The goal of this column is not to make a lot of MBAs cringe. But I suspect it’s going to.
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Last week a friend sent me an email to make a virtual introduction with an acquaintance of hers. The other person is an aspiring life coach and writer. My friend noted that she felt it was OK to connect us because our niches are not similar and therefore we wouldn’t be competitors.
While that is a perfectly normal and thoughtful sentiment, it wouldn’t have mattered to me either way because I don’t consider anyone else competition.
Lest that sound completely arrogant or ignorant, allow me to explain. It is an approach that has come over time, one that combines a hyper focus on doing good work and a spiritual belief in abundance. At my core, I believe there are plenty of clients to go around. Further, if I do a coaching consultation with you and you don’t hire me, it’s likely because we didn’t click or you clicked better with someone else or I was simply off my game and didn’t deserve to be hired. In my mind, we weren’t supposed to have a coaching relationship if we don’t.
This philosophy extends to my entire professional life, including writing. The way I see it, if I’m not writing something that draws you in and holds your interest, you’re not going to read me. If I don’t focus on writing from an authentic place, I’m not going to hold your interest. So why wouldn’t I focus on that instead of what other writers are doing? I either have something to say or I don’t.
Many moons ago when I asked a friend who worked for People magazine who they considered their closest competition, her answer was, “No one.”
They stick to a formula that works and no one does it better. According to the magazine’s Wikipedia page, “With a readership of 46.6 million adults, People has the largest audience of any American magazine. People had $997 million in advertising revenue in 2011, the highest advertising revenue of any American magazine.”
That conversation obviously stuck with me because I like the idea of not thinking about competitors. Again, not from a place of arrogance or ignorance, but one born of confidence in what we’re doing. Staying the course. Sometimes it is worth having tunnel vision around our goal, to just keep working it, the way we want to, the way we feel it and sense it.
Now I’m well aware that businesses like Time Inc., which publishes People, have marketers in force and that they are acutely aware of what other publications in their genre are doing. And that they even go to the trouble of doing things like paying big money for photos to keep them out of the hands of those other magazines.
What I’m trying to get at here is more in the realm of attitude, that no matter how big- or small-scale our business is, we could benefit from funneling most of our energy into building the very best business we can rather than adjust to what someone else is doing. I’m not suggesting anyone ignore the basic tenets of business or not be strategic, just noting there are other aspects of this to think about that don’t involve metrics or obsessing over SEO or wondering if that other life coach is going to get the client.
Years ago a coach-in-training asked me for my No. 1 marketing tip and I responded, “Do good work.” He gave me a polite smile that seemed to say “thanks for nothing” but I pushed on and explained that over half of my clients come from referrals. Why might that be?
When I was doing some research for this column on learning about the competition, one business article posed the idea of Google-ing the key words we’d like to be found with and see where we fall and where our competition falls.
“Practically every commercial entity wants to dominate the Google serps landscape for their chosen keywords so are likely to have optimised their sites to appear high in the rankings,” writes Alan Gleeson in Why You Need to Know Your Competition.
So I took his advice and Google-d “life coach columnist” and chuckled when my name came up first in the search. Under it were four consecutive links to Martha Beck, best known for her terrific regular life coaching column in O, The Oprah Magazine. What a great result and it was accomplished by doing what I’m describing in this space.
That’s not to say I don’t “keyword” and hope for the best. I do. That’s part of due diligence. But about 99 percent of my focus is on being better every day. It’s not on what any other life coach is doing, at least not in disproportionate amounts that only serve to have me looking over my shoulder instead of on how I can best help people and communicate in a way that maximizes my gifts.
A thoughtful business plan is an effective tool and foundation. Awareness of what we’re up against is smart. Marketing principles exist for a reason. All true.
But so is this – allocating our precious time and energy to the strictly staid, black-and-white aspects of business can leave us hollow. It’s one thing to be in a chess match or debate or sport and immerse in our named competitor’s style and game in order to gain an advantage in an actual head-to-head competition. It’s quite another to conduct day-to-day business with our competitor in mind, as it puts us in a place of being reactive instead of proactive.
Now that makes me cringe.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.