I don’t drink coffee, but I’m ecstatic about the $25-million deal between megabrand Starbucks and well-known mobile payments startup Square. Here’s why:

  1. It’s meaningful collaboration. I’m a firm believer in collaboration over competition. Starbucks had an app that allowed customers to pay through their mobile phones, but they were still open to new technologies and ideas on how to improve their business, as all companies should be.
  2. It’s making everyone think about mobile payments. When Starbucks makes an investment, other businesses, large and small, pay attention.
  3. It’s a solution working to improve operational efficiency and customer experience. Square decreases the time it takes to complete a transaction and automatically sorts the data. More transactions, well-sorted, in less time. It’s a win-win-win.

So, what can your small business take away from this multimillion-dollar deal? You need to implement a review of your strategic plan and operations. Here are three things to evaluate right now:

1. Collaborative opportunitiesYou may not have millions to invest in a collaborative venture with a startup, but it doesn’t require that type of investment. Collaboration can be large or small. Look into startups, free agents, and cloud solutions. Spend time identifying challenges and opportunities within your business (i.e., a need for differentiated packaging, data storage, higher conversion from online discovery to offline purchase) that may be enhanced by a relationship with one of the organizations you discover.
2. Customer experience differentiators

Starbucks is still a coffee shop, but it avoids being “just” a coffee shop by offering CDs, promoting local events, selling water bottles and gifts, and installing free Wi-Fi, in addition to spending millions on ambiance and decor.Now, they are touting their mobile tech hip factor with Square. I’d venture to guess that at any given moment, at least half the customers in a local Starbucks are interacting with their phone or tablet. These customers are tweeting, checking Facebook, updating their blogs, and generally using technology to stay connected.So, are you connected to your customers? How can your customer experience reflect their habits and interests? If they normally search online, will they find you? If they do, will they be impressed? What if it’s from their mobile device? What are other meaningful ways to be different without adding tremendous costs to your operations?

3. Operational efficiencyWhat else could Starbucks have implemented to increase the number of transactions in less time? More registers and more employees on duty would help. While the operational inefficiency of this is obvious, it is still an alternative.The question is: are you keeping yourselves abreast of all available options when trying to improve profitability, while also maximizing operational efficiency? It can sometimes be safer, but usually more expensive, to go with a traditional approach. The challenge and buzzword of the decade is “innovation.” Starbucks was considering payment efficiency in the context of mobile usage projections, but there are many others you may want to consider:

  • You are considering an online storefront to increase product sales. You could pay someone to create a customized eCommerce site, which you would then have to learn how to manage, or you could create one in minutes with Goodsie.
  • You have employees working in different programs, producing different types of files, which then need to be converted for various lead generation and cloud storage spaces. You could have someone sit and convert files, or you could use Zapier.
  • You are a service-based company trying to fill inventory. You could offer coupons in the local newspaper, tweet for people to call and book an appointment, or you could implement Book’d and set up a mobile-ready online booking engine in minutes.

Discovering solutions like these can require time-consuming investigation, but there are many sources to help you. Subscribe to email newsletters like Betali.st, Startupli.st, Silicon Prairie News, and TechCrunch. Read the quick value proposition for 30 seconds and decide whether it’s worth further investigation.It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve or find the right collaborators for your brand. Try to expand your thinking to take others’ ideas into account whenever you can. Even a small change can lead to big results.

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