Competition, Don’t Make it Suck!

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate competition. I do like to be the one, the only, the best, the winner – because that feels better than the alternatives. We all want to be a success and feel good about what we do. Competition is a natural part of business. Whatever you decide to do, you can count on there being at least one other person doing a similar thing. But competition doesn’t have to suck.

I’ve been at two extreme ends of the competition sucky pole. I have a competitor that has always been very nasty to me, spreading rumors and just doing shifty things. For the purpose of this blog we’ll call that competitor, X. And for the record I have many, many, competitors, there are several baby signing companies in North America and around the world. I’ve always been of the mind that there is enough business to go around. Because of this attitude I’ve been able to have great relationships with many of my competitors.

Competition doesn’t have to be nasty

An example of this was a company called MocoBabies, owned by a lovely women named Kathy. Kathy sold baby signing flash cards and other baby signing products. We were always very supportive of one another. I remember when I came out with my own flash cards I felt terrible. I didn’t want to compete with someone who had become my friend. I saw her at a tradeshow one day and told her I was coming out with my own flash cards and here’s what she said to me: “Laura, you have to! You’d be missing a massive opportunity if you didn’t. We can still support each, it’s all good!” I was pleasantly surprised-Kathy knew there was enough business to go around and decided to take the high road. I continued to support her company even after we technically became competitors.

Be nice!

There are two ways to deal with competition. One, you can totally ignore it and keep your eyes on the prize. Or, you can watch your competitors every move and be reactive to them instead of being proactive. I choose to ignore my competition for the most part. It’s not that I don’t care what they are doing but I’m confident in my business and the direction I’m taking. I make decisions for my business based on what is best for my company and not what anyone else is doing in theirs. Besides, I’m also way too busy to spend my whole day worrying about how someone else’s Pepsi is affecting my Coke. And I’m happy because of it, and have grown an extremely successful business as a result.

What bothers me about X are the rumors and questionable behavior that has occurred over the years. I am tired of hearing from people in my business circle that X has said this or that about me. I wish everyone would live by the motto, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

The funny thing is it just makes X look bad. People get to know me and hear my version of the story and they quickly realize that perhaps X has a somewhat biased view of things. I’m not going to go into the unpleasantness that I’ve experienced, rather I’m going to give you a word of advice as a business person. If you have a competitor, don’t speak ill of them. You just never know the relationship the person you are speaking with may have with your competitor.

You don’t have to like everyone and welcome them with open arms but it’s easy to be nice. Nice people are more enjoyable to work with, more fun to network with and be around. Being bitter and jealous will only reflect badly on you. Save gossip for wine on a Friday night with your closest friends.

Don’t spread rumors

I would highly recommend that if you encounter someone saying something bad about another entrepreneur that you keep that story to yourself. Don’t go spreading the tale as though it were fact. If you are the type of person that just needs to share stories then at least attempt to uncover the other side. In my case, X said something to someone and that person shared that story with someone else and of course it got back to me. Now I have a bad impression of the person who ‘broken telephoned’ the story. I don’t care what X has to say about me. X feels the way X feels and maybe that’s the way X needs to deal with things. But don’t you go spreading rumors. That will just make you look bad. Again, I’m circling back to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Also, when I hear someone talking trash, I often wonder what they are saying about me behind my back.

My story of how MY business began:

Just for the record I thought I’d share the readers digest version of the way my business came to be. If you’ve heard this from someone else then you must read MY story.

I worked as a school teacher until the birth of my daughter. While in teachers college back in 2001/02 I took a few ASL classes and fell in love with the language.  During my tenure as a teacher, I ran the literacy program at my school. While researching different techniques to help students who were having trouble with spelling and reading, I came across an article that used ASL to teach spelling words. When I dug deeper into this topic I kept coming up with articles about signing with hearing babies. It was fascinating and made total sense. I knew when I had my baby that I would sign with her.

In 2005 I had my beautiful baby girl and I didn’t want to go back to work, I wanted to stay at home with her. However, I needed to find a way to make money in order to stay at home. I tried different business ideas (save this for another blog post) but none fit. Then one day my moms’ group wanted to take a baby signing class together. I didn’t need the class because I was already signing with my baby but I was happy to do an activity with my group of friends. We registered for a class and when I went to it I realized that I could do a better job at teaching the class. Our instructor clearly didn’t have a lot of knowledge of ASL, I was able to answer the questions in class better than she could. At one point she decided to give the babies sign names. I told her that this was not a proper thing to do, that it’s an honor to be given a sign name and it’s given to you by a Deaf person. She said that didn’t matter and it was just going to be used in our class. She ended up accidentally giving one baby the sign ‘lesbian’ because he had red hair and his name started with an ‘L’ so she signed ‘red’ using the L hand shape. She gave another child the sign for lazy because the mom loves her baby and the baby’s name also began with L – taping above the heart. I respectfully declined getting a sign name for my daughter, (she eventually received one from a Deaf friend of mine).

Teaching baby signing would be the perfect way for me to use the skills I already possessed. I had ASL experience, a teaching degree and an outgoing personality! I contacted the company who supplied our class with a teacher and asked if I could become an instructor. That company told me I could but I couldn’t teach in my area because there was already a teacher there. This didn’t work for me because I was going to run classes from my home. My husband then said to me, “Why do you need to work for that company, you’re a teacher, you’ve designed curriculum, you know ASL…you can do it on your own.”

He was right! I set off to create a curriculum that had logical flow to it with music that was original – thanks to my lovely husband!

I didn’t set off to become a competitor of anyone, I simply wanted to stay at home with my daughter and this was the perfect fit for my skills and interests. My company has grown very organically.

And so My Smart Hands was born!

Do you have an advice for entrepreneurs about competition?
Do you have any good or bad stories of competitors – please leave names out – see ‘be nice’ paragraph 😉