Thinking about your competition can feel incredibly threatening to even the most seasoned entrepreneur. We like to think that our product, service, or skillset is unique. When we see someone doing the same thing, it can bring feelings of doubt and outright hostility.
I know this feeling well.
When I set out to create courses for freelancers, I thought I was addressing the need in a unique way. Sure, I did some light competitor research and didn’t come up with much. But as I started getting some traction and getting the word out about my content, I found several people doing almost the exact same thing I was.
I’m not going to lie–my first instinct was to get defensive and tell myself why my stuff was better, why my expertise was different, why I would succeed, and they wouldn’t.
I was framing my success and their success as a zero-sum game—the only way I could succeed is if they failed. I was operating with a scarcity mindset, which held me back from making a more significant impact.
After I worked through that, I reached out to these other creators and, in every single instance, I found incredibly kind, humble, smart people who were working toward the same things I was. Several of these people are now trusted colleagues whom I go to for advice and support—one of them even became one of my business partners.
I hate the word “competitor” because I’ve found that creators, solopreneurs, and freelancers are so generous with their time and expertise and are almost always willing to give someone a leg up, free advice, or a brain to pick.
I now think about my competitors more like colleagues and peers. That distinction fundamentally shifts how I approach them and how I think about my success.
Reframing how you think about your competitors won’t just help you fight envy and imposter syndrome; it will also make you better at what you do and create a more resilient business model.
Here are just a few reasons why competitors are your greatest untapped asset.
They Already Know What Works
All businesses should be doing competitor research when they first start or launch a new product/service. Exploring the other businesses in your field will give you incredible insight into your target market and how you should be packaging your content or services. You’re not doing secret research to surpass them in the marketplace; you’re seeing them as an expert in the field from whom you can learn. They’ve already done the hard work you’re doing now. Don’t reinvent the wheel — learn from the way they’re talking to their audience and structuring their work, and then use that to differentiate yourself in the market.
They Understand What You’re Going Through
When you work for yourself, by yourself, loneliness is par for the course. Only 10% of Americans are classified as “self-employed.” That means that 90% of the population has no idea what it’s like to be driven to create a business from scratch and maintain it. And solopreneurs are an even smaller portion of that. They're people who possess not only the entrepreneurial drive but do it all on their own...they're unicorns.
When you're a unicorn, it is hard to find people who "get you," who you can talk to about your work, bounce ideas off of, commiserate with...people who can hold you accountable when you dream for more.
As a solopreneur, most of my friends and family have no idea what I do, and some don’t even think I have a real job. Even my most well-intentioned friends’ eyes glaze over when I talk about client issues or my next product. Building a community of people who do similar work can help you battle solopreneur loneliness by creating a network of people who actually understand what you do every day and can serve as a sounding board or even just a shoulder to cry on when things get rough.
There’s More Than Enough Work to Go Around
I am constantly looking for good freelancers to refer work to. I have a handful of people in my referral network, but most are swamped with an existing client load because they’re at the top of their game.
Many freelancers will lead you to believe that there isn’t enough work to go around. That is a myth. Freelancers, especially full-time freelancers, are more in-demand than ever before. When you look at your competitors as colleagues and peers, you’re building your professional network and creating a community of other solopreneurs you could potentially partner with in the future.
They’ll Help You Get Paid What You Deserve
The #1 question I get asked is how to price work as a freelancer. The only way to know what your skills are worth is to do your research. Ask your colleagues what they charge. Let me repeat — ASK what they charge, just ask.
Our society has created a stigma around talking openly about money and compensation and ultimately, what that does is reinforce power structures where people get paid less than they deserve. When you work for other people, you have the luxury (or crutch) of only having compensation conversations with your boss. When you work for yourself, you need to be very clear about your worth and get comfortable talking about money with other people regularly. Solopreneurs can support each other in dismantling the stigma around money and compensation by openly discussing pricing and supporting each other in getting paid what they deserve. Do your competitors charge more than you? Don’t get jealous—use that information to increase your rates.
So…where do you find these colleagues?
There are several ways to find colleagues who do similar work with your target market. I’d also encourage you to find people who do work adjacent to what you do to broaden your referral network.
Here are a few places to try.
Communities and Organizations
So many groups build community amongst solopreneurs. You can search for Facebook groups that cater to specific types of freelancers or freelancers more broadly, many of which will have specific networking opportunities. There are also associations for freelancers, including graphic artists, graphic designers, photographers, designers, writers, etc.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it does double-duty. When you do a Google search for your skillset with your target market, the businesses that pop up first have the best visibility and will be your strongest competitors because that’s what your ideal clients will see when they do that exact Google search.
Ask your existing network for people that they know. Every time you talk to someone, you should also be asking them, “Who else should I talk to?” and see if they’ll make an introduction for you.
You can go on a site like Upwork and search for the exact type of work you want to do. Platforms like this will give you great insight into how others position their services and price them.
When you stop fearing your competition, you open up a whole new network of peers that understand what you do like no one else in your life. Our success does not have to come at the expense of someone else’s.
Scarcity is a myth. Community is wealth.