Three Reasons To Ditch Comparison In Your Business And What To Do Instead

Emma Bowdler | The Women's Accountant

Emma Bowdler

I’m a cheerleader for women and an accountant bursting with personality. 

They say that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, but we think that sneaky bastard’s rap sheet is far longer than that.

Whether it shows up as that nagging feeling that you’re not doing / earning / posting / producing ‘enough’ or whether it shows up as always looking to others to help you confirm you’re ‘on the right track’, comparison is that nasty little thief of all things good in business.

Here are three reasons why it’s time to ditch the comparison, and what to do instead.

1. It’s Misleading

When you’re trying to run your own show, it can be tempting to keep an eye on the ‘competition’. We watch on with curiosity (or resentment) at the *turning over six figures business coach* over here and the *growing by thousands of followers a day lifestyle brand* over there. And while it’s sometimes useful to take a look around and check that you have a point of difference to help you stand out in your market, the thing is: you can never know exactly what goes on behind closed office doors

As accountants, we see this all the time. The entrepreneur projecting wild success to the world but who’s actually in tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. The business owner cruising around town in the latest Mercedes, yet they’re going through a nasty divorce and are in the process of splitting up all their assets. The boss with a ‘six figure business’ who’s paying themselves below minimum wage and spending all of their money on advertising. Things are not always as they seem. 

Even when people proclaim to be showing the ‘BTS’ or the not so good parts, they’re still heavily curated. You can truly never know what is going on behind closed office doors. 

You do not know their overheads. You do not know how many hours they are putting in. You do not know how much help they have. You do not know where they’ve come from and what’s truly motivating them. The fact is — you do not know a lot of things when you try to compare — and so we must be careful not to fill in the gaps by doing that thing that makes an ass out of ‘u’ and me.

2. It’s Notoriously Inaccurate

Another reason why comparison and just ‘taking a look around’ at what everyone else is doing is a whole lotta pointless is that, just like your pelvic floor after a coupla kids, no two businesses will ever be the same. 

Sure, they might be in the same industry, but the way they approach their work is different. They might share a target audience, but how they see the ‘problem’ they’re solving for their customers will be different. They might even have a similar structure or business model, but their name, branding, logo, tone of voice, and the channels they use to communicate with their audience will be different. Your business, just like you, is unique.

And while businesses share common challenges and often you can find a great deal of comfort, support and camaraderie in bonding over these shared challenges, there are so many subtleties and nuances to running your business that it can be entirely unhelpful to ‘plug and play’ solutions or strategies that have been successful for others. You need to find what works best for you, with your specific business model, target audience, overheads, and needs.

Three Reasons To Ditch Comparison In Your Business And What To Do Instead

3. It’s Distracting

When you spend a good chunk of your time comparing yourself to other people’s achievements, not only are you using up precious time that you probably don’t have in the first place, but you also forget to stop and smell the metaphorical roses in your own back garden (aka all the wins you actually are having in your business). 

So busy wondering (or worrying) why another service provider has a far bigger following than you? You missed the fact that you have built some really special and meaningful connections with your followers. 

Trying to figure out how they seem to keep getting nominated for awards and you don’t? Take that time and use it to research and apply for one yourself.

Annoyed that you keep launching products to crickets when others are selling out instantly? Look at how much you’ve learned about getting a product to market and share the #fail. 

Comparison robs you of celebrating what’s actually happening in your business, or taking the necessary steps to improve it.

But Wait, Is Comparison Really Such A Bad Thing?

Before we dive into what to do instead, it’s worth stating that comparison is a completely normal thing for our brains to do. We are pattern making machines, always looking for dots to join and sense to make. In fact, Psychology Today research has found that more than 10% of our daily thoughts involve making a comparison of some kind. But not all comparisons are made equal…

Now we’re not in a men’s locker room here, but still — there are the types of comparisons we make to others (social comparison), comparisons that have us imagining ‘what might have been’ (counterfactual comparison), and even comparing our present to past or future circumstances (temporal comparison). 

But Wait, Is Comparison Really Such A Bad Thing?

Comparisons can be fact-based or simulation-based, where we make assumptions and fill in the gaps by our clever little selves. There are even what are called ‘upward’ and ‘downward’ type comparisons, where we compare in order to trigger self-improvement (upward) or when we try to regulate or recalibrate our mood to feel better (or let’s be honest — worse), which is a type of ‘downward’ comparison. 

Ok, so that’s all a bit complicated for these accountants to decipher, but the long of the short of it is: we need to find alternative ways to leave the unhelpful and futile types of comparison behind and find other meaningful measures for taking stock in our businesses.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Unpack What And Why You Are Comparing

Are you looking around at others because you are genuinely curious about how they’re doing things and you can’t wait to learn and find a way to achieve those goals yourself? Or are you looking around because you want to beat yourself up about not being ‘good enough’, ‘hard-working enough’, ‘smart enough’, ‘organised enough’, [insert insecurity here] enough.

Do you have a tendency to want to compare when you’re feeling down or tired or particularly flat? Or do you love to compare when you’re flying high and you want to spur yourself to even greater heights?

And each time you do compare your business to someone else’s, what is it that you are comparing? The size of their email list? How they do their Instagram reels? How much revenue they generate? How often they bring new products out? How many hours a week they seem to spend doing yoga? And instead of finding out the answer to those questions, have a think about what the question itself could be telling you about what’s important to you or perhaps what you are craving more of in your business.

Unpack What And Why You Are Comparing

2. Set And Smash Your Own Goals

Recently, we saw a Facebook thread with a business owner asking if their email open rates were any good, and if not, what they were doing wrong. A bunch of people jumped in, sharing ‘30%’, ‘55%’, ‘17%’ or whatever their magic number was before a few experienced digital marketers jumped in and said: it depends, on your industry and the size of your list and the frequency of your emails and, and, and

It’s just like when someone asks us ‘what is a good net profit margin to aim for?’ The answer is always a very unsatisfactory: it depends. That’s because your business is UNIQUE and also because data is subjective and nuanced.

While industry benchmarks can be useful to give us some context for our goals and strategic objectives, as we know — no two businesses are the same — and we should be trying to compete with ourselves, not with her and certainly not with him. We recommend that you set your own goals, based on where you want to go and the kind of business (and life) you are trying to create, and compare against those instead.

Set And Smash Your Own Goals

3. Stay Open To What Is Emergent

We often talk about running a business being a bit like a race; if you spend too much time jostling for position, you will lose sight of the finish line. Comparison is fundamentally distracting. It’s like shiny object syndrome for businesses.

It encourages you to keep your attention ‘out there,’ rather than ‘in here’ where the magic happens. While it’s important to remember that competition can drive you forward and motivate you to show up, comparison will stop you in your tracks. 

Instead, stay open and curious about what new insights are emerging, how you can continue to innovate and shake things up in your industry and what is really lighting you up. Ain’t nobody gonna steal that joy away!

Need More Help? 

Questioning whether or not you need more staff ultimately means your business is growing. Congratulations! That is what most business owners want.  

If you want support to decide whether or not now is the right time to hire, or you need a little help with your financial forecasting – book a free growth strategy session with The Women’s Accountant today! 

Numbers to Nail for Every Woman In Business 💅

Numbers to Nail for Every Woman In Business 💅

Numbers to Nail for Every Woman In Business 💅 From profit margin to cash flow, master these key metrics and put yourself in the driver’s seat to business profitability, freedom and sustainable growth. Emma BowdlerI’m a cheerleader for women and an accountant bursting...

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