In the current economic climate, freelancers can very easily discover they are a not-so-distant relative to the starving artist. Scrambling for the next project, lowering rates and doing whatever else it takes to secure the necessary income can begin to raise the competitive mindset to new heights in even the most community-minded of individuals.
While competition can be a healthy motivation, it can also be the knife in the back of other freelancers in your field if handled carelessly. This post will look at ways to keep competition in its rightful place, driving your business forward without alienating fellow freelancers or damaging your standing in your respective community.
Start by Competing with Yourself
In a previous article on Freelance Folder, Laura Spencer wrote about your only true competition being yourself. I wholeheartedly agree with her point and will not rehash it here, but I think it’s important to remember. Over the years, I have recognized the importance of objectively identifying my strengths and my weaknesses. This helps me to be realistic about what areas I need to improve, what services I can focus on marketing, and how to move forward in ways that strengthen what I have to offer.
Keeping a finger on the pulse of your skills and insuring that they are growing and getting exercised to their fullest is vital to the success of your freelance business. If your current project does not improve upon your last one, it is time to reevaluate your direction. I believe that freelancers need to be lifelong students of their craft and their community. If you find yourself at a place where you think you’ve got it all down, it is very likely you have just created a self-imposed ceiling on where your business will go.
Focus on moving forward with a hunger for improving upon yourself. Be your biggest competitor and at the very least, you will become better at what you do.
Understand the Ethical Limits of Your Community
As a member of the design community, I realize that it would be just plain wrong for me to find out what another designer was bidding on a job and offer to do it for half the price. Sure, competitive pricing is healthy and even necessary, but severely undercutting a peer intentionally would not be helpful to my standing in the design community, which in turn could impact future work potential.
Whatever field you are in, it is important to have a clear understanding of what is perceived as healthy competition and what is seen as self-serving and undermining to others. I don’t advocate allowing a community to spearhead your business plan–you need to do what is going to work for you–but the growth of online communities has given the ramifications of alienating your peers significantly greater potential for negative impact on your business and professional reputation.
A solid awareness of what is deemed acceptable and ethically correct within your respective community is an essential ingredient for freelance success. And, if there are elements that you may not agree with or find detrimental to your business growth, then it is your responsibility to influence the community toward change. Work with your colleagues as you compete with them, rather than drive them away and find yourself alone on an island.
Capitalize on Your Own Strengths and Limitations
Part of working within a community is knowing your own strengths and limitations and how they impact others. I know that there are many other designers who are flat out better than me. But, I also know the things that I excel in and focus on these as my selling points. This knowledge helps frame my competition with other designers in a way that actually serves all involved parties.
For example, I place an extremely high value on personal customer service. While I may not be the best designer available, I make sure my potential and existing clients receive the best possible experience when they use my services. This is a competitive edge that refrains from offending my peers and even challenges them to improve in this area. To me, this is an example of worthwhile and healthy competition where no one loses.
An awareness of where you shine can be a useful tool in competing without alienating your peers. Be sure to know where you stand and find ways to make the most of what you have to offer.
Know Your Competitors’ Offerings
Involving yourself with the community that your business functions in can give you an idea of current pricing structures, timelines for projects and other expected standards. Armed with this knowledge you will have a better ability to be competitive without offending others. There is a certain amount of respect that most peers will afford to each other when it comes to competing for the same job, and it behooves the freelancer to work within these standards to substantiate a common ground that supports and encourages the community. Under pricing yourself, for instance, will not only negatively impact your own value but could initiate a backlash in your industry that will leave your fellow freelancers pointing a sour finger in your direction.
Make sure you are consistently aware of current trends, standards and accepted methodologies and incorporate them into your own practices. Your peers will respect you more and the competition between you will be honorably motivated.
Feed and Water Your Community
Besides the above points, it is always helpful to endear yourself to others in competition with you by befriending and encouraging them. Oftentimes you can learn from each other, work together on some projects and strengthen each others’ business and growth by becoming an active contributor to the community you all belong to. The competition is still there, but the personal aspect can be removed and you may even find yourself rooting for and supporting each other in your endeavors. Respect among peers can go a very long way in growing your freelance business, and should never be overlooked in its immeasurable value. Make a point to do whatever you can to offer friendship, encouragement and support to your community and you will reap benefits you never imagined from those you once considered competitors.
What have your experiences with competition been? Have you found yourself alienated by your competitors or ostracized because of something you’ve done? Do you have some tips or suggestions to add?
Be sure to leave your insights in the comments below.