This post was originally published on Virgin.com
In our super connected world, collaboration has quickly become the norm as it changes the way we approach technology, business and even handle our money. From Uber to Kickstarter to Airbnb, sharing and collaboration is now the norm…
This way of doing things has been termed by some as the “collaborative economy” where a system has been built around the sharing of human and physical resources including creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services.
This shift to a collaborative economy opens up new possibilities for small businesses. Where competition may once have existed, there’s much more willingness to team up to reach mutual business goals and openness to new possibilities. Collaboration is good for business, especially the smallest of start-ups as they are no longer limited by geography or competitive concerns. Today, sharing ideas, resources and even profits, can help small businesses succeed faster.
Finding informal ways to team up
There are many ways start-ups can approach collaboration, starting with finding informal ways to team up with related businesses. One of the simplest ways is to get to know other business owners that have the services or skills also needed by your customers.
For example, if you are a graphic designer, having copywriters that you trust and can refer them to is the start of a collaboration. On the flip side, copywriters also need graphic designers, so you can be added to their list of preferred partners. Creating a give and take scenario will result in great working relationships and benefits clients as they know they are able to find the right service providers.
You can also look for ways to co-market with like-minded business owners through special events, both online and offline. In this model, each party can bring their respective skills and clients list to the mix, building a big and focused audience. For a brick and mortar or local business, you may want to hold a live event or fundraiser, while with an online business, you may want to co-host a webinar or virtual class. Being able to market the event to both businesses’ audience creates a win-win situation that helps distribute the workload in the process.
“Creating more work with little return for your business is a situation you want to avoid at all costs, and is all too common with collaboration.”
Identify bigger opportunities for collaborating
By starting out with more informal ways of collaborating, you’ll be able to better identify opportunities for more formal collaboration such as affiliate marketing or even a partnership.
With affiliate marketing, you offer specific partners who market your product or service a commission for sales made through them. If you are a business coach offering a program, either in-person or online, you could offer related businesses a specific percentage of sales made by their business. This helps you extend your marketing while saving the time and effort of finding new audiences. The key to great affiliate marketing is making it dead easy for your partners to share your stuff with tools, materials and regular communication.
Eventually, as you continue to collaborate, you may find someone that you adore working with or that you see more possibilities for how you can team up. In that case, it may be time to create a joint venture. In this model, you’ll need to do a lot of work to identify a market need, the terms of the agreement, how profits will be split and even agree on terms of exiting the agreement. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one, so in many cases a joint venture can create new opportunities and revenue streams for your business if done right.
Getting ready for a powerful collaboration
Before embarking on any collaboration activities with like-minded businesses, take the time to get very clear on what the benefits to your business will be and ensure it will help your business grow in some way. Creating more work with little return for your business is a situation you want to avoid at all costs, and is all too common with collaboration.
Once you are sure you want to proceed with either an informal or formal collaboration, look at your internal systems and requirements. From how much time you or your team is likely to spend on this collaboration to how you’ll manage all the different aspects of collaborating including technology, weekly check-ins and more. Understanding your internal processes, as well as limitations can help you determine exactly what you need from a new hire to creating a process for customer service before you start collaborating.
Having a clear internal picture will help you approach your collaboration with an accurate understanding of what you bring to the table, how you can best work together, and more.
Collaboration can be extremely powerful for a small business, but clearly knowing what’s in it for your company and what you can expect will help you choose the right type of collaboration, get ready for it, and ensure success.
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