Collaborating with the competition

Recently I met for coffee with two local web designers, Greg Schmidt of GS Web and Nate Flint from Flint Digital. We met for an hour and a half of shop talk, getting to know each other a little better and discussing new techniques. It was very enjoyable, and we talked about doing it again soon, and perhaps even on some kind of regular basis.

Does it seem odd that I would agree to, let alone relish, the idea of sitting down with my ‘competition?’ Shouldn’t we be at each other’s throats, trying to pull in every last client? Business is ruthless, right?¬†

It seems there is a fundamental, almost universally accepted idea that competing for customers is the best way to do business. Somehow, I feel there must be a better way.

Different Strokes

If every snowflake is different, if every person is different, it stands to reason that each business is different. Different strengths and weaknesses, different goals and ways they do business. For example, I really don’t like working with Flash. At coffee that day, I found out that Greg loves it. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if someone comes to me with a Flash based project, instead of trying to wince my way through it, or send them off with a ‘sorry I can’t help you’ – that instead I help that client out by sending them Greg’s way?

Sure, most people would find that scenario reasonable, but would it ever come about if Greg and I hadn’t decided to collaborate in the first place?

Economies of Scale

The true sense of an economy of scale may not quite fit in this situation, after all I doubt Apple will be giving us a bulk rate on three new computers. But it does fit when it comes to sharing knowledge. A tip on how to code better, or how to manage your books more efficiently, or on a new application that speeds up the coding process. Three heads are better than one here, and even in that hour and a half I learned a couple of new things that I’m already applying.¬†

Protecting Trade Secrets is one thing, hoarding Secrets of the Trade is another 

I wouldn’t expect Coke to give up their formula to Pepsi, that’s a trade secret. New website coding techniques on the other hand are secrets of the trade, available for anyone to learn and apply. In a field like website design, there is no real competitive advantage to knowing or not knowing some of these techniques. The only advantage I may have lies in the creative process, and that’s a trade secret that simply cannot be taken away.

I realize that there are many industries that survive on competition. But there are many more that can benefit from collaboration. I want Greg and Nate to be as wildly successful as they wish to be. The better they do, the better I do. Good luck gentlemen, I look forward to meeting again soon to talk shop and planning how we’ll make Park City a web design epicenter.

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