Collaboration isn’t a dirty word.

Did you know that the coyotes and badgers in the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, join forces and skills to hunt ground squirrels? The Coyotes scout for squirrels and signal the badgers, the badgers burrow and wait underground in tunnels. If the squirrels go underground they can get trapped in dead end tunnels, where the badgers corner them. And if they escape and go above ground the Coyotes will get them. And that’s just one of hundreds of examples of collaboration in the wild.

Collaboration isn’t just for the wild. We mere humans have the ability to think more deeply and constructively on multiply ways we can successfully collaborate.

World War II collaborations were mostly seen as a negative thing but for us small businesses we can think of collaboration as word that means: to work together to create something much greater than if you worked alone. With the right elements in collaboration “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

From what I’ve seen, small businesses don’t collaborate enough. Most likely because they don’t know how too and/ or they’re too busy running their businesses. Maybe there is even some fear around stealing ideas.

The truth is that no individual creates business success by working alone. No CEO creates a successful company without utilising the skills and talent of their staff, suppliers and clients. No company has enough capital or expertise to go it alone. We all need others to help us get to where we want to go and they need us too.

Essentially collaboration should give all parties leverage. You can collaborate by forming joint ventures, strategic alliances, sharing skills/ knowledge/ expertise, cross promoting, co-creating and there are various other mutually beneficial relationships you could try.

Here’s a handful of collaborating ideas for small businesses:

  • Make unique and compelling offers to each other’s database
  • Co-create new products/ services
  • Brainstorm for new opportunities to meet the needs and wants of each other’s clients
  • Pool assets into R&D projects
  • Create partnership marketing strategies
  • Bundle your services and/ or bundle your products
  • Borrow credibility through associating with each other
  • Collaborative problem solving
  • Act as a brains trust for one another’s business
  • If you’re more tactical and detailed meet regularly with someone who’s more strategic and a big thinker or vice versa
  • Exchange of resources – people, knowledge, money, time etc

Collaboration starts with you, the person whether you’re self-employed, employed, man or woman, or run an organisation. The right mindset is required because this is not an individual activity.

Having the right elements for successful collaborations, there must be:

  • Trust and open communication between all parties
  • Intentions must be aligned; all must want the same/similar outcomes
  • All parties hold themselves accountable for making things happen
  • All take responsibility for actions, inactions, outcomes positive or not
  • The focus is on the “team” working together for a common goal

It doesn’t matter if there’s money, time, energy, knowledge, people, expertise or some other resource that is exchanged as long as the exchange is an all-round win win and as close to equal value for all parties participating.

If you’re running a business and want to collaborate more, be on the lookout for synergistic relationships. This could be in the form of: those that share a similar target market to you (e.g. Corporates) but may or may not be in competition to you.

It could be those that have strengths to match your weakness and their weaknesses match your strengths. Think synergy; “think how can they help me and how can I help them?”, Think, “what do I need/ want, what do they need/ want?”, Think “what is missing in my product/ service offering that I can collaborate with another on?”.

Do you think collaboration happens enough in small business? What has been your experience? Please leave your comments below.