In the past year or two, I have sat in many a small business fora, formal or informal and noted the usual complaints of lack of business capital, access to credit, economic downturn, increase in fuel charges, anxiety relating to impending inflation etc. The answer to many small business problems in part, lies in collaborating. It is timely for small businesses to work together within this competitive business environment, where larger companies are strategizing on become more competitive through barriers to entry, threats of substitutes, bargaining power etc. In this regard, I have also observed that larger firms are moving away from enclosed offices to more open plans where staff interaction is encouraged by working together and collaborate in an effort to achieve more collectively than individually.

An individual with a vision can champion a business idea, however, its takes a collaboration of many persons to make it a success. The solution lies in working collaboratively, thereby benefiting from shared competencies, multi-disciplinary skills, shared earnings and ultimately economics of scale. From a business point of view, if collaboration is done effectively, increase in sales and profit margins can be attained and the power of numbers, as is often said ‘unity is strength’ holds true.

Fostering symbiotic relationships with other likeminded business through formal partnerships or informally collaborative agreements is an effective way of attain your goals while sharing and learning as your company grows. It is therefore prudent when considering collaboration to ponder on the following:

  • Can the sector/industry accommodate the scope of collaboration?
  • Does my business support a culture of collaboration?
  • What is my business objectives for collaboration?
  • Where and how can the business collaborate?
  • What data, intellectual property or resources can be shared?
  • What internal resources/skills do we have?

These are a few collaborative initiatives that I have been involved with at one time or another and have found to be very successful:

Join an online entrepreneur’s group and plan meetup activity

The vision for online groups normally starts with someone extending an invitation to join or a recommendation from a friend. Explore the suggestion, read about the group in the ‘about us’ section. If this group is an open group you may be able to read posts as well as comments that will provide useful information on the type of group discussions and analyses that are regularly posted. Once you have decided to join the group ensure you understand and uphold the group etiquette in posting and responding to comments. These groups are normally platforms for business referrals, word of mouth advertising, marketing and business tips as well as product reviews. Good ideas come from all over, so the more views and opinions you receive will aid informed decision making. If a meet up has not been suggested, perhaps you may suggest one, taking into consideration all the safety tips regarding meeting with online contacts in person.

Know the Products/Services that you are NOT offering

Always be willing to forward business opportunities to others, we cannot all do everything! As you find your niche, know well the products/services that you are not offering. These business opportunities should be forwarded to your colleagues who are experts and who could deliver excellence. Savvy business networkers know well that by pointing your network/colleagues to opportunities, you are also expanding your network. It comes down to the old adage, and I would put my spin on it when you give ‘business opportunity’ you get ‘business’.

Tap into Informal Association

You may coincidentally meet a new business contact, who shares similar views on business, economy, risk, solutions etc., what do you do about it? Do you smile every time that persons comes to mind, or do you develop a business relationship whereby you can collaborate on issues, share information and add value to both your end users? In exploring the possibility for collaboration, you should include this new company into your network through social media, extending invitations to networking events, seminars, workshops, speaking engagements, thereby providing your company with new, yet informal opportunities for networking.

Buy Local

From a business strategy point of view, a small business can develop a policy of using the services of local suppliers as much as possible in the development of their product offering. Further, these strategies may fit into government policies for the development of new startup, thereby creating other benefits to companies who adopt such strategies. A study entitled ‘The Collaboration Imperative: Strategies for Unlocking Your Organization’s True Potential, 2011″ revealed that ‘the average return on collaboration is four times the initial investment’ (Ricci and Weise).This is a result of cost avoidance and reduction, business optimization and faster business decisions.

Fill the gaps in industry / sector knowledge

Your idea for a business may represent a small part of that industry’s knowledge. Through collaboration an entrepreneur is exposed to critical information and lessons learnt that can refine what business you’re in by taking a fresher look through your strategy window.

Increase Competitive Advantage – Increase market share

Through collaboration, companies’ market share can increase, as they join forces in developing projects. There will be an overlap of customer databases as they ensure that the project become successful. Each company will gain brand awareness and exposure within the other’s market. This will result in competitive advantage for both companies as sales increases and avenues for showcases products or services offered increase.

The downside to collaboration must be stated, many persons have been suffering in silence and grumbling in open spaces as they have to deal with company polices of networking and industry collaboration. Many people believe that collaboration hinders personal growth and promotion. Harvard Business Review’s cover story on “collaborative overload”; and Cal Newport of Georgetown University who have written on “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” claims that ‘deep work is difficult, if not impossible in the highly distracted work environment of today.

Collaboration is great for small businesses, however, it important to always strike a balance in the time allotted for collaboration and dedicated time for thinking and finding business solutions. Start small, think of your network and reach out to a complementary business today!