just take on the capitalist economy.
    Alex would love you to read ..Serveste strudelMy Profile

  35. Will it be possible to collaborate in the internet marketing field?

    • Yes, of course it will. In fact, online collaboration is easier and those who are afraid to collaborate with those they see as direct competitors can focus on related businesses far enough away that they will rarely if ever share customers.

      Let’s take your wood stove site for example. The first question I have – since their physical address is in South Africa – is where do they ship? (Since I could not easily determine that from their site I suggest they add that information.)

      If they primarily ship within Africa they could collaborate with those who sell wood stoves in every other country and never reduce their sales. Even if they do ship to all other countries, I personally have never seen little wood stoves like theirs so even a store that only sells wood stoves may or may not be a competitor.

      It amuses me that so many think that as long as their site doesn’t reveal there are competitors that others won’t find them. Really? Even the newest Internet user can usually find their way to a search engine and type in something.

      Using an unrelated example, bloggers regularly collaborate specifically in the Internet marketing field. We tell each other about worthwhile products, services, seminars, blog posts, etc. and we publish each other’s quality content that benefits clients other than our own.

      Nowhere is collaborating more important than online.
      growmap would love you to read ..Support Small BusinessesMy Profile

  36. Quality of products with the cheapest rate always provide you good customers.

    • Hi Basam,

      I disagree. The only way to be cheapest is to be willing to sell at a loss as your competition will be. Honestly, the customers that only want the cheapest price can be your worst nightmare because they would often not be happy even if you paid them to take your products and they take up far more time than reasonable folks.
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  37. I appreciate your post a lot because you taught me how to collaborate my business. I am excited to start our business. Thank you for paying attention to simple little things that most men neglect makes a few men rich. More power in this post!
    Edward would love you to read ..Luggage Tags Are Great and Elegant Wedding FavorsMy Profile

  38. I have to agree collaboration is a great form of advertising and creating a unique niche for yourself.
    If you sell a product or service, it’s best if somebody can see all the products/companies that you work for and/or have helped out.
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    • Hi David,

      I definitely agree that collaborating also increases the credibility of each business and will definitely increase referrals. That is why I keep harping on this idea even with businesses who are ignoring this advice.

      Your company is a perfect example of a company with excellent collaborating potential. Relationships with vehicle dealers and contractors would benefit you both.
      growmap would love you to read ..Monitoring Social Media Conference – London or ParisMy Profile

  39. Collaboration is the only sane way forward for everyone.

    • Hi Sophia,

      Few will see it though because at least in the U.S. we have been conditioned from our earliest years to admire competition and winning at almost any cost. It is unfortunate but true that most believe the best way to survive the current economic challenges is to take business from others.
      growmap would love you to read ..New Free How to Make a Blog eBookMy Profile

  40. The value of collaboration over competition is something I stress since nearly 10 years.
    First of all it’s really not that common to find someone competing exactly on your same line of products or services, and secondly, when this isn’t the case, a cooperation is often a good way to fill each other’s gap to offer something new that will potentially attract a new class of clients that you couldn’t take on alone.
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    • Hi Gabriele,

      So good to have you here as a regular reader and commentator. It helps to know others who can see the same vision.

      Did you see that Influence People is bringing their Monitoring Social Media event to London (almost here – Nov 22) and Paris? If you have any suggestions on how to better get the word out in Europe do please let me know.
      growmap would love you to read ..Monitoring Social Media Conference – London or ParisMy Profile

  41. TheWebmasterBlogs says:

    I agree … This is especially true on the internet where the only way to get noticed to stop competing and start collaborating with partners.
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    • I’m glad you mentioned that, Webmaster. Few understand the value of collaborating with related businesses. As I’ve mentioned, if you are afraid to collaborate with local businesses then focus on those so far away geographically that you have different potential clients!
      growmap would love you to read ..New Free How to Make a Blog eBookMy Profile

      • Hi Gail, thanks for the mention of cabinet doors. After speaking to you and perusing your resources here, I couldn’t agree more with you. If you recall our conversation last week, i think you were gonna talk to Derek? i’ve been looking at ecommerce CMS platforms and I think Joomla 1.5 or Drupal6 might be better suited… that being said I don’t get the impression that Derek would help in that case.

        * TODAY * my continuing SEO efforts on our cabinet door FP2002 site (heheh) garnered a call from San Francisco for a 191 unit apartment complex reface project.. from no other than Lowe’s Contractor Specialist department…. kinda nice to have a big S&P500 company call you out of the blue for your services! gotta ask this guy how he found me!

        • Hi Jay,

          If you’ve already decided Joomla or Drupal I’ll ask Sammy if he does that. Best to hire someone with experience no matter what you decide on. San Francisco? That’s a long way from your base. No doubt he found you online.

          One tip for anyone who has an online presence. Ask but don’t totally rely on how someone found you. I work with clients who use Yahoo Stores that ask where they found them. They regularly answer one thing but the Web analytics shows something different. Most likely the average person will not accurately remember how they first found you.

          Online marketing is like gardening. The more seeds you plant in varied soil the better the harvest will be.
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