Friday, December 11, 2009

competitor vs mentee

If you're my competition, think before asking me for advice.

Its one thing to open a discussion about your business with people in your field. No doubt, you can gain a lot by dialoguing with others in the biz. Especially if you're just starting out with a lot to learn, it makes sense to reach out to others with more experience. Finding a mentor is invaluable.

Obvious places to look for mentorship would be to start with the people you know. Family, friends, professors, through word of mouth. Even social or business networking groups would be a starting point.

But cold-calling, looking for guidance from a person who clearly offers a similar product, is often seen (and rightly so) as threatening. What do I have to gain by handing over all my words of wisdom to this whipper-snapper?

Maybe in the modern world where we often don't directly deal with people face to face, we're tricked into thinking that asking our competition outright for business secrets is acceptable. Its easy to not always be accountable for what we say or do in virtual relationships. What's more embarrassing; saying something stupid in person or online? Well, neither is great, but I'm guessing we'd all say losing face in person is far worse than online. And isn't it that raw, human emotion (fear, embarrassment) that keeps us in line?

Professionalism is a skill. Clearly not everyone has it. But, if you're coming to me asking for my advice, here it is, Lesson Numero Uno: Be classy. (As I tell my kids, "if you're not classy, I'll sell you to the pirates!") You'll gain far more by being respectful to your clients and competition alike.

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