The Art of Co-opetition: when you take the best parts of competition and cooperation and add them together.

This combination produces synergies that are similar to collaboration but, because of that little spark of healthy competition, creates a space for innovation and original thinking. Why this is a powerful approach for creative freelancers lies in the way you reframe those you see as your direct and indirect competitors. It is human and common to see them as a threat. In fact, in a SWOT analysis, the THREAT section is exactly where you would put them. But, with co-opetition, you can work alongside them to create a partnership or a collaboration that maintains your independence and identity but also strengthens what you offer to the market. Perhaps there is a bundled offer you can provide together or a one off collaboration that produces a unique product that is attractive to both audiences.

Creating a community of freelancers that work together rather than against each other is going to be a far healthier space to inhabit. Read on to find out how it works and how you can start thinking about your own co-opetition projects.

Collaboration Over Competition:

We have been exposed to the hustle culture for a very long time, and it’s been around since before most of us were born. But, in recent years alongside the rise of social media, there has been a trend for working to breaking point and seeing everyone around you as a potential threat to your success that we must stop at all costs.

If you identify as female or as part of a marginalised and underrepresented group in the workplace, the need to fight against those around you and trample on them in order to be taken seriously or to be heard can feel suffocating. Seeing everyone as a threat creates a toxic headspace for you and will not lead to satisfaction but paranoia and burn out. This is a worst case scenario but not unheard of. If you are interested, I’d recommend having a look at this article as a starting point to see what is being written about this particular problem.

What’s the alternative? A utopian world where we all get on and there is no conflict would be delightful but is sadly unrealistic at the present moment.

However, there is good news! Collectives and communities exist to mitigate this toxicity. For a real world example, just look at Flowerista. It is an ecosystem that has built a community of creative freelancers. There are many people who work within the same area. However, rather than fighting to be No.1 on the platform, there is a sense of sharing and mutual respect. Everyone has their own individual community of clients and contacts but there is a willingness to share rather than gatekeeper the knowledge that they have. As such, the Flowerista buzz word ‘flourishing’ is able to take flight because there is a shared desire that everyone has their own success, that everyone achieves their goal and that everyone has something valuable to add to the community and to the world.

It does sound idealistic and of course, this is a simplified expression of a very complex ecosystem structure. But that doesn’t negate the fact that at any Flowerista event there is always a very friendly, sociable and interactive feeling that exists.

co-opetition

Networking and Building Relationships:

The saying goes that ‘no (hu)man is an island’. In this post-pandemic world, I think we can all agree that full isolation is not hugely enjoyable. But working as a freelancer can be a lonely existence. It can feel like you are a social media manager, data analytics specialist, website designer, accountant and head of logistics never mind being a creative with a product to sell. It’s a lot for one person to do. That’s where your network and the relationships with those around you are crucial.

The network that you are in can often provide the answers you need to problems that you’ve identified or that you may face in the future. Looking at how your peers and your competitors have overcome issues, talking to them about what they would suggest and reaching out to them if you see them struggling can help to build a much healthier and happier community for everyone.

Strong professional relationships with peers will provide greater opportunities and visibility for your products through collaborations and shared social content.

But beyond this, say there is a trade fair that you want to attend as a seller but the costs are high. Why not partner up with a few ‘competitors’ so that you can have a collaborative stall? Equally, there might be an event that you don’t feel confident going to alone and think could be beneficial to someone else in your field of peers. Reach out and see if they will go with you!

Trust is something that money can’t buy. But with a bit of time and effort, you’ll find that you have a group around you that have overlapping products and clients but which feels like a healthy marketplace for you to be involved with.

Do not underestimate the power of social media but above all, if possible, meet people in person.

Finding Your Niche:

The likelihood that you and your direct competitor offer the exact same product is pretty low. Why? Because you are different people with different backgrounds, personalities and ideas.

Try not to focus on what they do as a source of panic ridden, self flagellating comparison, you’ll only want to cry. Instead look at who you are, what matters to you and what you want to put out into the world.

Maybe you create jewellery, in 100 years time, when someone finds a piece of your work, what will you want them to think? How individual the piece, how exquisite the craftsmanship, what beautiful designs.

Use your unique strengths and specialties to help define your competitive advantage with others. Being clear on your personal brand and your content then you will be attractive to partner with for co-opetition. This will allow for truly unique collaborations that provide value for both.

If everything is a little vague, the consumer will see that and move on.

Sharing Knowledge and Resources:

There is a reason why co-working and sharing schemes are so popular. Tools and studio space often come with a high price. To combat this, people have clubbed together to share resources and knowledge that benefit all.

If you share the cost of a studio that includes a kiln, potters wheels and storage space with one or two others, then you can spread the burden and give yourself a better chance of making a profit from what you create. With a simple rota for the different areas, you will have a cohesive work setting. It could also lead to collaborative projects between you and also the chance to bounce ideas around of trying a new product, a new base material or why something isn’t quite working.

Rather than gatekeeping knowledge and resources, if you share what you have and what you know, then others will benefit. You’ll also be known as one with expertise, ideas and a working ethic that is inclusive and holistic. If you have a good reputation with your peers, the consumer too will pick up on this energy and be more inclined to interact with you and your market offering.

personal branding

Handling Competitive Tensions:

In any relationship there are tensions. It is inevitable that ideas will not always align, that there will be misunderstandings and that people will become frustrated. Often this is due to a breakdown in communication or to the fact that there were no ground rules set at the beginning of the relationship.

In a business setting this can be very difficult to navigate. This is even greater if there is the added pressure of needing to see a financial return from the collaboration. Put quite simply, communicating in a clear, non judgemental or accusatory manner is the best way to mitigate tension and to stop problems progressing.

It might be that you set out to create a series of podcasts with another creative in your sector. You have agreed to recording every Thursday afternoon for the 10 weeks. This schedule sets a clear expectation that those 10 afternoons are blocked out. Personal situations might arise that prevent this from happening and that is out of our control. But it means that if the other person keeps missing the recording without reason, you have a foundation on which to talk to them and gently find out how best to proceed with the original plans.

Even if the person or people with whom you collaborate are friends who are also direct/indirect competitors, this collaboration is professional and so the personal side should not interfere (as far as possible).

Conclusion

It is now easier than ever to collaborate, partner with or share content with other people. From shared posts on Instagram to live streaming, the ability to share and cross share content is making co-opetition easier than ever.

The first step is to reach out to others and see if they’d be willing to work with you! Set out a plan of what you expect from those involved. Then you can just enjoy the creative process of working with someone else.

This isn’t the place for fierce rivalry but to show how gentle and inclusive a partnership can be and how it benefits everyone, not just those who have started the partnership.

If you are looking for people to work with, collaborate with or to help with some creative inspiration born from a little co-opetition, why not check out the Flowerista community on Circle. It’s free to join and from there you can interact with hundreds of other members and start creating something wonderful!