Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Business Competition - How to Be Friendly Competitors

Guest Blog - Janet Elkins

We are competitors in the same marketplace, but Andrea Michaels of Extraordinary Events and I have something very special. We are colleagues, competitors and, most of all, friends.

We met in the mid-eighties. She had a few years of working in the event industry on me, but we were both on the bleeding edge of a fledgling industry. The Special Event had just started up. The hotel business was booming and convention centers were springing up everywhere. We always seemed to show up at the same NACE, MPI and marketing meetings, first locally in Los Angeles, and later nationally and finally internationally. Hers was the friendly face I always sought out at association meetings and conferences.

Andrea was raising her son Jon at the time and would bring him along with her to meetings and conferences. It became fun and familiar, and we were often the only ones we knew among a sea of faces. That meant we would go out to dinner and spend more and more time together. At that time, we both worked for other companies. Oddly enough, we launched our own small businesses - EventWorks and Extraordinary Events - at almost the same time in the 1988-1989 timeframe.

We had camaraderie. We were both women of similar ages, and our frame of reference for building events was the same. We weren't caterers or florists but event integrators, pulling it all together. We told the entire story - integrating all the disciplines of an event rather than one element of it. And soon, we started seeing each other at the same social functions as well as business meetings. We noted that each of us shared the philosophy that it wasn't about the work but the sheer joy of working.

We traveled to the Philippines together for a presentation, learned how to put a PowerPoint together and soon were presenting various seminars together. As we helped organize Los Angeles FAM trips, it wasn't about being competitors; it was about sharing thoughts, resources and planning together.

In those early days, we made a conscious decision to create a "code" between us. We would not hire each other's former employees and would always hold each other's confidential information strictly confidential. We don't ask each other about our clients or our event ideas. We respect the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating our events and would never impinge on each other's trade secrets! It is important to us to be responsible to our clients and have a fair playing field.

Why? For me, I'd rather have trust with the people who are my colleagues. I have no desire to take advantage of anyone to get ahead.


What Are the Benefits of Being a Friendly Competitor?

We have an open, honest communication. We share resources without reservation. We share information for employee manuals and small business information. We are trusting and collaborative. Much information exists for small businesses with 50 employees, but it is a different ballgame for those of us who have fewer team members. So we share information on labor laws, employee relations and small business problems because our companies are very personal to us, almost offshoots of family, and there is a different approach with that type of organization. Sharing those practices has been bonding and invaluable to both of us. The benefits have included:

  • Having camaraderie
  • Sharing business and employee practices
  • Enjoying a shoulder to cry on
  • Exchanging resources
  • Sharing war stories
  • Thinking about the shape of the industry. . . as we go to different trade shows and conventions, we are able to share information from what we learn
  • Having that great relationship when we are at industry meetings and conventions.
 For me, having a colleague, competitor and friend is really essential for success. It is one thing to have good clients, but you learn a lot and experience a better life by reaching out and developing relationships with colleagues, competitors and vendors. This is why trade shows are so critical for young people to become involved because that's where those relationships are built.

You can't be successful alone. You need to develop those relationships in order to learn. Andrea and I aren't the only ones out there honoring our competitors. All the savvy ones are doing it because it makes us better.


Note from Andrea

When Janet and I do compete, I am honored because I know the client is putting me in the company of the very best!

Action Item

Try it!

Janet Elkins is the President of EventWorks, a Los Angeles-based, full-service event planning and production firm. A multiple award-winning company, EventWorks and Janet Elkins are considered among the "best of the best" by clients, peers and vendors alike. Janet Elkins may be reached at

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