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Collaboration: The Secret Weapon for small business growth

For solo consultants and micro business owners collaboration can deliver that essential competitive advantage providing one of the fastest, most efficient routes to growing their business.

The benefits of collaboration include

Increased reach and Credibility

Cost and Time savings

And, competitive advantage. in delivering the best product and service mix to customers enabling you to win more business.

This article lets you explore if collaboration is right for you, where to look for partners and how to make it work for your business.

Is Collaboration right for your business?

Start by asking yourself these questions

  • What are your goals?

  • What do your customers need?

  • What are your weaknesses/limitations/gaps within your current business?

Whilst weaknesses & gaps could be addressed through 'build it' or 'buy it', would collaboration enable you to get there quicker and cheaper?

A great question to ask yourself is ‘What happens if I do nothing? Is the current pace of growth right for you – if not, collaboration may be a useful option.

When looking for partners, consider

  • What is my value as a partner? What could I bring to the table?

  • What do I need/ expect of a partner?

How well would the organisations 'fit' together -

  • Strategically: Are their vision and goals aligned to yours?

  • Operationally : Do their resources, capabilities and geographic reach complement your own. Are they active/visible within your target market?

  • Chemistry: Do their values & ethics match yours? and would you enjoy working with this person?

When approaching potential collaborators its essential you are able to answer their big WIIFM (What’s in it for me) question.

A successful collaboration will delivers great results for all parties.

Looking for partners – the Complements, the Parallels and the Competition

When thinking of effective partnerships, it’s easy to focus on Complements; those businesses that sit alongside you in the customers mind. Think Web designers & Copywriters, Hairdressers & Beauticians. These are a natural source of collaboration, although it is a well-trodden path.

The Parallels groups requires you to think laterally – businesses who serve the same customers but sit in different compartments in their minds. – Think Web designers and Sign writers, Hairdressers and Dog groomers.

This type of collaboration is less expected by the customer and increases the chances of grabbing their attention. Look out for other businesses you admire, or local 'favourites' how could you provide value to them and their customers.

Whilst you might shy away from the final group – Competitors, working together can be valuable to raise awareness, grow overall market demand or expand your geographic reach.

Some practical ways to collaborate include

Social media support – re-tweets on twitter, likes & comments on LinkedIn – helping to extend the reach beyond your own networks and gain higher visibility.

Referrals – Sharing resources and business information in a referral ready format.

Guest posting on each other’s blogs or providing interviews for vlogs or podcasts – bringing new expertise to your audience and extending your own reach.

Co-Marketing – Promoting each other’s products/services with partner offers/vouchers. Hosting joint events or sharing exhibition space. You could combine your email mailing lists and send out a joint promotions.

Cross selling each other’s products or Developing new joint product/service offers.

Tendering for Contracts - Combining your business offers in order to bid for larger or broader scope contracts.

Before you begin - Get it in writing!

To create a meaningful collaboration, where both parties actively contribute you should have a written understanding that sets out -

  • Who is doing what?

  • Who is paying for what?

  • Who is being paid what?

  • What level of confidentiality is required?

Collaborations can be ongoing or a fixed time and may only include certain parts of your business. Being clear at the beginning is essential to maintaining a healthy long-term relationship.

As well as growth, collaborations can provide some much-needed inspiration and opportunities to learn plus potential cost/resource savings. Yet before you dash out searching for partners, think carefully, is this the right time for you. The work involved in setting up a formal collaboration can be considerable and could become a distraction from your main business focus.

If you identify an opportunity to collaborate make sure that you are clear on what is expected and what the predicted outcome will be for each party. – Picking your collaborators wisely will ensure that the rewards justify your investment.


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