7 Essential Tips To Avoid Business Collaboration Disaster


Men business partners working on laptop cafeIt’s great being a micro business owner.

You’re fast, nimble and flexible. And you can add LOTS of value to clients and customers in your specialist field. But what do you do when you’re faced with the possibility of losing work because you cannot offer a client the full range of skills and experience that they need?

You can collaborate.

Let me explain…

It’s really common for small businesses, especially individual freelancers, to collaborate.

Collaboration is great for you because it gives you the capacity to bid for larger contacts, and the flexibility to enhance your own expertise with others with relevant skills.

It means that you can tailor the service you offer exactly to match the clients’ need and offer the type of flexibility and bespoke service that gives you the edge over the more cumbersome large corporate machines.

Here’s how to make collaborations work for you…

1.  Remember your 3 “Rs”

For collaboration to work, there needs to be a sense of mutual benefit.

You can use the ‘three R’ checklist to test whether the relationship is equal, or suffering from imbalance. And whether or not it’s a collaboration you want to pursue.

  1. Rewards
  2. Risk
  3. Responsibilities

For example you should avoid collaborations where one person takes all the risk and another takes all the rewards.

2.  Share the love 🙂

Partnerships, like all relationships need love to make them work!

It might help to think of such collaborations like a romantic relationship.  The first step is to get yourself ready (looking in the mirror….) Be clear what you want out of the relationship, and what your needs are.  Then be honest about your potential collaborator – do they really make your heart sing, or are they just the nearest  / first / cheapest offer?  Then spend time getting to know each other, before formalising the relationship.  Just like a marriage it makes sense to get the lawyers involved if you start sharing property, legal responsibility, or finances in any sort of collaborative relationship.  Even once the relationship is formalised, you need to make an effort to keep your partner interested, and develop the relationship. Be ready to forgive each other, learn from each other, or change the work you do together.  Don’t let things get stale: make a plan for an annual review, and give each other the chance to back out gracefully before things get unpleasant.

3.  Communicate and treat others as you want to be treated

Reflect on the people that you love to work with, and the relationships that make you feel positive about your own business.  Think about what those people do, how they communicate with you, what kind of communication methods, language or habits they have to develop their relationship with you… and learn from them.  It takes time to build relationships and once established it takes time to nurture them.  Charities make a real efforts to build relationships with their donors, and prioritise thanking existing supporters.  As small business we need to do the same; find ways of showing our appreciation to those who support us, or work with us.

4.  Get permission and be specific

Don’t imply that you have the support of another company or individual unless you actually have it.  If some one gives you a good recommendation, make sure that they’re happy for you to share it. (LinkedIn is a great platform for this as all the recommendations are automatically in the public domain). Don’t just append another freelancer’s CV to a bid for work without their specific permission! Remember to ‘renew’ that permission for each and every bid, or negotiate some sort of general permission.

5.  Give feedback

If you don’t want to work with someone, or having worked with them you’ve been disappointed – find a kind way to honestly give feedback.  Equally if someone has been brilliant – tell them! Be generous with your praise… it costs you very little, but may well help a colleague.  If you make a habit of giving positive feedback to others, they are very likely to repay the favour and help you improve your reputation!

6.  Be upfront about talking about money

Swallow your pride and talk money at the start.  It saves a lot of uncomfortable silence or misunderstanding later on.  If you want someone to work for free to help you bid for work, be clear about that… but be clear too about what they’ll get if your bid is successful!

7.  Get personal

In small business personal relationships matter.  Be really careful to only work with or recommend those who are known personally to you, and whom you trust; your reputation depends on it. I’ve been amazed at how bad customer service can be in some micro businesses – especially when you know that the individual IS the business. They don’t have the excuse of  corporate façade to hide behind, and as a customer you’re more likely to take personal offence at bad service.

What do you think?

How have you used collaboration to benefit your micro business? How did you ensure the partnerships that you created work? Please please me know in the comments below.

Book Club:  Harrison, Partnerships made painless

The relationship analogy (above) is based on the work of Harrison.  This book describes in some detail each of the 5 stages (1. Getting ready, 2. First date,  3. Formalising the relationship, 4. Keeping the relationship going, and 5. A graceful ending) and poses really useful and pertinent questions to help you keep on track at each stage.

The book strikes a great balance between being academically rigorous, with lots of useful references, but also is totally accessible.   I’ve found this model works particularly well in helping people about whether they are in the process, or where relationships have gone wrong.  The warnings about being sure of your partner before you formalise the relationship, should also be taken seriously by microbizzers or freelancers who are thinking of taking any sort of legal steps towards more permanent collaborations.

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micro business actionToday’s Micro Action

Think about those who you’ve worked with in the past year who you’ve worked successfully with – how can you find ways of showing appreciation to those people who have supported you or encouraged you?  Could you make positive feedback to colleagues a more routine part of your business habits?