11/18/2013 01:26 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Collaboration vs. Competition: What Works Best?

When I first started in my business, I was pretty insecure. I spent time, too much time, watching what my competition did and basically focused my energies on them, instead of what I wanted to do and achieve.

I let them dictate what I would do and how much I would charge. I was so worried and unsure of myself and questioned whether I was on the right path, that I let them dictate my direction. How foolish is that?

I have learned that yes, keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, but don't let them sway you or take you off track from your vision, your path.

In fact, now I am more watching to make sure my events are not clashing with those offered by other groups. Not everyone shares that courtesy, but to my mind, little is to be gained by diluting attendance for everyone's events so I try to avoid that happening.

Once you have established your niche, it is so much easier to focus on what needs to be done and by when. That doesn't mean that you don't get sidetracked from time to time, but you are much more confident in what you are doing, offering and where you fit in the marketplace. And sometimes if there is goodwill and mutual respect, you can even collaborate with your competition.

I much prefer collaboration but you have to be secure in yourself for this to happen. If you try to collaborate out of fear, suspicion and mistrust, it is not going to work. You have to believe in the strength to be gained from combining your efforts. Starting with a small time-limited project makes sense. That way you can test the waters, see how well you work together and build on your joint successes.

I often try to connect women who I think can help each other, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I am always disappointed when the woman I've referred the person to takes a scarcity attitude, and doesn't share. I guess what you have to ask yourself is when someone is running a business similar to your business but in a different city, are they really competition? I don't think so, but then I try to take an abundance approach.

In fact, of late I have been connecting and sharing with similar organizations in British Columbia and the UK. We have a lot in common and have been able to share what's working and what isn't. To me it is a win-win conversation.

Locally in Guelph, seven organizations that serve women have pulled together to organize International Women's Day next year. Working on a joint project that benefits women but no one organization in particular has been a great experience thus far and has allowed us to get to know one another in a different way.

All of which speaks to the power and strength in numbers, and how when you work on a common agenda, much can be accomplished.

As Helen Keller once said "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. "

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