Don’t Fight your Competitors, Learn from Them

Don’t Fight your Competitors, Learn from Them

There are several memes that discourage fighting competitors. Two that I love so much read – “Bro, the battle is against poverty not us” and “Do whatever you can to make your ship float so long as you don’t try to sink mine”. These two memes keep me going anytime I feel threatened by someone’s success. They help me to look beyond the success and focus on the success story. Yes, their strategies always lie in their success stories.

It is true that when we see our competitors moving up, we too will want to move up and surpass them. But we have to be sure of what drives us – envy or admiration?

I am always appalled when I hear people saying that so long as there is a drive, it doesn’t matter if it is envy or admiration. We have to understand that there is a thin line between these two emotions but their effects are glaringly different. When we envy our competitor, we will be under much pressure to level up, which may end up causing a lot of damage to us and the business. But if we admire our competitors, especially the successful ones, we will want to learn how they battled and won some challenges we are currently facing. This way, it will be easier to navigate through these challenges as we encounter them. Ok, let me share my personal experience to buttress my point.

I was lost when I was made the head teacher of a young school. To start with, what I studied at the university was English (Hon) so I don’t have a teaching certificate nor a business one. But I have worked in good schools and was able to pick up some good strategies, which I have been suggesting to this young school. Because of that, the owner of the school felt that the only way I can practice what I preach was by being in a managerial position. Honestly, I was scared.

Of course I had so many ideas, but I still needed more because our customers kept complaining about our inability to do certain things other schools around the area were doing. Being someone that doesn’t appreciate criticism I hated those schools and the people that criticised us. I tried and tried to discredit these schools before our customers but it didn’t work. Instead those schools continued to thrive and our customers continued to complain. To be honest, if I had seen a way to erase those schools from the face of the earth, I would have done just that. They were just making my work difficult and expensive.

But my mindset towards our competitors changed when I attended a workshop on how to run a successful private school. It was from that day that I truly appreciated the SWOT strategy. I noted down our weaknesses and threats (made so obvious by our complainants) and found out that our competitors are one of the best opportunities I have towards managing them. So I started studying these schools to find out what exactly makes them so ‘wonderful’ as our critics described. I also found out that these schools also have their challenges and have been admiring our strengths. I stopped discrediting them before our critics and started embracing criticisms. Because of my positive attitudes towards these schools, I believe, they started reaching out to us and symbiotic relationships developed among us. You know what is so good about all these, we didn’t lose our students to them, instead we watched each other’s back. Believe me, through them, I was able to gain much insights on how to run profitable schools in that particular environment.

It was not an easy feat accepting that I needed to learn from these schools, but I did. Well, here are some of the ways I was able to learn as much as I can from them (with and without their permissions) and the ways that benefitted me:

  1. Spying: I know that spying is always given a negative connotation but I am going to describe how we used it to obtain something positive. Well, I started by taking hikes around the different areas where these schools were situated. I used that to observe the environments, buildings, facilities and every other physical attributes of the school. I needed to see what they have that we don’t. However, I couldn’t risk going into the school compounds for further observations so I sent others to do that for me. The information obtained from these surveys helped me to beef up our own side. I started putting things in our plan based on these surveys. I don’t believe in being a copycat, but I needed to understand what the people within the area wanted, which these schools already knew. So, we have to give them what they want first before giving them something unique. By the way, our spying exposed the fact that these schools also spy on us. So, go figure.
  1. Friendship: It got to a time I had to look beyond the fact that these schools run the same type of business as ours and develop a cordial relationship with their head teachers. Because of that, they started inviting our students to academic and sporting competitions. The friendship also encouraged exchange of vital information between the schools. In fact, we started watching each others’ back to the extent that debtors from one school will not be admitted into any of those schools unless they clear off their debts.
  2. Partnership: One of the complaints our customers were throwing at us was that we have very few students in secondary school. So they expressed their scepticism about our school being approved as a centre for Basic Education Certificate Examination. (BECE). Thank God I was already learning from my competitors when we had our first JS 3 class. I registered the JS 3 students with one of our competitors, which saved the school a lot of money it couldn’t have afforded. We also enjoyed a lot of other things as a result of partnering with these schools to pull resources for projects.

But the major thing I enjoyed when I stopped fighting these competitors was peace of mind. I am not trying to say that I was stupid enough to believe that these schools are no longer threats but, I was intelligent enough to learn how our school could survive despite their domineering presence. Besides, they have been in the business long enough so they have been through what we were passing through then and were making waves through new challenges. So I was able to learn how to conquer our challenges and prepare for bigger ones.

Dear entrepreneurs, look around you, which of your competitors poses the highest threat? What is it about that company or that person that is making you uncomfortable? Have you taken time to study him/her/it? What’s your attitude towards this competitor? Is it positive or negative? Have you been able to listen to their success stories with an open mind and learn their strategies? Do you really admire their growth?

Honestly speaking, it is not easy to admire the success of someone you know that can kick you out of business, but you need to. And it is achievable. It requires a change of mindset. Trust me, if I could do it, so can you. You can also attend workshops and seminars that will help you to achieve this. You have a lot to gain.

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