My competitors are all assholes

I first wrote this post four years ago and shared it on Linkedin.  I remember it clearly because when I posted the article on my Linekdin timeline the reaction was staggering.  It’s what triggered the journey which brought me to launching this site and resetting my business to serve you – the solo or emerging digital agency owner.    

My competitors are all assholes.

For years this was my truth.  As business owners we fight hard to establish market share.  Our competitors are a barrier, the enemy, our opposition.  They take food from our tables and steal our clients. For most of my career so far I would have considered anything – short of taking out a hit ( including taking out a hit ) on them in order seal an advantage over them.

We live in a capitalist economy and one of the most effective features of this system is competition.  In some industries competition is ferocious and dirty and in others it maintains a veneer of respectability but in either case there are winners and losers.  I don’t want to be a loser.

This article outlines some of the attitudes I’ve taken to competitors.  I’m regularly on the receiving end too.

In retrospect my attitude to competitors was valid.  I was fighting from the back against much bigger, stronger and better resourced opposition.  At the same time I competed then; and still regularly do, with freelancers and the lone wolves who can cut and run once they get paid without any overhead. Years of this fight have left me battle hardened.    

I’ve started attending events which bring me into regular contact with competitors.  I discovered something which blind-sided me.  They are not all assholes! They are in fact people I have a lot in common with.  If they are technical then I have my passion for the web and digital in common.  If they’re a business owner then I have the journey, struggle, ambition and the process in common.  If they are creative then we have a love of design in common.  There is a lot of common ground.

I think business owners and founders in particular suffer from the “competitor as asshole” psychosis more than most. Business owners and founders also tend to be self reliant, independent and network very strategically. They’re also not, and likely never will be, in the job market and don’t have to suck up. Without thinking about it we avoid direct contact with our competitors.

My “moment” at an event recently hit me hard.  Skaters seek out skaters, surfers hang out with surfers, golfers spend time with golfers.  Compatibility and common interests can lead to friendship.  I’ve spent a lot of my adult life fantasising about their car crashes but it seems that the people I’ve started meeting are likely to become my good friends very quickly.

All of the commercial reasons for getting to know your competitors are perfectly valid but a much more exciting prospect has become – all these people – I have a lot in common with and I can get to know them.  The digital sector attracts a particular kind of person and it’s the kind of person I’m most comfortable with. Fundamentally I will be happier the better I know my competitor and I’m looking forward to reaching out without the agenda you’d expect.

How does this work in your sector or area?  It’s a new idea for me and I’m keen to hear stories.  If I’m your asshole then invite me for coffee.

About Bob Gentle

I work with businesses of all sizes on digital marketing, host the Amplify digital marketing entrepreneur podcast and work with entrepreneurs to help them amplify their business online.