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When I started my consulting business 15 years ago, every other consultant was my competitor. Not just PR consultants, but also consultants in other marketing disciplines, since I had the skill set to write content for a brochure, put together a direct marketing piece or, in a pinch, lay out an ad.
However, for many of these projects, I was simply “good enough.” Not wanting to spend the 10,000 hours you supposedly need to become an expert at any one thing, I needed to figure out how to rise above the competition… and did so through coopetition.
According to Wikipedia:
Coopetition is collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results.
I wanted to focus on what I was really good at, and I also knew clients were going to want more than the basic services I could offer.
I wanted to create for each client a dream team with highly specialized skills that doesn’t produce just “good enough” but rather “pretty good” to “darn right amazing” results.
In order to do that, I had to honestly assess my own skill level and look to others to fill the gap in areas where I was lacking.
Suddenly, every competitor became a possible business partner and a previous mindset of scarcity became a mindset based in abundance.
Why does it work?
In every discipline, there are many skills to master. For example, in PR, a good press release writer isn’t necessarily good at picking up the phone and pitching a story to an editor. A big picture strategist and visionary isn’t necessarily a detailed tactician. While there are always exceptions to the rule, there’s a reason for the saying “a Jack-of-all-trades is master of none.”
I’ve used my business model – a PR agency of consultants with specialized skill sets – since 1998, before virtual businesses, freelancing and outsourcing became popularized by books such as Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Work Week. It’s still a very viable business model for me today.
By working together in coopetition, my competitors and I end up collaborating together to:
- Win bigger clients – By ourselves we simply wouldn’t have the required skillset or available working hours to land and service large companies. In moving to the coopetition model, we started working with companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions and even billion-dollar level.
- Leverage each other’s experience – Each consultant I work with has their own business and their own clients. Combining our expertise allows us to gain experience in new industries or enter new markets with more confidence.
- Learn from each other’s skill sets – When we work with a client together, I often learn something new from a consultant I work with for that project or client, and vice versa. We are open to sharing best practices, templates, and processes with each other.
- Create a referral network – As my business has grown and I am clear on serving only a particular niche of clients, I am able to refer new business inquiries on to those marketing consultants I have already worked with – those who I know, like and trust to take care of these clients.
- Make more money – When you work with the right people, the results speak for themselves and clients appreciate – and reward – the team with more projects. More business means more revenue for everyone involved.
It goes without saying that with any business relationship, you have to be very clear on expectations and ownership. Some questions you’ll need to tackle are:
Who does what with the client?
Who is responsible for the financial aspect (invoicing, collecting and paying the team out)?
Who is the lead person with the client?
Who ultimately owns the client account?
What’s the exit strategy if things don’t go well with your partnership?
Viewing competition as coopetition has helped my business thrive over the last 15 years. What about you? Have you worked with a competitor for mutual benefit?
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies.
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