Remember back in the day when school or course work involved a dreaded group assignment? Invariably this always meant covering for the straggler in your group, or cowering to the group leader, who wanted everything done their way.
Group work teaches students patience and coordination skills and gives schoolyard leaders and doers a chance to shine. Does it create the best outcomes in terms of actual work produced? We’d need a teacher to weigh in on that one.
But, enter the corporate world, and suddenly teamwork is vital for a company’s success. Enter systems and processes, work in progress meetings and KPIs, and your tasks are used to measure your own success, as well as that of the greater company good. Everyone pulls their weight, and the larger goals at hand are achieved. Theoretically at least.
Then consider entrepreneurial types like sole traders, start-ups and small business owners. Left on our own we can enjoy modest success, and achieve milestones for sure, but by collaborating with other business owners, we can achieve so much more. Why is this the case? And how is this kind of collaboration different to school group work or teamwork within a company?
As a Marketing & Communications Consultant, I’m looking at this through the lens of a sole trader, but also with marketing and comms in mind. After 4 years as a Sole Trader, before setting up and growing a company, collaboration was the key to producing solid, professional work and winning referrals.
- We’re independent self-starters.
There’s no need to worry about the straggler when everyone collaborating is fired up and wants to work hard to achieve.
- Our livelihoods are on the line
Collaborations need to make effective use of time when you’re using unbillable hours for new business initiatives. Not everything will work out, but you want to move quickly, test, and move up or move on.
- We’re not watching the clock
When you are your own boss, there’s no such thing as sighing when you’re stuck in a team meeting and your watch says it’s 3pm, but you wish it was 5pm and you’re ready to go home. Your time is yours to manage. If you want to knock off at 3pm, you can. You know the times of the day or the kinds of activities most likely to spur on creativity and collaborative spirit.
For me the thoughts seem to flow when I’m under the shower, or when I’m pushing my toddler in his stroller. It’s because there is movement, and movement creates energy and change.
If collaborating is on your agenda, but you aren’t sure where to get started, here are some things to consider:
Put your customers first
No business can be all things to all people, but we can listen to our clients and think about the kinds of services that may provide value, outside our own skill set. Let their needs be the guide. If we can think of someone who is able to solve the client’s problems, this may be a wonderful person to collaborate with. Provide an introduction and suggest teaming up on future projects.
While planning in the shower or calls while pushing a stroller may not appeal to you, it is worth embracing the times of the day when your brain is firing with ideas. For some it is while exercising at 4am, for others it’s when the house is still at midnight. Take a notebook, or record your ideas on your phone, and think about who you could partner with to provide greater value to your clients. Remember to take action afterwards, by contacting the person you wish to collaborate with to share your ideas and explain why it’s of value to them. Not sure who to contact? Consider conventional in-person networking events (when possible again) or connecting online.
Networking is a pretty obvious solution, but it isn’t always possible to get out to networking events, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. Try picking a few hashtags instead and follow those on LinkedIn and Instagram. The more specific the better. Engage and follow others with the same interest or specialisation by liking or commenting. Collaboration isn’t about asking for free stuff, it’s about working together towards a common goal. If an idea jumps out at you, send a DM and just make sure there is value there for the person you’re contacting.
What kinds of collaboration tactics work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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