Monday, February 9, 2009

Are You Competitive or Cooperative?

Are you a cooperative or competitive businessperson?

If you're a freelance writer, I'm supposed to think of you as my competition. If you're my competitor, I'm supposed to try to one-up you. I'm supposed to try to get more work than you, position myself as a better alternative than you, and generally outbid you for clients. In competitions, there's a loser and a winner, and being a good businessperson means being the winner--right?

Not always.

I've noticed that in the freelance writing industry, competition isn't really the dominant mood. Just look at Peter Bowerman and Bob Bly--two highly successful copywriters who could've just gone on being successful and landing high-profile clients, but decided to share their secrets with the rest of us. Chances are, at least one of their books got you started and provided you valuable advice along the way.

Of course, these guys don't do it from the goodness of their hearts. Both have now diversified their businesses by promoting their own information products to a new market: aspiring freelancers. It's a business plan that benefits them and the writing community as a whole. Competition isn't the only way to play the game.

I've found my business has benefited a great deal from a cooperative approach. If a project isn't a good fit for me or I'm overwhelmed, I refer to a colleague. I know they'll refer business to me when they're in the same spot--so everyone benefits. If I wanted to be competitive, I could try to hold on to each and every client. But I want to make a good impression, even when I'm not the one who gets the job--and referring to a qualified colleague will make a client much happier than taking on a job I don't have time for.

I'm also something of an evangelist for the freelance life. Nothing makes me happier than telling people about what I do and helping them figure out how they can do the same thing. Am I creating competition? Maybe. But I may also be creating a helpful colleague. I feel that helping others succeed can only benefit me in the long run.

So what's your approach--are you competitive or cooperative?

NOTE:I got the idea for this post from someone else who wrote a post on competitive vs. cooperative businesses and industries...and how cooperative freelance writing tends to be. It was a long time ago and now I can't find it anywhere. If it's you, drop the link here and I'll make sure I put you in the top paragraph.


Anonymous said...

I'm more cooperative than competitive. I believe we're all in this together, and when one of us succeeds, it helps everyone.

I do get competitive when people (usually newbies) who don't think it takes work to make it in this life or who can't be bothered to learn the skills necessary think they can woo away clients.

Of course, usually all you have to do in that situation is give 'em enough rope and they hang themselves.

Unknown said...

I remember reading that post too, Jen. Between our blog rolls, it's on there somewhere!

Like you and Devon, I'm cooperative. I've been in competitive situations in business before. In most cases, it serves no purpose whatsoever beyond declaring the winner/loser of the pissing match. It gets nothing done. Even in freelancing, there's no room for it.

There's plenty of work out there. I've shared some of my best clients with writer friends. What goes around comes around? Maybe. But it's because I can't stand seeing someone struggling when I'm able to help, even if it's just a little.

Anonymous said...

I think that being cooperative is part of being competitive (in the sense of being qualified/competent.)

There's a sense of security that arises from knowing that you do a good job, which in turn makes it easier and more appealing to cooperate.

Love your new site, by the way.