Alright stop, collaborate and listen
Now I have Vanilla Ice playing in your head, let’s talk Collaboration.
I’ve just spent 7 years working in the wedding industry as a celebrant, and hand to heart, I would not have had the success I had without some very significant collaborations. Small business can be quite isolating, especially when you’re the sole proprietor of that business. There are no Christmas parties, there are no corporate events, there’s no backup, and without collaborations with other businesses, you very quickly can feel as though you are on an island.
There have been collaborations that have been amazing for my business, however, there have been some that have ended in stress and the breakdown of friendships. Here’s what I learned, why I found some valuable and some hard.
While some small business owners can’t quite stomach collaborating with people they are in direct competition with, I personally love it. Firstly, you can’t have all the business, there’s the practicality of it actually being impossible for one person to have ALL the business, and to be fair, you probably don’t want it. There is some business that’s better suited with other people, and there is some business you are simply unable to service due to availability etc.
Another benefit to being close to your direct competition is you have backup and support if needed. I know within the wedding industry, lots of service providers have trusted businesses they call on if they are unwell and therefore unable to get to a wedding, or if they have an emergency or need assistance on the day. After a few years in the Celebrant industry, I can easily say that what started out as competitive businesses, have actually ended up being my closest friends. And that there, is what I have found to be the key.
In terms of profitable collaborations, the best and most lucrative ones are ones I have with other vendors, especially photographers. The ones I have the best relationships with I directed my clients too and vice versa. On a few occasions we collaborated directly to deliver services as a team, sharing the profits and the follow-on effects of the publicity that the collaboration generated.
There have been other collaborations that haven’t worked as well but taught me some really valuable things about my business, and the way I work with people.
Trust is key. Seek to collaborate with people that you genuinely know, if you see their business and see the collaboration opportunity, take the time to getting to know them before committing to the collaboration. Observe how they work with other business’ and keep an eye on their integrity and their personal ethics. If there is a value alignment, and if you feel there is trust, then give it a try. I’ve found the best collaborations have been with businesses where we were both so eager to work together, we would have done it for free.
Thanks to social media there are some really aesthetically appealing businesses, and we all work hard to build followings and make connections, and I feel that in 2019, with all this ‘connection’ we owe it to the success of our businesses to actually connect. It has to go beyond aesthetics. Seek to ensure you have that mutual understanding and respect prior to engaging in a collaboration.
Small business can be cutthroat, and some people are malicious, and sometimes your feelings can get hurt. When money and people’s livelihoods are involved that’s making them vulnerable, and things can go south really quickly, so another key to a success in collaboration is communication.
Be clear from the outset about the financial aspects of the collaboration. You owe it to your business to have details in writing regarding how you plan to divide profits and share associated costs. Money disputes, the value one places on time, and financial expectations place a lot of pressure on a project, so set this up in the beginning when things are good, to help avoid disputes later.
For me, the times where things have ended badly, the issue has always been communication. Very often people can be put offside with business “partners” and don’t come straight out and discuss the issue for fear of the repercussion, or the desire to avoid conflict. I know personally that had discussions been had prior to the collaboration coming to an end, at the very least both parties could have avoided heartache and the eventual breakdown of the relationship entirely.
Try making a commitment to your co-collaborator/s that if an issue arises, you will all address it directly, professionally, and as rationally as possible. All players may not live up to this, but if this is the way you conduct your business, at least you will know that you have operated with integrity.
Think seriously before diving in to a collaboration, and make sure you actually do have the time and capacity to commit to the desired outcomes of all parties. When you are entrepreneurial in nature it is easy to get swept away over a glass of wine with a friend and come up with the world’s best business idea, when realistically these types of decisions need to be made pragmatically and with a clear head. Ask yourself, do I really have time to commit to this project, do I have the ability to be direct and authentic with my co-collaborator, and if this all falls apart, what effect would that have on the relationship, and myself as a person?