Although the saying “20% of something is better than 100% of nothing” is absolutely true, it can be nearly impossible for some people to accept.

Particularly small business owners (SBOs).

The demands of running a business can warp your outlook. Between tight margins… managing employees… wearing all the hats… and weekly payroll, staying afloat often feels like hand-to-hand combat.

That’s not a great feeling. But worse than that is when you get suspicious about ANYTHING that might give aid n’ comfort to the enemy (aka, competitors).

Your direct competitors — even indirect ones — become true enemies when you perceive their success inversely to your own. In other words, when they win, you lose.

Of course, you can never know with pinpoint accuracy how your competition is doing. That is unless they show you their books, and that ain’t gonna happen!

More to the point, business is not a zero sum game. Two rivals can “win” at the same time. In fact, heavy competition means there’s a large market to tap. What’s not to like about that?

You’re already collaborating with the enemy

Collaboration is often subtle. Many times you join forces with the enemy for mutual gain, without even realizing it. Take for example, renting a booth at a trade show.

Yes, doing that “helps” your enemies.

Here’s how. Trade shows work because the sum (vendors) is always greater than the parts (each individual vendor). Qualified prospects would not turn out en masse for a show consisting of one measly vendor.

Most small business owners realize this — at a gut level — but fight it anyway. They exhibit at trade shows with a grudge, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. At the show, they stand watch over their booth like a prison guard, trying to prevent any competitor from “stealing” their prospects.

All the while, not doing anything unique to win over the prospects. Maybe not even smiling!

In the corporate world, managers and directors know that you have to give a little to get a little. If that means introducing themselves to competitors… making small talk… offering a genuine compliment (gasp!), so be it.

Managers and directors are usually not under the same stress as an SBO. Salaried employees tend to see rivals with more objectivity. They know that collaborating with competitors is a viable growth strategy.

If you find yourself struggling with collaborating with competitors, try taking the long view. You’ll never — no matter the venue — sell every prospect. There’s just too many factors working against you.

Naturally, I’m not plugging trade shows. You have to evaluate whether any particular one makes sense for your business.

The idea I’m pushing is this: fear of collaborating or “helping” your competitors could be what’s preventing you from seizing golden opportunities. Opportunities that could pay you back 1.5X, 2X, even 10X over.

If your product or service is strong, you should adopt a “best man wins” attitude. Serve your customers well and if you find that you can’t, refer them to someone who can.

I don’t say this because paying it forward means the “universe” will reward your generosity and courage. Nope. The universe doesn’t work that way.

I’m saying that when you demonstrate your unique expertise, prospects won’t be able to file you away in a mental folder with all the other competing companies. If you refer them elsewhere, they’ll appreciate and remember you.

Confident people attract customers

Right now, I’m working with an artist client who’s struggling with the “something’s better than nothing” concept. Hopefully she’s not reading this.

I’m pushing her to mention some of her rivals by name. I’m pushing her to show her natural enthusiasm and excitement (and vulnerability) by praising other artists.

I want her “inner fan” to come out and show itself to the world. I want her old ways, where she talks about nothing else but HER work, to go away. Forever.

My sense is that her current patrons and fans will love her work even more as she transitions from simple artist to artist/curator/scholar/geek.

Comfortable? No. But necessary for growing her business and enjoying the process a little more.

By the way, anyone can get over their fear of sharing, collaborating, and giving away their secrets. I have. How? Two things. The first is easy: mantras. I’ve already shared a few. “Something’s better than nothing,” “Let the best man win,” etc. Repeat them as needed. They work.

The second is confidence. It takes time. I don’t mean false confidence either, where you psych yourself up to make a pitch. I’m talking about the confidence that comes with providing honest-to-goodness value. If your product or service does that, you should EXUDE confidence.