You've heard it a million times. Your business or solution should focus on a niche, a specific high-value customer group. This advice has been so often repeated for good reason: It provides for a targeted market and differentiation, and there are countless examples that it works. At MixedMade, where we make and sell Bees Knees Spicy Honey, we've got our hands on a true niche.

Less than six months after our 30-Day launch, MixedMade is a defined category leader. We rank #2 in Google search results for "spicy honey," second only to Henry, a young entrepreneur whose spicy honey company gained fame for Mark Cuban's failed investment attempt on the TV show Shark Tank. Yet, ranking #1 or #2 in a category that virtually no one is searching for is worth roughly... well, nothing.

This is where your competition comes in. You and your competition will gain by growing the market together, rather than fighting for the same slice of a tiny pie. Here's how:

1. Steal from Your Competition 

Not literally. I don't condone that. However, you can learn from your competitors, even without ever speaking to them. We learned that specialty retailers liked our product and generated high sell-through rates. Inspired, it seemed logical to hunt for retail partners. But which ones and where? We looked to our competition, and to other companies that sell similar products, to see where they sold their wares. The result: we're cold-calling specialty cheese and meat stores and have a high close-rate for receiving a stocking order.

Be careful not to poach your competitors' turf. If they have a stronghold in certain stores or areas and your products don't offer differentiated value to a customer, go elsewhere. But you can work together with your competition, even passively, to train customers. Teach a customer that a certain type of store will always sell your type of product, and that customer will buy more often. If a prospective customer sees your type of product more often, they are likely to view the category and product as more legitimate and credible. This makes a prospect more likely to become a customer.

2. Get Your Hands Dirty 

If you want your category or niche taken seriously and you hope to grow the entire pie, there is a lot of work that needs to get done. So much work that you and your team probably can't do it yourselves. You're lucky because you've got some people who also want that pie to grow--your competition. You don't have to meet with them to make a plan, just get your hands dirty and get to work.

To grow the spicy honey category, we need to increase search volume, sample to a larger part of the population, and educate people on the uses of our product. These are no small tasks. But we consider the press Henry brought to our category through Shark Tank a benefit for all. And we consider Mike's Hot Honey's affiliation with a renowned Brooklyn pizza restaurant a major credibility boost for all. So we're happy to do our part in spreading awareness, sampling and distribution. (How many Inc. readers had heard of spicy honey before this article?)

3. Talk to your Competitors

But you just said I didn't have to talk to my competitors?! And you don't have to, but it might be good if you did. The conversation could be ugly, but more likely you'll find you have a lot in common. There might even be some challenges you could tackle together. It's the reason we're all aware of the famous Got Milk? ads, funded by California milk processors, aka competitors.

So sit down for a coffee, or an adult beverage as I prefer, with your competitors. Maybe you can share some resources for better economies of scale. Maybe you can determine how to boost search volume and awareness for the entire category. Maybe you'll even make a new friend, one who knows your pains and frustrations as well as you.

In a worst-case scenario, your competition will get some business that could have otherwise come to you. But as long as you've created a bigger pie, you and your competition will win.

Have any collaborative competitor stories that worked or blew up? Share them below.

Want more? Visit our startup journey blog at mixedmade.com.

Published on: Aug 29, 2014