I build websites. This is not news or at least I hope it isn’t news. I’ve been building sites for individuals and small businesses for almost 7 years now. I have no formal education in web development, despite multiple university degrees. I’m entirely “self” taught. Now, I put the term “self” in quotes because along the way I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people. And as a believer in karma, I try to give back where I can. Recently, I was asked to help someone who builds websites (which is what I do) flesh out a document that would help them find clients (which is what I do) who need help revamping or redesigning their website (which is what I do). See anything wrong with this picture?

Let me explain. This particular developer has been building sites for much longer than I have, has a degree in graphic design and typically charges 2-3 times what I charge because he’s usually working with companies that are much larger than those that I’m dealing with. In his email to me he said “I know we’re competitors, but…” I just don’t see it that way. I think that when it comes down to it, if you market yourself properly and align your business goals properly, you’re actually competing with a lot fewer people and organizations than you think you are. Let’s talk beer for a minute.

Recently a local bar, Stillwell, came up with a really interesting idea. They decided that in addition to their standard location, they would like to build a Beer Garden on the Halifax waterfront. Given the foot traffic and the general tone of the Halifax tourism scene, it seemed like a really great idea. Initially they were met with a lot of uncertainty and aversion. Some people felt that they should have had the opportunity to put in a bid or that there should have been an RFP for the project (which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. If you didn’t have an idea, you don’t get to bid on implementing it, but that’s a whole different story).

Others, in particular owners of some local watering holes and restaurants felt that this new competitor, right on the waterfront would take business away from them. This, is just as silly. Stillwell’s plan was to sell some good local beers and some simple snacks. We’re talking ales, sausages and pretzels. The locations that complained about them serve three pieces of food on a very small plate for $30 and then sell wine by the bottle for more than I pay in weekly groceries. What these locations failed to understand was that Stillwell was not looking to compete with them. Stillwell were looking to help improve the Halifax waterfront through innovation. So what happened?

Well, Stillwell’s Beer Garden was a huge success. Huge lineups and incredible reviews helped balance out our soggy weather and by all accounts, the new spot is a thriving success story. So, as you can imagine, those other local bars and restaurants suffered greatly due to this success, right? Ummm. No. They had more foot traffic than many years and had a lot of people come from the beer garden and stay there for the evening, spending a lot of money on food and drink. You see, what these companies failed to understand is that $15 beer and pretzels is not a direct competitor to $75 pate and wine.

This is far more common than it should be. A company that builds sites for $10k and up for large scale, corporate clients is not a direct competitor with someone who is building sites for $3k for small, local businesses. So when those two work together and prop each other up so that they’re both able to grow and develop, it creates a community of confident, successful developers. You don’t have as many competitors as you think.

Your market, or price point or skills set will help separate you from competitors. Sharing knowledge and skills with people who aren’t your competitors is an investment in karma. Those people WILL support you as you support them. While not everything should be about reciprocal favours, you need to understand that most activities that you undertake will create either a positive or negative image in the mind of someone else. That’s why I helped him develop his document, recently edited a new copywriters work for free and am providing guidance to someone trying to start a web dev studio. None of these people are competing with me. Honestly, I’m just competing with myself.