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Stop Competing With Your Competition


Chicago lost one of its all-time media icons last Thursday when legendary film critic Roger Ebert passed away after a long battle with cancer.

What does this have to do with being a successful small business owner?

I’m glad you asked…

Ebert is best-known for the hit movie-review television show he co-hosted with Gene Siskel for over 13 years, until Siskel’s way-too-premature death in 1999. A “thumbs-up” from either host – or both – was known to instantly and significantly boost box office sales, while “two thumbs down” would often doom a film to utter failure.

The success of the show was extraordinary (especially considering it aired on public television in an era when “The Big 3” networks dominated the airwaves), as these two unassuming, “ordinary” people built themselves into becoming a universally known and respected part of the American culture.

But the most remarkable thing about the show contains the valuable lesson for all small business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals:

Siskel and Ebert put aside their long-time, arch rivalry as film critics for the competing Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times newspapers to collaborate as co-hosts of their own television show.

Did you catch the important business lesson?

For maximum success, you need to think “collaboration” – not “competition.”

Thoughts of competition dominate the thoughts and actions of most small business owners.

But once you start thinking in terms of collaboration instead, a whole new world opens up for you – one of bigger opportunities and less frustration.

Here are just a few examples…

Movie Industry

While it’s certainly true that actors routinely “compete” with each other to earn coveted roles, by definition they must also “work together” in order to create great films. Think about the overall tone of the Academy Awards television broadcast, where we’ve grown used to hearing comments like “I’ve worked with so-and-so – she’s a true pro” and “It’s a lifelong goal of mine to work with what’s-his-name” for hours on end.

Hmmm…. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the whole show was really just one big love-fest instead of a competition. (*They even got rid of the famous phrase, “And the winner is…” a few years ago.)

Professional Sports

Sure, teams all “compete” on the playing field. But a league can’t exist without multiple team owners all working together. Players and coaches routinely move from team to team throughout their careers, and everyone shares in revenue created by the league as a whole, from television contracts to apparel sales. Even players in “individual” sports know that they all benefit from the celebrity and mass appeal of their sport’s superstars.

Before and after games, “fierce combatants” can be seen joking around, congratulating each other, wishing one another the best and even huddling together in group prayers. Then there’s each league’s annual All-Star Game, where supposed arch-enemies are suddenly playing side-by-side on the same team, high-fiving each other after great plays and appearing to be lifelong best buddies.

I remember as a young kid seeing photos of superstars with captions like “Yankee star Joe DiMaggio and Red Sox hero Ted Williams trade hitting tips outside the batting cage before the game” and wondering to myself “Hey! They’re not supposed to be helping each other – they’re arch-rivals!” Sadly, most small business owners still have that naive, childish, counter-productive view of the business world.

Business Seminars

Surely, you’ve either attended – or at least heard of – small business conferences with multiple speakers. They’re each trying to sell their own “stuff,” and sometimes several speakers at the same event each present their own solution to the same problem. They “compete” for the limited attention, affection and funds of the audience, and to see who will be the “Best Speaker” at the event. But they also know that “sharing the stage” with each other is a benefit to all of them – attracting more attendees to the seminar and elevating everyone’s expert status as well.


Remember when all we had to chose from were “The Big 3” networks, plus a few channels you had to adjust the rabbit ears properly just to be able to watch without all the fuzziness?

Then along came cable, and the networks freaked out.

After years of trying to figure out how to compete with all the hundreds of choices viewers had when they plopped down in front of the “boob tube” every night, the networks finally wised up.

  • Now “NBCUniversal” includes a dizzying worldwide array of stations, including NBC-TV, MSNBC, CNBC, ShopNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, The Weather Channel, USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel and many more.
  • The “Disney-ABC Television Group” is comprised of ABC-TV, ABC Family, LWN, A&E, The Disney Channel, Lifetime, all the ESPN channels and more.
  • “CBS Corporation” now includes SpikeTV, The CW, Country Music Television, Showtime, TV Guide Network and others.

Gives a whole new meaning to “let’s change the channel,” doesn’t it?

Music Industry

Legendary recording stars like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett have had massive success with their “Duets” albums – collaborative efforts from multiple singers all in constant competition to be “Number One On The Charts.” Multiple-band concerts like Woodstock, Live Aid, Lollapalooza and many others provide life-long memories for performers and fans alike. Relatively-unknown, up-and-coming bands routinely get their big breaks playing as “warm-up acts” to concert-headlining superstars. And mega-popular television shows like American Idol and The Voice couldn’t possibly exist without a group of “competitors” gathering together to create hours of drama – plus a little singing as well.

Online Affiliate Marketing

Have you ever gotten more than one email alerting you to the latest “internet marketing magic button” that promises to change your life and produce massive, instant, easy online profits? Many unsuccessful “internet marketers” think in terms of competition between similar products and services, but the most successful ones are always looking to work together to promote each other and help each other become even more successful and wealthy. They routinely sell each others’ products, speak at each others’ events and even create information products together.

So what does all of this have to do with a typical small business?

Here’s the point…

Even if you’re not a superstar athlete or recording star, you can benefit tremendously from thinking in terms of collaboration – not competition.

Take some time to figure out how you can work together with other small business owners, instead of seeing them as enemies, so that everyone can benefit.

Here are just a few ways you can collaborate with your fellow small business owners…

  • Hold a seminar or trade show
  • Publish a magazine, newsletter or book
  • Host a directory/review website
  • Share marketing and advertising costs
  • Establish referral/co-promotion relationships

Always remember the example set by legendary bitter-rivals-turned-partners-and-friends Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. As Ebert wrote in his “Remembering Gene” article on his website a little over four years ago, on the 10th anniversary of Siskel’s passing: “If we were fighting – get out of the room. But if we were teamed up against a common target, we were fatal.”

That’s sound advice for all small business owners.

My wish for you is to stop fighting against your “competitors” and start teaming up against a common target: the goals of serving your customers and generating revenue and profit.

11 Responses to Stop Competing With Your Competition

  1. Phil Brakefield Reply

    April 10, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Struggling…just a bit…with this one, Steve. I see your point(s) and could argue convincingly in front of a jury regarding their validity.

    But, on the other side of the coin, I don’t expect to see Apple and Samsung holding hands any time soon, either in front of the camera or behind closed doors. Any sharing of technology between those two would be ill-gotten if the endless lawsuits are any barometer. And therein, at least for me, is the appeal. I LOVE the drama (and Apple),

    Then there’s the whole “renegade” thing, which holds that separation from the crowd is a proven path to success. While that doesn’t necessarily mean endless, vicious, no-rules-in-a-knife-fight gauntlet casting, it does seem to imply that creating separation from the horde has great value.

    I suppose, like most things in small business, one should assess opportunity vs. risk and put that under the bright light of personal standards and determine the best way forward. In support of what you say, there are a number of competitors in my industry that I have great respect for and would be open to collaborating with on some level, but there are many others I wouldn’t be in the same building with, much less on stage with, no matter how much money could be made.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      April 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for your honesty, Phil. You’re hardly alone — in my experience, the overwhelming majority of small business owners struggle with this concept, and never embrace it. Very few “renegades” have the guts to figure out how to make it work — excuses are infinitely easier.

      Your illustration, in fact, actually makes my point.

      I’m certainly no technology expert, but doesn’t Apple make something called “Apple TV” so that people can watch their iTunes movies on their (Samsung and other) TV’s? Even if those two companies don’t technically “collaborate” or “share technology,” each of them would be crazy not to try to figure out a way to leverage each other’s platforms for their own gain.

      You also talk about some of those in your industry who you “wouldn’t be in the same building with.” Are you saying you’ve never (or would never) exhibit at the same trade show as those people? If so, it’s my opinion you’re making a big mistake. And if there isn’t an annual trade show in your industry, then you would have much to gain from being the “renegade” to establish it — and invite even your most hated rivals to it.

      • Phil Brakefield Reply

        April 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm

        Hey Steve….I’m with you and Felicia and Coach and Janet et al. in terms of the true definition of the word collaboration which at its core specifies voluntary cooperation between/among the parties involved. Exhibiting at trade shows or speaking at the same mammoth event stretches that true definition beyond the breaking point, but semantics aside, everyone’s points are well-taken!

  2. Coach Culbertson Reply

    April 10, 2013 at 7:34 am

    What a great illustration! I didn’t know Siskel and Ebert were rivals. I remember watching them at midnight on one of the three channels we could tune into in my little country town. Your insight into their influential power brings a whole new dimension to their story and forces me to think about how to collaborate–something I have typically resisted in the past. #coachfession

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      April 10, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      “Thumbs Up” to you, Coach! Looking forward to your success story when you figure out how to make this work for you.

  3. Phil Brakefield Reply

    April 10, 2013 at 9:29 am

    This is shameless and points to the danger of a wandering mind as traffic lights rule the morning.

    How’s about we collaborate on an e-blog.

    We could call it….SiBr Space.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      April 10, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      It’s funny you mention that, Phil.

      As I announced in my blog post of two weeks ago, I am currently in the process of implementing a whole new look and feel to my blog, and I’m inviting “contributing authors” to publish content on my site.

      If you’re interested in the possibility, let me know what expertise you have to share with my audience of small business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals.

  4. Felicia Slattery Reply

    April 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

    As a business speaker, I’ve “shared the stage” with many greats and the best of the best always refer to the useful points previous speakers made during their talks, validating the others.

    Collaborating is much more fun too!

    I understand Phil’s point about competitors like Apple & Samsung, but even they both “team up” so to speak at industry conferences and trade shows to advance the industry.

    In fact, history is full of competitors who never actually worked together each creating advancements and innovations the other was able to take advantage of for the benefit of all. I’m reminded of Marconi & Fessenden, who were bitter cross-Atlantic rivals in developing the first radio technologies at the turn of the 20th century. Even though they never worked together, they are both responsible for how we still do business using wireless technology today.

    Imagine if they did work together!

    Love this post & I’m always looking for ways to create winning situations for everyone in my industry. When they do well serving others, we all benefit.

    And yes, Siskel & now Ebert will be missed.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      April 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Great points, Felicia. Thanks for adding to the discussion with your vast experience and knowledge.

      And you’re right — that’s another way Apple and Samsung are smart enough to put their differences aside for the benefit of themselves and their customers.

  5. Janet Green Reply

    April 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I really loved this article Steve. I am working with Chicago Youth in the public schools and several of our programs are about collaboration, teamwork and leadership. I would love to reprint this article and give you full credit for this analysis. Siskel & Ebert’s collaboration were definitely a great example (as well as a great part of my own movie going analysis back in the day ) and each of your analogies brought the whole thing home. Thanks and let me know if I can use it with the kids.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      April 10, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks for using this to help benefit our future entrepreneurs, small business owners and sales professionals, Janet!

      (And also those kids who for some reason just want to grow up to work to help make someone else’s business successful.)

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