05/03/2016 01:05 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 05:12 EDT

3 Reasons To Make Friends With Your Business Competition

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1-800-GOT-JUNK? was only two years old when my top employee blindsided me: Mike announced he was leaving to open a competing junk removal service.

First, I was devastated to lose such a solid team member. Then I became obsessed with shutting his new company down.

After spending considerable time and money plotting to crush my new competition, I realized my actions were self-destructive. As his company quickly grew, mine flatlined. Fighting Mike had distracted me from nurturing my own business.

Fortunately, I was able to right the ship in time, but not before learning two valuable lessons: first, competition is inevitable. Second, it's not useful to turn the competition into the enemy.

Today, I make an effort to befriend the competition. I've even invited rival companies to our head office to see our daily huddle, a company-wide meeting where we share our most important metrics. Some people might think this kind of transparency is crazy - but the truth is that having positive relationships is good for me and for our bottom line.

Here are three reasons to befriend the competition so everybody wins.

Make Your Competition Work For You

Businesses are like snowflakes - no two are exactly alike. Instead of squabbling about stolen ideas, partner with your competition so you can both benefit from shared resources. The Harvard Business Review calls relationships like these "coopetition".

When I want to know something about the competition, I often just pick up the phone and ask. Once, I called the owner of Just Junk to introduce myself and to ask him about their online booking system. He was happy to oblige, and had some questions for me, too. We've since become big supporters of each other and our "open kimono" philosophy has helped us both at different times.

Build Bridges Instead of Walls

The reality is that today, your competitors can easily discover your company's secrets - almost everything leaves a digital footprint. All it takes is a crack intel team or a secret shopper, and word is out! Fortunately, success isn't built on secrets, but on consistently executing the thousands of little things that are the foundation of your brand.

Instead of guarding your recipe like Coca-Cola, try to foster trusting relationships that everyone can benefit from. A few years ago, a rival business targeted our SEO to redirect our potential customers. I'd gotten to know the owners of the company over the years at industry events, and I was able to diffuse the situation with a few phone calls.

It showed me that building bridges - instead of walls - can really pay off.

Be Friends, Not Frenemies

With a little perspective, you may even see that your competitors are ideal collaborators. Toyota and BMW once teamed up on the development of an environmentally friendly luxury vehicle, resulting in new technology both companies could use.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but competition can actually help build awareness for your brand if you're in a new industry or category. For example, Netflix and Hulu separately make the case for streaming services. What's better than getting your competitors to spend their money promoting what you do, too?

Being friendly doesn't mean sharing every secret or disregarding competition. After all -- you're both after customers in a crowded marketplace. Just realize that strategically aligning with the competition can make your business better. McDonald's needs Burger King; FedEx keeps UPS on its toes.

In the end, healthy business rivalries help stave off complacency and will make your company stronger in the long run.

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