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NETWORKING

When It Makes Sense to Ask a Competitor For Advice
 

A request for information from other entrepreneurs, even those in your industry, does not mean they will steal your competitive advantage or market share.

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Oftentimes an entrepreneur feels like Atlas carrying the burden of the world alone on his or her shoulders. Just a little bit of help from somewhere might ease the weight--but where to look?

Friends or family may have the best intentions and the most bias, so though easy to access, they are not necessarily the best equipped to offer guidance. It is fellow entrepreneurs who have the best understanding of the challenges you face every day in running your business. So why do so few entrepreneurs fail to seek out their peers' guidance? And how can you change direction?

Share Without Fear

Except the extremely rare case of actionable and not yet patented intellectual property, there is no need to fear that someone will steal your ideas or your brand. Ideas are a dime a dozen. However, no one can be you, with your contacts, unique passions and ability to execute.

For example, several businessmen, who also work in finance, once contacted me for help with blogging and social media for their West Coast-based firm. They offered numerous reassurances that I need not worry, they--a group of six middle-aged men--were not trying to copy me. I found this to be truly funny. How could they possibly copy me? We couldn't be more distinctive in our backgrounds, our genders, our age brackets, or our locations. The comment was more revealing about their own fears around helping fellow entrepreneurs than anything else. I had no such concerns, and was more than happy to offer tips I learned from building my own web and media platforms. Hopefully, they are still blogging successfully.

Common Challenges Equal Transferable Solutions

A request for information from other entrepreneurs, even those in your industry, does not mean they will steal your competitive advantage or market share. Often the help you’ll give and receive has to do with operational and managerial matters--concerns that are common to all entrepreneurs. A quid pro quo can lead to two positive outcomes. The first is that you can grow the total market size for your products or services, giving you and your collaborator a greater piece of a larger total pie. The second is that you can generate efficiencies that can help cut costs and improve your bottom line. A double win-win.

As an entrepreneur, I operate within communities that involve lots of other entrepreneurs. We are all doing very different things, from selling chocolate to running an asset management firm to operating a surgical device company. Nonetheless, our HR dilemmas, for instance, are similar. One of my best pals, Judy, runs a modeling agency. A "typical day" for Judy and myself could not be more different. However, we both needed to set hours for our employees and work out the best health insurance plans for our teams. And so once a month, we meet and we share tips. Judy may ask to come to a TV shoot with me and I may tag along to one of her events. We have common issues and learn from one another in different ways.

Sharing ideas and information works to everyone’s benefit within the entrepreneurial community--even with competitors. We all stand to gain a lot by sharing our experiences, insights, and advice. By being generous, you'll learn more, grow faster, be more efficient. Isn't that what it's all about?

IMAGE: ed_needs_a_bicycle/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 28, 2014

A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, ELLE KAPLAN is the CEO and Founding Partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100% woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.
@ellekaplan




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