(Editor's Note: this post was a collaboration between WeddingIQ co-editors Jennifer Reitmeyer and Kyle Bergner.)
Many of our readers are probably familiar with Ben Sasso’s 2014 blog post “The Photographer’s Manifesto,” which promoted a message of “Community Over Competition” that really resonated with a lot of people. His article was also published on Fstoppers and referenced in Rangefinder Magazine, and was linked in about a zillion social media posts, blogs and Pinterest boards.
It’s a fabulous post: kind, vulnerable, insightful, and (clearly) inspiring. There’s a lot to love there.
What has us thinking, though, is this…as compelling as Ben’s “Community Over Competition” message is, when did the word competition become negative in and of itself? It’s as though competitive is seen as the same as cutthroat. Perhaps not so much in Ben’s original writing, but definitely in the comments and conversations it’s launched.
We ourselves have had a bunch of conversations on this topic, and seem to share the same view: competition, in its true form, isn’t negative at all. There are many benefits, both in practice and in principle, to embracing the spirit of competition, and in viewing colleagues as competitors. There is no inherent meanness in it.
Of course, “competition” doesn’t feel as good to say, or think about, as “community” (or any of its synonyms). Discussions of the concept of competition are never going to be as popular, because they aren’t as comforting, or validating, to as many people. It’s not heartwarming. We get that. Still, we think it’s a topic worth exploring, for those who find themselves driven by challenge and contemplation.
Practical Benefits to Competition:
Build a better mousetrap. There’s a difference between invention and innovation. Most of us are not offering a completely unique product and service - we have adapted something that is already in existence and made it our own. Competition motivates businesses to find new solutions to old problems, create niche markets and improve the client experience. It also gives our customers freedom of choice and inspires us to become better businesspeople.
Show me the money. Guess what? We live in a capitalist society. We don’t know about you, but most of us are in business to make a profit. Not so we can hoard our wealth or flaunt it with material purchases but so we can live the life of our dreams and provide for our families. Competition inspires us to become more efficient, charge what we’re worth and uplift our industry so we all profit.
Rise to the challenge. Life would be boring without healthy competition. Entire TV programs and radio shows are dedicated to the notion of competition. Every day there is a race or a game or a record to break. It’s exciting and motivating. It gives us something to strive toward and rewards us with recognition and a sense of accomplishment. We should welcome anyone who wishes to challenge us to be our best selves and create a business that reflects those characteristics.
Principle-Based Benefits to Competition:
Competition holds businesses, and business owners, to a higher standard. When everything and everyone is viewed as equally valid (speaking in a business sense here; we’re not referring to the inherent equal value of human beings), then there is no standard, really. But when we’re challenged to raise the bar, to find new ways to innovate, to evolve our brands and our services, to keep up – something good happens. The more talented, dedicated, savvy, smart entrepreneurs rise. And the clients we serve benefit.
Competition makes business success hard. And that’s a positive thing. Most of us who are successful did it by investing a tremendous amount of time, money (our own or a creditor’s), and plain old hard work into our businesses. We’ve learned hard lessons through trial and error; we’ve made mistakes and tried to rectify them. We’ve tried new things – new branding, new pricing, new equipment, new team members – and failed. We’ve taught ourselves the skills we need to bring our businesses to where they are today. We’ve paid our dues. To imply to newcomers that success in business is, or should be, anything other than a meritocracy doesn’t do anyone any good. In fact, it’s instilling false hope to send the message that any amount of cheerleading and handholding can come close to the real work that goes into making a business thrive.
Competition validates our right to take credit. We’ve written before about how women are expected to be sweet above all else, and this attitude still manages to worm its way even into the wedding industry, which is dominated by female entrepreneurs. Somehow we’re expected to share everything we know and level the playing field for anyone who decides they want to enter the game. We think that’s crazy - we’ve worked for what we’ve achieved. When a woman (or anyone) achieves success on a competitive level, in a competitive market, she has earned every ounce of credit for the hard work that went into it. And almost always, the credit for accomplishing something that’s hard feels better than credit for something that’s easy.
Competition means so much more than just stepping on others on your way up the ladder. The concept isn’t inherently what’s depicted in “Wall Street,” and it doesn’t mean you don’t care about your fellow wedding professionals. As we see it, embracing competition means you care about the experience you give your clients, the quality of your work and the professional standards within the industry at large. And there’s nothing anti-community about it.