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Competition, Communication and Collaboration

25th of April 2016

Last Tuesday was an interesting day for us. We went to the Hereford Means Business expo, and I was reassured by the quality of the stands there, and the friendly professionalism of the people we met. The venue was busy, but not so packed you couldn’t move, it was a very interesting and fun day.

As we walked around the large open space of the Three Counties Hotel, throwing and dodging business cards like Neo from the Matrix, we chatted and mingled with all kinds of smartly dressed business owners. Often, the conversation would turn to web design, and we spoke to many about their sites, most of which I had been on before at some point. There was one particular site I really liked, and even though the site was created by another web design company in Hereford, I told the person we were chatting to that I thought their site was good and that their web team had done an excellent job. This particular web design firm was not actually a company I had heard of before, but I had to admit they had done a good job, and made a note to check out this new addition to our list of competitors.

Then we turned the corner and I saw, probably our main competition in Hereford, V8 Media. Richard and I glanced at each other and quietly walked on shortly before we were nabbed by someone at a different stall that wanted to talk about IT. It was interesting, we went from casually chatting to someone about some of our competition, to physically avoiding some other competition in mere seconds. Somehow, we knew that speaking to them here and now just wouldn’t be appropriate, it wouldn’t be polite. It’s daft really when you think about it, but there is an unwritten set of rules, and I think a rival firm turning up to your stall would be seen as an irritation if not a mild insult, even if genuinely unintended.

It might surprise you to know there are over 50 web design firms in and around this little city. Just to put things in perspective a little here, that means there are probably more web designers in Hereford than there are solicitors and estate agents combined, and we have plenty of each. We have worked with quite a few of the web designers out there, but never with this particular company. One of the firms we have worked with in the past, Red Cherry Solutions was recently acquired by V8, but I don’t think that really counts…

I think ultimately this forced distance comes from a biological response to competition – people believe on an instinctive, and mostly unconscious level that competition is bad, and that if it would just disappear, things would be a lot easier. Although this makes sense in biological and evolutionary terms, I don’t think this is true in the business world, and in fact, quite the opposite. Competition, I believe, helps businesses keep sharp, just as friendly rivalry between colleagues does. It is a positive thing that should be embraced, a catalyst for good work. Saying that, this is my position as a relatively small business owner – the big guys out there know that economically speaking, the trick is to corner the market, by any means necessary, and then control the prices. Well, I just don’t think like that, neither, I hope, do any of our competition.

I have tried to think of examples of famous rival companies working together in the past, and the only example I could think of was when Burger King sent an open letter to McDonald’s, offering a “cease fire” to their burger wars. I realise that this was mostly an advertising stunt, but I was quite impressed nevertheless. Sadly, the response from McDonald’s was less than positive. Perhaps with such large businesses and brands, genuine cooperation isn’t possible as there is too much at risk, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the case with us. As previously mentioned, we have actually worked with some of our competition in the past, and we are going to continue to try to have a more positive attitude to rival web designers out there.

Given that that, I’m slightly annoyed with myself for not speaking to V8 at the Expo. It isn’t often we are all in the same room. Next time, I will be sure to say a friendly hello and to share my thoughts and ideas with them if they are welcome. You never know, perhaps we might all learn something from each other. Likewise, if you are a rival web designer out there, consider getting in touch with us, we would love to have a chat over a cup of coffee some time, although you might have to sign an NDA first.


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