Starbucks is often credited with putting mom & pop coffee shops out of business. But this is a bad rap.

Just how many mom & pop coffee shops – slinging espresso & steaming soy milk – were there before Starbucks became a household name? Not as many as there are now. That’s for sure.

Has that hurt Starbucks business? Nope – not a bit.

It also hasn’t hurt the mom & pop coffee shop business. Main street espresso bars open up to a willing audience. No one to “convert” to $4 coffee drinks, we hand over our hard earned cash wholeheartedly.

Having a Starbucks on one corner & an indie on the opposite is great for both businesses. The Starbucks marketing behemoth causes awareness. Indies cause fierce loyalty. Both experience a raised [coffee] bar.

Here is a perfect example of where competition causes business to thrive – not die.

But what about you & your tiny business? Can your business accept the gift of stiff competition?

Lea wrote in last week with a question about competition. Or the possibility of competition. And what to do about it when you want to build your network, your community, and your customer base.

I’m still trying to pinpoint my focus.  I’m a Gemini, so of course I want to do it all.  I think because I want to do it all, I am reluctant to point my peeps to people who are doing what I might want to do.  Does that make sense?  At the same time, I understand that we all do what we do in unique ways, and a major intention of mine is to provide resources for indiepreneurs and to create a network with sense of community.  So I want to kick this miserly inclination without kicking myself in the behind.

Just like with indie coffeeshops and Starbucks, the online community is a place where competition can cause us to thrive not die. Instead of considering your actions in reaction to others, consider how your actions & your business is complementary to others. This is not a zero-sum game. This is about cooperation – not competition, in the traditional sense.

Not sure where to start? Consider these three ways to view your competition as allies in your mutual success.

Have you been suffering from a lack of direction?

Take a look at your competition. What’s their angle? What do they offer? What are their strengths?

When it comes to direction, the gift of competition is simple: it forces you to clarify what makes you great. Competition allows you to see how your unique talents fit a hole in the market.

Competition asks you to identify what sets you apart, amplify those talents, and present them to your audience in a way that says, “This is what I’m all about!”

Once you differentiate, you’ll find that decisions are easier to make, sales pages are easier to write, and attention is easier to garner.

Have you been suffering from a lack of clients?

Good news: competition is great for boosting your client load.

When I wrote my first ebook, it was really the only ebook available to the Etsy-style arts & crafts market. It was a tough sell – $15 for a pdf? Really?

Over time, more & more people have released ebooks. Some very similar to mine. The more & more ebooks are on the market, the more I sell.

Similarly, I call myself a business coach. Google “creative business coach” and I rank pretty highly. But I notice more & more creative business coaches setting up shop every day. This hasn’t effected my client load at all. I’m coaching more than I ever have and have clients wait listed 6-8 weeks in advance.

The fact is that a year ago, far fewer people were searching for business coaches. There simply was no demand. Because more people are calling themselves business coaches, more people are looking for the services of business coaches. The supply has led to an increase in demand.

Don’t shun your competition. Welcome it. Work together to increase the awareness of your product or service.

Have you been suffering from a lack of support?

We all know the hardest part of working for yourself is having only yourself for company.

You’ve been tempted – admit it – to court your competition as friends & supporters. But then you thought better of it. You decided that would be silly. Trade secrets and all that…

My best friend offers creative business consulting services. For quite a bit, her services cost less than mine. She sells ebooks. We serve a similar market. We know similar people in need of our services.

Doesn’t bother me in the least.

Your competition can be your greatest allies. They will expand your horizons (and you them), they will inspire you (and you them), and they will teach you what you need to get to the next level (and you them).

These truly are the gifts of stiff competition. Are you willing to accept them?