‘Collab not compete’: Why small-business owners should befriend their competitors


Shhh Silk founder and chief Olivia Carr. Source: Supplied.

How many times have you seen a brand use Instagram to share a message along the lines of ‘collab not compete’ or ‘real queens fix each other’s crowns’, sending a message of harmony and empowerment to its followers?

As a business owner, I am a true advocate for empowerment and a huge believer in bringing other brands up the success ladder, rather than pulling the ladder up behind me.

Many people witness corporate-ladder climbing throughout their careers, experiencing how this obsessive drive to succeed, at any cost, can tear people on the receiving end of this behaviour apart. Luckily in Australia, as an employee, you are well protected, as we have strict national anti-bullying laws and state or territory health and safety bodies that can help people with bullying and harassment in the workplace.

There is a gap with this law though. Where does this leave business owners? Does it protect founders from an ever-growing culture of brand-to-brand or business owner-to-business owner bullying and harassment?

Unhealthy brand rivalry appears to be on the rise. There is a new wave of unhealthy competition that sets out to force brands to back down, or worse, close down for the fear of being continually attacked by rivals.

Perhaps this culture exists as there are current holes in the legislation meant to protect business owners from this type of harassment, or perhaps it exists because the rivals who respond with this non-collaborative approach are threatened by the underdogs.

Either way, these competitors seem to have lost touch with the essence of ‘healthy competition’ — which is to drive innovation, inspire perseverance and build team spirit. And that’s not all. Many times, the presence of competition increases the market share for everyone.

On the very first day of launching my brand back in 2015, I recall being ‘blocked’ by one of my competitors on Instagram. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Wow, if they are aware and worried about us on day one, the new kid on the block, when my office is my lounge room and my only employee is my 14-year-old daughter, what a compliment and confidence boost this was for me launching into this space.’

Later I found out everyone I follow on my private Instagram would also become blocked by this same competitor.

This strange activity of ‘blocking’ competitors and their entire network on social channels feels very unfriendly and not at all collaborative or effective in anything other than sending a harsh message that they are not welcoming you, the new brand, to this space.

Another fear-based tactic used to scare off new players involves sending empty-threat legal letters, to try to scare others away from success.

Sure, there are times when you need to protect your brand from the real threat of competition, and we ourselves have spent significant time and money fighting to have brands remove our photography and branding from their Instagram pages and websites. However, we have never sent threatening legal letters to new brands for simply operating in the same marketplace as us.

In fact, I have done quite the opposite.

I have been known to invest hours replying to private DM’s or emails from new players in our space wanting advice on what I did and how I approached it. I regularly speak at retail events with the primary objective of ‘giving back’ to the retail community and sharing very open, honest how-to intel to other business owners, irrespective of whether they pose a ‘potential threat’ to our brand or not.

I am lucky as a founder to have more than 20 years of retail and corporate experience, so I cannot be ‘shaken or taken down’ by this type of dirty business. However, there are many brands who are being founded by young millennials who don’t understand the difference between healthy versus unhealthy competition, and this type of rivalry poses a real threat to their success.

Anyone reading this article who is sitting there thinking ‘yes, this is me’, I want you to stop and remember your ‘why’. That is, ‘why’ you started your blog or brand, and what values you stand by as a brand owner, as this alone is all you need to succeed.

There will always be competition and you should embrace competitors. Never fear them as it is these brands that will help you to strive to be the best you can be. They will push you to innovate and continue to create incredible moments for your customers and followers.

What is your superpower as a competitor?

For me, it’s staying true to my ‘why’ — my values as a founder, but more importantly, as a human being. My products can and will always be copied but my values and heart cannot. There are many ways to continue to thrive in your space.

Staying true to yourself and staying in your lane is another way to overcome unhealthy rivalry. While many products exist in an ever-growing consumer brand world, staying on your path and following your clear vision is what is required to succeed and achieve.

Building your brand through true passion instead of simply running a business is another way to stay ahead. Passion drives creativity which enables you to create products built out of love over profits, consumers will forever remain at the forefront of innovation when you are building from a place of love and consumer consideration.

An article posted on Virgin’s website reads: “Collaboration is a mindset which many need to develop and embrace. After all, for those that don’t, there’s always someone who will.”

So let us pose this challenge to brands, to competitors and to consumers: push for collaboration, rise above and let’s set the path where a culture of competitor-to-competitor collaboration truly exists far beyond a pretty quote on our Instagram page.

As JFK said: “A rising tide, lifts all boats.”

NOW READ: Four ways to get ahead of your competition

NOW READ: How Olivia Carr is turning her luxury silk brand Shhh Silk into a $50 million business (with the help of the Kardashians)


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Eric Vigo
Eric Vigo
3 years ago

Good on you for that great attitude. My instant and long-term thought is that when you are just starting, you are building and since you are new in your business, you are happy to work with others, because you need to learn. But once you believe you have little to learn, but you have a large following or client base and a level of revenue that you depend on, you’re now in protection mode, because you want to keep that same level you are at, but increase your revenue or earnings so you can get more expensive things, or a better house etc.

If you go public, then there are shareholders who demand you expand at any cost. Most people are not in touch with their body or their feelings other than what gives them a good feeling in the moment. If someone has latent and unlooked-at feelings of greed, power-over or insecurity, they will aim their gun barrels at you to ‘protect their market share’.

Society isn’t really into self-awareness, and we are all going to be challenged, including yourself, when the real tests come. What will you do when you are bidding for $2m contracts, you are about to sign off and a competitor uses better tactics to win over that contract? Will you be collaborative with them then?

It takes a lot of work to undo the raw emotions of fear, scarcity and self-preservation, and to move ahead in a way that a Buddhist may call the ‘dharma’. I wish you well in your journey towards wherever you are going.

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