Friday, 17 May 2013

Collaboration - Why Today's Business need to work Together

Collaboration has been around since medieval businesses models first hit our villages. In today's world partnerships, collaborations, Networks, Friends or the myriad of other terms are used to describe when people help each other. These terms are often dressed up as fancy and elaborate schemes that promise to give you hundreds of pounds of business.

The idea is simple, I have a business selling something your customers may want, but you don't provide, therefore that customer is referred to use my services and in turn I would recommend your services to my customers who may be in need. Clear and easy to understand at it's base level. This collaborative approach to working, is immeasurably easier to do if you have a physical location, becoming a big fish in a small pond is easy to do, being a big fish in a national, international or global pond is far more challenging. The main difference is that to break into the scene, the higher up you go, becomes exponentially more difficult.

An illustration as to why this is both neccessary and frustrating; If Amazon was run by one person, and you called them on the phone and arranged a lunch to discuss your business. Agreeing at the end of the lunch they would help to promote your small seaside town gift shop and in turn you would recommend your customers use their online services two things would occur. Firstly you would not even register on their books in terms of referrals, it would be so miniscule to them in turns of sales that they wouldn't waste time in meeting you for lunch. Secondly your business would fall over within minutes, you would sell out of all your products and you would probably have a website downtime lasting weeks. This is because their power is far superior to your own, their influence and reach is millions every day, which shows why there is a Network for each different level.

Whilst this advice is based mainly towards a business with physical location you may still find some of the advice transferable to your online or non domiciled business.  This advice also assumes you are already utilising your own Network, which consists of friends, family and previous colleagues.

The five stage attack to Networks:

- Social Media groups - these are the bedrock of any supportive campaigns for marketing. To not be part of the local community, and be prepared there will be more than you originally thought, is business suicide. You must get involved, keep up to date and ensure that at every opportunity people are talking about your service or products.

- Local Traders Association - There will be a local association, set up mainly to represent the traders interests when discussing items with local authorities and to do some collaborative marketing. If there isn't one then set it up, this is a vital part of any town. You may be put off by meeting the competition but remember competition is not always bad for business, it can in fact improve your foot flow and subsequently your sales.

- National Traders Association - There are organisations like the BNI which run collaborative Networks across the UK to help business market collaboratively and generate direct sales for other members. With over £1billion worth of business handed off through these groups it is well worth considering.

- Professional Body Membership - To become a global player you must be recognised as the pinnacle of your area of expertise. There are officially sanctioned organisations for all niche markets, to become a member may involve many checks and you may not already qualify, but once in you can be assured that it will not only boost your business trust level, it will also improve your Networks.

- Working Partners - Once you are at a very good level you may find business approach you to do partnership schemes, to bundles packages together of products from different businesses, to cross brand promote and also to incorporate your services into an offering they retail. This would all be a good way to expand sales, but be wary of doing your homework, a good partner will boost business but a bad partner will tarnish your own brand.

The Benefits

- Increased sales - Direct sales handed off from other people in your Network.

- Increased sales - Indirect sales from increased brand awareness

- Improved reputation - A mark of trust to be in company of other traders who have loyal customers.

- Improved business process - Identification of any areas of improvement by having someone in your Network can be helpful. They may come across something that benefits you greatly, a new type of equipment or new way of operating, and they consider telling you because there is an open dialogue.

- Information - Local information is hugely important for planning, perhaps new construction activity is being conducted, a local celebration is to happen or a new shop is opening.

- Support - When times are tough it can feel very difficult to be the sole bearer of the stress, having a close Network can help to solutionise those problems and ease the burden.

- Identifying Opportunity - When someone is new to an idea they instantly have lots of greats thoughts about different ways of doing things, this freshness can really invigorate your own offering.

How to Assess the best Network

- Do your homework - Ensure the time spent building the Network will be sufficient to see a return. Dont force a Network that does not compliment your own.

- If its free then join - Free is the best price because there is no risk.

- If it costs money research - like anything if you are spending cash ensure you know what your getting, ask to see copies of accounts to see where the money goes when it is provided to a central organisor. A profitable  Network is not necessarily a bad one, however it does leave you open to scams, of which there are many.

- Look for proliferation of competition - If your competitors are doing something it's worth checking out, even if just to identify the idea is not right for you.

- Look for signs of Age - An older Network is better in the sense that they will have experience, but you may find there are barriers to engagement, for instance established members may not want you to come up with any new ideas, at least until you have served your time.

- Don't waste your time - Meetings need to have a purpose, it is all very nice to have meal and discuss business with new potential friends, however there must be a purpose or end goal.

In the end as business owners we all want the same thing, which is to have a profitable market share that provides you with a secure and stable lifestyle. You ambition is only hampered by your own lack of knowledge, there are literally thousands of people making ridiculous sums of money selling goods and services that are completely useless, much poorer quality than your product or service and this is because they know how to gain market share. The most powerful way of growing is to rely on the support of others, to build friendships that can provide you with support. Starting a business is a lonely process, growing it needn't be.

Articles submitted by Dunbar T-Shirt Shop; a Garment printing business that provides work-wear and printed gifts for all occasions.

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