About 10 years ago I opened the Tucson Business Club, a professional referral group. I knew nothing about networking at the time. In fact, I had never been part of a referral group or even attended a single networking event. I had a lot to learn.

Wayne Weld was my biggest competitor. He ran a competing referral group and held monthly networking mixers. He also organized a large annual mixer called the Chocolate Rock & Roll Event. He was well-connected and respected in the community. Weld was the networking icon in Tucson.

I decided to organize a collaborative mixer called the Big Networking Event. Dozens of the largest business trade associations and Chambers of Commerce participated, bringing their members together for one evening of networking. With just one week to go before the first event, I knew I needed Weld’s help organizing the vendor tables, registration and other logistics. What developed is a great business relationship, and an even better friendship.

Weld and I organized a total of eight annual Big Networking Events together, and every event sold out. Our largest event was attended by more than 1,200 people. Prior to our Big Networking Events, none of the business trade associations worked together. It was more of a competitive culture, as opposed to a collaborative one. The Big Networking Event changed all of that, and many of those associations still work together today.

Over the years, Weld shared with me everything he knew about running networking groups, events and good networking practices. We conducted networking workshops and referred business to each other. We launched a new referral group for real estate related service providers, and Weld helped me write my first book on generating referrals.

Weld and I spent thousands of hours together and became the best of friends. He taught me many valuable lessons. Do you have a great relationship with one of your competitors?

Bill Nordbrock is vice president of community relations for SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment. For information, go to southernarizona.score.org, send an email to mentoring@scoresouthernaz.org or call 505-3636.