What do you think of when you hear the word “competition?”
For many therapists – in fact, for many business owners in general – just the word “competition” causes some tension, if not outright fear.
But there’s nothing to fear in a word…
And, when you understand the true value of competition, you’ll embrace not only your competitors but the competitive spirit as well! 😉
What Is Competition?
Most therapists who come to me for help with their marketing either spend too little time thinking about their competition or far too much…
They wonder about what their competitors are doing that they’re not, or what their competitors are going to do. They wonder how successful their competitors are and why… How do they charge the fees they set? How are they getting more clients? Where are they advertising? And so on…
On the flip side of the coin, therapists and other business owners may bury their heads in the proverbial sand, either out of denial and fear or because they fail to realize that there’s so much to gain by studying one’s competitors.
Again, competition is just a word… And there’s no reason to be afraid of a word.
But just what does this word mean?
I find it interesting that one of the more common definitions of the word “compete” is:
“To strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.”
Given this definition, it’s no big surprise that many have a problem with the word “competition.”
Yet, when you look at synonyms for the word “compete,” we find terms like:
“to take part, participate, play, be involved, rival, and challenge.”
Unfortunately, it seems most people focus on the seeming necessity of “winning something by defeating another,” as opposed to competition’s other connotations, such as “taking part,” “playing,” or “being challenged.”
But, to me, this is what competition is… It’s “friendly rivalry.” It’s people taking part in the same game.
What do we teach our children when it comes to playing games and competition?
Most of us, I hope, teach our children that taking part, being involved, having fun, and learning through the challenges presented by others are the most important aspects of the games we play.
Yes, winning is fun… No doubt about it! 😉
However, there’s a lot more to competition than winners and losers.
And, as anyone who’s spent any time in a casino or trades in the market can tell you, you can lose 9 times out of 10 and still walk away a winner, assuming you focus on learning from your mistakes and use the competitive spirit to get better at your own game.
But playing games and winning and losing is only one way to look at competition…
As my mother, Bea Armstrong, has discussed in the past, she doesn’t see other people who are doing the work she does as being in competition with her.
Because she doesn’t believe there’s a limited pie – that there is a limited number of potential psychotherapy clients in the world and that every therapist is directly competing against every other therapist in their area for this limited number of clients.
We discussed how there are far more than enough people that need the help and services you provide in our “Value Optimization System” article as well as during the “Your Therapy Marketing Plan, Part 1: Targeting the Right Market” STAR Training. In fact, we looked at some precise figures in both that show there are more people who need the help and services you provide than you could ever possibly serve.
This is one of the reasons why Bea believes that success doesn’t come at another’s expense. Why she doesn’t see other people doing the work she’s doing as being “competitors” or “in competition” with her.
And this is a powerful belief…
This belief can free up a lot of mental and emotional energy that can then be spent on growing your business and helping more people… even by helping other therapists!
But, let’s not discard the word competition too quickly… As there is, in my opinion, a lot to be liked and gained from competition…
The Benefits of Competition
I’m an avid supporter of the free market.
I’m not saying it’s perfect… But what is?
While there’s definitely no shortage of poverty in the United States, we’re often reminded that most people who live below the poverty line in the U.S. are better off than the kings of old… Most have cars, color TVs, air conditioners, microwaves, and so on.
One of the main reasons for our material abundance is competition.
Business owners are constantly trying to create better products and services and offer them for less thanks to the competitive nature of the free market. It’s this competition-driven, creative destruction that is behind much of our society’s material abundance, economic prosperity, and growth.
Competition drives innovation…
Competition makes us better at what we do and makes our clients happier because our competitors and you and I are constantly trying to come up with better products, services, and ways to help people achieve their goals. Competition engenders options and choice.
Now, to be sure, there are a lot of people who compete in the free market with the sole goal of “winning” and “going home with all the money.”
But this is just one reason SOME people start businesses and compete in the free market.
Some people, such as serial entrepreneurs, take part because they simply love playing the game. Others because they want to help people, make people’s lives better in some way, or even change the world. And there are other reasons, to be sure.
I say all of this to draw a clear distinction between competition and any one individual’s reasons for competing.
The last thing I want any of us to do is waste our time making value judgments about why others compete… Although I do attach great importance to why I choose to compete in any given activity.
As a business owner, you should too…
You need to know why you’re running your own business… What’s your motivation? What are your goals? What’s your mission?!?
Suffice it to say, the competition engendered by the free market – which many regard as a negative – is to me a great boon for our clients, each other, and society as a whole.
But this isn’t the only value of competition…
I’ve talked previously about the importance of emulating the success habits of others, both in and outside of your profession.
That’s right, your competitors can serve as excellent role models for the types of marketing and business practices you need to emulate.
By studying the most successful counselors and psychotherapists in and outside of your geographic area, you can quickly find out what works and apply it to your own business, saving you immeasurable time and money.
And, if you’re paying attention, you can also learn from their mistakes.
So, watching and learning from your competitors’ successes and failures can be incredibly valuable and save you a lot of time and money by helping you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
I can almost hear the “buts” and “what ifs” as I talk about this topic. 😉
For example… “But what if I’m a child therapist and there’s another child therapist working in the suite right next to mine? Isn’t that therapist a direct competitor? Aren’t we competing for the same clients? If I get a client, doesn’t it mean he or she won’t get that client?”
Leaving aside the possibility that both of you might see the same client – one as an individual and the other in a family or group therapy setting – the short answer to this question is, yes…
The problem is, it’s the wrong question!
Let me explain…
I help a lot of therapists use search engine optimization to get their websites to the top of Google.
Well, there are, at most, ten slots on the first page of Google for any given search phrase.
Because of this, more than a few clients have asked, “If you’re helping two or three other therapists get to the top of Google, aren’t they all competing against each other? … Aren’t you cannibalizing your own work?”
Not necessarily, because each of my clients is unique… YOU are unique!
And your practice is different from the therapist who’s practicing in the office next to you.
You have different philosophies, different ways of communicating, and you’re both different from the therapist whose office is down the street or on the other side of town.
Not only that… Each of your clients is unique. They have different values, fears, desires, motivations, and outlooks on life.
This being the case, many prospective clients will use different search phrases when looking for the same type of therapist. So, there aren’t only 10 slots at the top of Google. There are 10 slots on the first page of Google for the phrase child therapist, and 10 for child counselor, and 10 for parenting help, and 10 for adhd treatment for children, and 10 for help for my child, and so on, and so on.
But, for argument’s sake, let’s consider the prospective client who finds you and several other therapists when searching Google for a specific phrase.
As that prospective client clicks through to each of your websites, they are going to connect with one of you more than the others. Every therapist is different, writes differently, and expresses and communicates their unique perspective, philosophy, and values differently.
One client will come along and click with you… Another client will come along and they’ll connect with the second therapist’s site, etc.
So, where’s the competition?
Both you and the therapist in the office next door to you – or next to you in Google’s search results – are connecting with different clients in different ways.
Assuming that it’s a zero-sum game – that a particular client would see you if they didn’t see the therapist next door or down the street – is an erroneous assumption.
And again, there are more than enough people who need the help and services you provide…
You and the therapist next to you are NOT chasing after the same limited pool of potential clients. You’re connecting with different clients in different ways. And both you and your clients are better off for it!
What Would We Do Without Competition?
I would never even consider doing business in a market that doesn’t have competition.
Well, as I said in our article on “The Value Optimization System,” if you don’t have direct competitors – if other businesses aren’t doing what you want to do – you may not have a viable business plan. Or you may have to create a market from scratch… a daunting proposition.
If you look around at your market and don’t see any competitors, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Does anybody even want what it is that I’m thinking about offering?!?”
Competition is a good thing…
Direct competitors mean that people want the product or service you’re offering. They prove the viability of your business!
Competitors have done the groundwork and proven what you’re about to do is not a waste of your time but profitable.
And many of your “competitors” are also your partners or potential partners.
Are you in a group practice? If so, do you view the other therapists in your group as competitors? Have you ever put on a workshop or seminar with another therapist? Did you consider that person a competitor or your partner?
Again, what do we teach our children… It says a lot about our beliefs.
What do you believe about competition? Are you living that truth? And, if so, how is it affecting your success?
Personally, I love competition. It’s fun. It’s a game.
I’ve studied under and partnered with numerous Internet marketers. Aren’t we all competing against each other? From a certain point of view, yes. But there are more than enough people who need our help than any of us could ever hope to serve.
If somebody runs a more effective ad or marketing campaign than I do – or does anything better than I do – I like to find out how they did that. It’s a learning experience for me and I get a charge out of going and seeing if I can repeat their results and then do something even better with what I’ve learned.
My mother and I may have different takes on the word “competition,” but we both agree that it’s the way you think about competition, or anything else, that’s most important.
So, whether you want to use the word “competition” or not, competition is nothing to fear. In fact, it’s something to embrace, to take part in, and to play and have fun with.
View your competitors as potential partners. View competition as an opportunity to be better at what you do. Appreciate all that competition has to offer our clients, ourselves, and the world as a whole… And, perhaps most of all, enjoy the game and have fun!
Remember, it’s the way you think about competition that’s going to determine its value… and your success!
How do you feel about competition? What do you first think of when you hear the word? Do you actively pay attention to, learn from, and/or partner with your competitors? Let us know and don’t forget to share your thoughts and questions below… We look forward to hearing from you!