Can You Work With Clients Who Compete With Each Other?

If you provide products or services, do you ever feel compelled to turn down work because a new prospect is in competition with a current client? Does the physical distance between the two companies matter? Does it matter what you're offering them? Does it matter if they may offer similar products and services but to different groups?

These questions had been bubbling to the top here at flyte for quite some time, and just recently a couple of situations made us take stock of how we handle these situations. I talked to our current clients in these situations and asked them how they felt. Neither was thrilled with the idea that I would be working with their competitors, but neither wanted to stymie my ability to do work and thrive in this economy.

Previously, I had one client who didn't want us to work with anyone else in their industry in Maine (which is tough), and on the other side of the spectrum, I have clients who want us to have experience in their industry, even if it means we're helping their competition.

As I often do, I threw the question to my contacts and others on LinkedIn: How do you handle working with clients who compete against each other?

I got some amazing answers from a wide variety of people. Here are some of my favorite quotes, but I do recommend that if you've been struggling with this, that you check out the entire thread:

There is no inherent conflict in providing SEO consulting for competitors that I can see. The only time that I would worry about a conflict in a vertical is if you use proprietary information or confidential information about one client to help another. —William Thomas

My gut tells me that their competition is not really your problem. You treat each client with equal respect and offer equal service and it's really none of their business who you do business with. A client should have no right to tell you who you can and cannot do business with, so I say no to the premium since you should have the right to do business with whomever you choose. —Steve Clifton

Because Blue Moon is a small firm, we've avoided the issue by giving ALL clients exclusives: as long as we're working with an organization, we won't work with any competing organizations in that market. This helps us set ourselves apart from larger firms – and keeps life interesting! —Alex Hayes

My view is that there isn't any conflict because you're not using inside knowledge to help the other. The seo, smm and website process is similar no matter who the client is. The advantage to you in working with several clients in one industry is a better understanding of how it works, identifying keywords etc. If you ask enough questions,dig deep enough (which Im sure you do) you'll find one area that is unique for each client that you can leverage and build on for their marketing. —Stacie Chalmers

We have a unique situation where we offer email marketing software (private label and public) to business and ad agencies. We don't do any exclusives, but we obviously don't share trade secrets. We simply feel we offer a service that companies can use, even if they're in competition with each other. —Josh Nason

The non-compete is always a difficult call because while it does limit business growth, it can also result in undo/unwarranted client paranoia. Charging a premium — or fee for category exclusivity — is an option but also opens you up to greater fee scrutiny. —Chris Kast

What is the cost to your business of the exclusivity? that's probably of no concern to your client, however, but an issue for you as business owner. —Lynnelle Wilson

Initially, you have to ask yourself if the two clients are vying for the same consumer in the same markets. If the services/products are the same, but the consumers are different, then I don’t see any conflict. If, however, both clients are trying to attract the same consumers, in the same market, with the same products/services, then you have a potential conflict. —Dave Wood

I encourage clients to think of competitors as someone to work with rather than against.  —Rhonda Hess

There really doesn't seem to be one right answer, and the type of service you offer definitely figures into how you view this situation. What's your take on this? How do you handle similar situations in your own business?

Rich Brooks
Small Business Owner

Photo credit: Matti Mattila