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When Healthy Competition Becomes Bullying

06/01/2015 14:03 GMT | Updated 08/03/2015 09:59 GMT

When it comes to business, competition is something that is always present. We could work in our own little bubble and forget that our competitors are out there, but, the fact remains that, in order for a client to give you business, it means that one of your competitors has to lose it. In some respects, business is a never-ending competition of winning and losing clients against your competitors.

For that reason, there is always going to be a rivalry between companies, but where do we draw the line between healthy, or even unhealthy, competition and bullying?

I'm sure that almost all business owners have thought about where they would position themselves on their industry's 'scale'. The market leaders sit at the top and the fly by nights at the bottom. If you're good at what you do, your business will probably be somewhere at the top too, but, for most people, it's the oldest, most established, and richest companies that sit on top of the pile.

We have good relationships with several agencies in London, and there is often a feeling that the industry is big enough to sustain us all. But, occasionally, I meet people who seem to go out of their way to destroy our small agency and, funnily enough, it's always the big multimillion agencies that try.

Competition in business can be healthy - it keeps businesses on their toes and ensures that nobody is just standing still; they are constantly moving forward and improving their offering to clients. But, is there a point when competition becomes out and out bullying?

I certainly think that there is, and bullying is one of the nastier sides of business that happens much more commonly than people think. Larger companies throwing their weight around, enticing models away with unfounded promises of more work, more money, and bigger clients is the norm. On occasions, we even had agencies try to get our models to breach their contract, despite their being legally signed to us.

On one extreme occasion, I had the owner of the largest agency in the country tell me that her goal was to make sure that she drive my agency out of business, for the simple reason that I confronted her for poaching a number of our models.

Ultimately, unless you're very lucky, your business will always have competition, but how you deal with your competitors is what defines your company. That old adage that you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down is very true in business, and you never know when the people you stepped on will be the same people you will be looking to for an opportunity!

So, for those out there running or even thinking of running your own business, I'd offer the following;

If possible, stay on good terms with your competitors

You may never be best buddies with your competitors, but keeping on their good side is always a good idea. Referring business leads or clients that you can't supply for to your competitors is a friendly gesture that makes no real difference to you but might get you something back if they ever return the favour.

Keep an eye on your competitors, but don't let them take over your life

Of course, watching what your competitors are up to is very important; you need to know what your competitors are doing in order to know how to react. But, on the other hand, don't let it define your business. If your competitor cuts their prices, the knee jerk reaction might be to do the same in response. But, at the end of the day, if you're offering a good service at a fair price, then there may be no need to copy your competitors in response! If your business plan is working, then there's no need to be alarmed.

If you can't beat them... stop trying!

Of course, every business wants to grow, but, sometimes, your competitors might simply be too big or established to beat them in a head-to-head fight. It's tempting to sit and wonder why a business turns over several million pounds a year in sales without considering the huge overheads they have to make that many sales. Of course, aspire to be big, but let it happen in time; and instead of trying to beat your biggest competitors, think about a niche product of service that they don't provide or offer something they can't because of their size such as a personalised or custom service.