Your direct competitors are the people (freelancers or companies) who are operating in the same space as you. If there are a lot, you’ll need to look at how you can differentiate your offering for potential clients so that you can make them value you more than your competition.
When analysing your direct competition your first task is to identify who they are and do your research on them. Look at their websites, their social media, their company filings and any other information you can discover about them. See if you can find out who their customers are. Arm yourself with as much information as possible about what they do and why their customers choose them. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to articulate in your marketing efforts why customers should choose you. You want to make clear how you will add much more value to them than others will. Don’t forget, the only person who wins a price war is the customer.
If you work as a freelance camera operator in a studio or on an outside broadcast, for example, you are likely to be one of a team of camera operators covering that project so you would already be collaborating with your competition. This can at first glance seem like the worst of all worlds: you have to work with your direct competitors, and they might learn all your tricks and put you out of business. But for me this is nonsense, short-term thinking.
Your clients want to know they are working with people that they can trust to deliver and are good to work with. All the people on this job are people they trust to deliver. So, you need to ensure you are that person all the time. Especially when you are working with your direct competition or rather – in this instance – collaborating with them.
Think about it: a potential new client contacts you to see if you are free to do a piece of work. You’d really like to accept, but you just can’t fit it in. You could take the short-term view that you can’t do it, never mind, and press on with the work you’re already booked for. Or you can take the big-picture, longer-term view: tell them you’re sorry you’re busy but that there is someone you could recommend instead, and you would be happy to connect them up. You are solving a problem for your would-be client and making their life easy.
They are almost certainly going to call you again because you are helpful, and they will remember that. You’re someone who thinks about them, not yourself. Of course, you must make sure the person you recommend is good, but most importantly also make sure that person knows the recommendation came from you. Human nature will make them want to return the favour.
As you can see, even though there may be a large number of other freelancers in direct competition with you, it is still beneficial to build relationships with them. Collaboration is a great tactic for neutralizing your direct competition.
Another example concerns a network of freelance costumiers who would send work each other’s way at busy times. One member realized she was missing out on the bigger jobs because clients assumed that, as a solo freelancer, she lacked the capacity to handle them. So she joined forces with one of her freelance colleagues and together they set up a company. This allowed them to greatly increase their capacity and to pitch for and win much bigger jobs. Their joint company has gone from strength to strength and they now work on major international projects.
Aside from collaboration, another factor to examine within your industry is whether your sector is growing or shrinking. A growing sector usually generates both more work and more people trying to win it – increased competition.
Consider how that will affect you and how you can ensure that you will maintain a full schedule. Situations such as these where you have deeper relationships with your clients and the right approach will stand you in good stead. A growing industry can also signal approaching fragmentation, where sectors splinter off and become their own micro-specialism. It is worth examining whether this is happening around you.