There is a lot of talk lately in the dietetic world about how we aren’t in competition with each other. Three of the largest Australian dietetic associations Dietitian Association of Australia, Sports Dietitians Australia and Dietitian Connection have all been talking about it. Along with quite a few well known dietitians.
Although I know where this statement is coming from, I call bullshit.
Black and white
If a dietitian’s private practice business is running near another dietitian’s practice, they are in competition. Sure, they could specialise into different areas, but at most times all dietitians think they have a base knowledge in many conditions (particularly chronic disease) and will see these people if they come in. Although it is a nice thought to think that these people would refer on to a dietitian who specialises in diabetes, or in food intolerance, or in sport, most don’t. In fact most go even further and ‘tread water’ with complex conditions instead of referring on to their competitors. We all know why. It is because they need/want the money. The long and short of it, that is what it boils down to. And although we know it is horrible for our industry and the reputation of dietitians, it happens.
To add insult to injury, most dietitians in private practice now are new or recent graduates. This is of course due to the serious job shortage for graduates. They start their own business out of desperation most times. Or sometimes delusions that it is easy to run a dietitian business; that they are going to have the best work:life balance and that people are going to flock through the door every day (wrong!).
My outlook on competition in the dietetic industry is different for several reasons.
- I have never lived in the land of make believe, nor do I put blinders on. I live in the here and now. Competition is black and white.
- I understand the market, and people. I understand and appreciate how people can be competitive, selfish and self-fulfilling (which is fine).
- I am actively running an expansive private practice business, infiltrating new areas near where existing businesses operate and recognise from my consistent and continued commitment to reaching out to other business owners that very few even think of collaboration as an option. Most hate you even being there, often with a sense of entitlement; “This is my area, what are you doing here! Go away”.
Now we have agreed that that we are all in competition, what do we do about it?
To my last point above, I can certainly understand why though. How can you possibly trust someone who you are in competition with? Most perceive you as an enemy and feel the need to protect themselves, through whatever means necessary. What are their intentions? They must be up to something right? They can’t actually want to work together and help me, can they? What do they get out of it? “This is too hard, I am not going to even reply” is predominantly the response I have got; no response at all.
So why then, are people so afraid to work/collaborate with others which may be able to serve certain clients better than they can? Why can they not see that referring on to someone, may actually lead to reciprocation? The thing is, no one wants to give anything up for nothing.
Everyone is selfish, whether it is on purpose or by design.
Most people are selfish. Not many see the long game. Not many see that if you show a commitment to giving others something for nothing, that they may then lead to opportunities in the future. Not many see that giving something up for nothing (even if it is one job, one referral, one meeting, one idea) allows you the opportunity to show the type of person you are, the skills you have, what you could do for them in the future. It allows you to show others what you are capable of, it allows you to show that you have a greater mission, a greater vision than one focused solely around making money. It shows that you can be selfless, that you recognise your weaknesses and their strengths. It shows knowledge of your competitor, it shows respect. It may even open the door for collaboration.
How do you win?
Let’s boil it down further into what you may actually get in return. What this ultimately allows you is leverage. You give up your time, clients, effort, money for the sake of the relationship. Who knows what that could lead to.
Look, let’s be real, a lot of the time it will lead to nothing, and damn does that sting at times. However you should recognise that people use people on a daily basis, in our personal lives and in business; it happens. But if we play the long game for second, people will learn, people will know, that your True north is more than just money. That you can be selfless, that you are looking out for people other than yourself. It starts with looking after your current relationships with staff and stakeholders, to then reaching out to others. Do that, and you win.
Go internal for a second and think about that person above. Would you want to be in business with her/him? I would. Would you collaborate with them? I would.
The most important thing about any relationship, in my opinion, is honest communication; a commitment to being genuine is integral. So if you are seeking to attempt this strategy with competitors (or others), you must be genuine. If you aren’t, the great business owners will see through your shit and although the not so good ones may believe you for a time, when you are ‘found out’ you will burn down more bridges than you built from it.
Another important factor while reaching out to others or collaborating with other businesses is providing value. Giving the other party the same (if not more) value that they are providing you. When that happens, harmony can be struck and you will be able to take on more together than you ever could alone.
Collaboration isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be pushed to everyone.
Some people and businesses are better alone. But when collaboration works, oh when it works, it is damn amazing. The opportunities that come from those meaningful, genuine collaborations are what keep businesses strong for years. They are what will grow your business and our industry. They are what will make the difference. That are what will have the greatest impact.
I would have it no other way.
So are we in competition? Damn straight we are. But does that mean we need to destroy each other to win? Nope.
Now what are you going to do about it?
DISCLAIMER: These musing are related to genuine private practice businesses. Not all dietitians are inherently in competition, however it is important to acknowledge that if you are in private practice, whether you like it or not, you are in competition. Just like new grads going for graduate jobs, you are competing to get clients. We may have different races we are individually running, but rarely do our paths not cross. As your business grows, as more dietitians start their own business, you will find more and more paths are crossed. It is how you go about it which is the important differentiating factor.