It’s hard for most businesspeople to imagine running  a business in which you have no competitors.

At least, it was hard for me to get it when I first sat down with Pat Howlett of inSide NetworX.  You’ve probably never heard of Pat–he’s a pretty quiet guy and doesn’t like to boast–but he’s accomplished more than most people you’ll ever meet.

Pat is a “no bull” sort of business guy.  He cut his teeth building his own ISP in the early days of the web in a rural Colorado town, he’s been a mayor, and he now runs a network of over 250 social networking sites for local business owners.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In short, Pat is probably one of the most successful people I know.

The first time I met Pat, it was over breakfast at a Panera bread.  We spent a little over an hour together and he talked my ear off. Naturally, being the cocky Wake Forest University grad that I was, I didn’t listen to a word of it.  “What’s this old coot rambling about,” I thought to myself.

It probably took five or six of those conversations before it started to sink in, but somehow, Pat’s charm started to work me over.

At one of our get-togethers, we were sitting in a tavern and I was talking about a problem that I had with a competitor.  Whenever I went public with a business move–a new workshop, a new product, or a new service–she would  be right behind me with the exact same thing.

Quite frankly, it pissed me off.  So I told Pat about it, and that’s when he shared something with me that would revolutionize the way that I approach business.

“For good businesspeople, there’s no such thing as competition.” – Pat Howlett

Like I say, I didn’t get it, either.  “Of course there is!  This woman is ripping off my work, and she has a bigger list, so she’s more successful at it!” I cried.

Oh, wait.  For good businesspeople, there’s no such thing as competition.  Here’s what I think Pat was really saying.

“Dude, you need to stop being a baby and step up your game.” – Pat Howlett’s Subconscious

I’ve learned the three secrets to ditching your competition.  First, quit staring.  It’s not polite.

“Quit staring at your competition.  It’s okay to peek every once in a while, but don’t stare.” I wish I could give credit on this one, but I don’t remember where I heard it.  If you’re reading, please let me know and I’ll be sure to give you credit.

But here’s the thing…  We get so wrapped up in what our competition is doing that we start to work reactively.  “Oh, so-and-so just released a new product, so I’d better make one just like it!”  Living reactively sets you up for failure.  You’re not in control.

In one of my martial arts classes, we had a guest instructor–a master-level instructor in the Philippine art of Kali.  He told us, “Rule number one: it’s my turn.”  What he meant was, “Take control.  You make the decisions.  Your opponent is always one step behind.”

When I started this blog, I was working really hard to be the next Chris Guillebeau.  It was futile.  He has tens of thousands of loyal followers.  He’s on a book tour that’s stopping in every state and province in North America (and he’ll be in Raleigh next week).  Quite frankly, he’s way out of my league.  So I stepped back. Chris Guillebeau is not my competition. Easy as that.  Quit staring.

Second, create and dominate your own niche.

We hear a lot about how we need to become experts in our niches, yadda yadda.  Great.  That’s aspirational leadership.  We’re told what we should do, but who is inspiring you to step up and become experts?

A common sticking point that I run into when working with up-and-coming lifestyle entrepreneurs is that they rarely give themselves enough credit.

“Oh, I’m not an expert in anything,” they say.

Bullcrap. We are all experts at something. I’m an expert in how to earn more revenue while doing less work.  All my life, I’ve been criticized as being a slacker.  I wouldn’t do my homework in grade school.   I’d sleep through classes in high school.  I would skip classes in college–in which I wasn’t learning much of anything–to do more important things like play disc golf.

And yet I got the same results as my peers.  In fact, I’d argue that I got better results than any of my peers.  They have  college degree.   I have a college degree, I built my own company, I directed a short film that screened at my favorite film festival, and I produced two seasons of my own TV show…  All while they were spending their time studying.

You know, I’m proud to be a slacker–and I’d venture to say that I am an expert slacker. I’m really, really good at doing less of the mundane work that accomplishes nothing and doing more focused, targeted work that achieves meaningful results.

Think about it. What kind of advice do you find yourself regularly giving to your friends and family? How do you help them?  What are you really, really good at, and what do you do that actually works?  You’re already an expert.  Now you just need to create your niche.

I share this quote a lot:

“It’s not what you do that’s important.  It’s why you do it.” – Simon Sinek

Most people create a niche around what they do or who they work with, but that’s terribly inefficient.  Lots of people can do what you do.  Lots of people can work with who you work with.  What’s important to the buyer is that they resonate with why you do what you do.  Your niche must start with your core values.

I don’t do consulting work.  I don’t create products.  I don’t write a blog.  I help people live the lives they want while doing the work that they love.  Everything I do is aligned with that mission.  I work with solopreneurs, but I also work with teams at companies.  I write here on The Tao of Rob, but I also hold killer workshops to help people live and work differently.

So in order to create your own niche, find why you do what you do.  What do you believe in?  What is the result of those beliefs?  Attract people who share those ideals.  Their professions don’t matter–you’re smart and you can adapt what you know.  Their demographics don’t matter–they are all, after all, human.  Let your customers know what you believe, and they will bring people to you for your leadership.

Third, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Your “competition” may not be your competition after all.  In fact, they may be your greatest allies.

I started out with one eye on my competition.  I was nervous, defensive.  I tried my best to crush those who stood in my path.  I found, though, that competition is in the eye of the beholder.

I went to Wake Forest University.  My girlfriend, Laurie, graduated from UNC at Chapel Hill.  We were talking about college sports one day, and she asked, “Who were your rivals?”

“Um, well…  UNC and Duke.”

She laughed. If you know anything about North Carolina college sports, you know that UNC and Duke are each others’ rivals.   To them, Wake Forest sports are a joke.

So our competition wasn’t even competing with us.  Sure, we played against one another.  Sure, we won some and lost some.  But the rivalry that we believed in didn’t actually exist.

When positioning your business, simply stop competing.  Be excellent independently of those who are trying to crush you.  Help others succeed, too.  There is plenty of business to go around–develop alliances that help you share.

If someone else is still trying to compete with you, you’re in a great position, for any time you innovate, that “competitor” will be one step behind you trying to keep up.  Think proactively, and let the others think reactively.  Keep your eye on where you’re going and where you can really help your customers.

There’s a fourth secret: it all starts with believing in yourself.

Since I started working for myself, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of people take me under their wings.  Pat believes in me.  Bill Davis with the Team Nimbus Center believes in me.  Phil Buckley believes in me.

But the most important thing is that I’ve learned to believe in myself.  Once you start believing in yourself, there is no competition.

Remember that other people believe in you.  They may seem like crazy old men at first (at least, they do to me), but be patient and look deeper and you might start to see it, too.

What can you do today to eliminate your competition?

P.S.  If you’re in the Raleigh area, make sure you catch Pat’s Be The Gorilla local Internet marketing bootcamp.  I’ve been in some of Pat’s “underground” marketing classes and I can tell you that you don’t want to miss out.  More details here.

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