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Collaboration: Your Small Business’s Secret Weapon for Growth

Collaboration with internal and external players can help unlock new ideas for growth strategy.
Photo credit: Malambo C/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

In a three-part article series, consultant Marshall Atkinson offers pointed advice to help small businesses generate new ideas to find and land new customers. Below, Part 1 of “The Idea Generator” explains how you can harness the power of collaboration to drive business growth.

TOP TAKEAWAYS: 

  • Identify your business’s strengths, then look for a collaborative partner whose strengths complement your weaknesses. Your partner can be an individual, business or organization.
     
  • Use your strengths to help your collaboration partner reach new market segments. Consider creating a joint effort, such as a pop-up shop or local event, and co-promoting it together to boost reach and impact.  
  • Finding the right partner, agreeing on the terms of your collaboration, and holding each other accountable are key to a successful collaboration. 


EXPERT INSIGHTS:

Attracting a steady stream of new customers is key to small business success. Whether your sales have slowed down or you’re simply looking to expand your customer base, collaboration can be a powerful tool to help you expand into new market segments and use existing relationships to spur new sales. 

Why is collaboration so important? In many industries, sales are handled solely through your company. Whether via a website, salespeople, email or walk-in traffic, everything is built and maintained by your business, for your business.  

Working with a partner can help you explore a new sales segment. Your collaborative program could be with a company, person or organization. By combining forces, effort and opportunity, you can power up your sales. 

Use the examples in this article to brainstorm ways collaboration could work for you, based on your industry, location and needs.  

Find a Partner Whose Strengths Balance Out Your Weaknesses

Finding the perfect collaboration partner starts with identifying what you do well. For example: 

  • Your design business has a fantastic team that can leverage its creativity. 
  • Your consulting business boasts veterans of big-name firms like McKinsey, KPMG and Accenture. 
  • Your restaurant’s signature dish is locally famous, generating lines of hungry diners down the block.  

Take stock and write down your strengths. If you were a superhero, these would be the superpowers that everyone envies. Somewhere out there in your network, community or neighborhood are people, groups, companies and organizations that have completely opposite attributes. Where you are strong, they are weak. 

However, their superpower is something you don’t have: access to customers that are buying from them, but not from you (yet). By combining forces, you can help them build a new sales channel to maximize relationships with their customers — and vice versa. 

Share Your Superpower 

Suppose you own a graphic design company catering to local businesses and you have a very creative art team. Consider collaborating with companies that help other businesses with their branding, such as: 

  • Marketing or advertising agencies 
  • Social media companies 
  • Retail and brand consultants 
  • Website designers  

These companies’ strength is their relationships. What they lack is your expertise in creating designs that can wow their customers. If you can bring a steady stream of fresh ideas to the table, both parties can reap the benefits. 

Suggest New Products, Services or Markets  

Think about companies that currently don’t offer what you sell but could. Let’s say your company sells personalized apparel such as screen-printed T-shirts. Reach out to the local veterinarian, hardware store, outdoor-park system, city council or other entity that’s not selling apparel and discuss what you can offer them. Here are some ideas: 

  1. For the vet, offer digitally printed, personalized shirts featuring their furry “patients.”
  2. For the hardware store, consider creating shirts with construction equipment or sayings like “Measure twice, cut once.”
  3. For an outdoor-park system, design apparel that shows the trails, has fun graphic logos and can be sold for a fundraiser.
  4. For the city council, what about designing shirts that promote local pride in the area to be sold on the city’s website? 

Don’t assume they’ll say no. Remember, they’re busy running their core business, not necessarily thinking about the benefits of selling apparel to their customers. Your job is to introduce the idea to them and get the partnership started. 

Get the Collaboration Going

First, identify a few prospective collaboration partners. If you don’t know them personally, send them direct messages via LinkedIn or other social media. Once you’ve found some collaboration partners, the next step is up to you. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Do a joint promotion: Work with another business on a promotion featuring both companies. Marketing can be expensive but by pulling together, you can minimize the cost and increase exposure — especially if you’re promoting a collaborative effort between your businesses. Continuously promote each other’s businesses on your social media feeds and share updates and news about the promotion.
     
  • Host a pop-up shop: What if you collaborated with your new partner to launch a limited-time pop-up store? Both you and your partner can invite customers to a “secret” grand opening or reveal party. Make it fun and exciting with ongoing social media updates; customer interviews and reactions; and daily surprises. Who else in your area could contribute to the flavor of the pop-up? Maybe a local coffee shop or brewery? What about a civic organization or university?
     
  • Create a locally themed gift guide: Retailers, restauranteurs and others can work together to create a locally themed gift guide featuring products and services from participating businesses. Offer items at all price points. Put your gift guide online and distribute print copies for free, including URLs and QR codes to direct customers to participants’ online stores. You can theme gift guides for different times of year, such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July or Christmas. Have all participants share it on their marketing feeds, newsletters and social media. 

Secrets to a Successful Partnership

Taking a few key steps will increase the odds of a successful collaboration. 

  • Be prepared. Figure out your angle but see if they are open to collaboration and discussion. Have examples ready but be prepared to modify or adapt to their ideas, too.
     
  • Draft a simple agreement. How does the collaborative relationship work? Who pays for what? How is the revenue split? When will everyone be paid? Who is responsible should things go awry?
     
  • Set dates and accountability. Seek clarity with the project. It’s a partnership, but people have other things on their plates. Make collaboration as easy as possible for your partner.
     

This article is adapted from a piece initially published by Impressions Magazine. Marshall Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Consulting LLC, is a decorated-apparel industry production and efficiency expert who focuses on operational efficiency; continuous improvement and workflow strategy; business planning; employee motivation; management; and sustainability. He also co-founded a decorated-apparel industry sales and marketing education company called Shirt Lab. For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at marshall@marshallatkinson.com. 

 

Collaboration: Your Small Business’s Secret Weapon for Growth

by | Aug 29, 2023

Collaboration with internal and external players can help unlock new ideas for growth strategy.

In a three-part article series, consultant Marshall Atkinson offers pointed advice to help small businesses generate new ideas to find and land new customers. Below, Part 1 of “The Idea Generator” explains how you can harness the power of collaboration to drive business growth.

TOP TAKEAWAYS: 

  • Identify your business’s strengths, then look for a collaborative partner whose strengths complement your weaknesses. Your partner can be an individual, business or organization.
     
  • Use your strengths to help your collaboration partner reach new market segments. Consider creating a joint effort, such as a pop-up shop or local event, and co-promoting it together to boost reach and impact.  
  • Finding the right partner, agreeing on the terms of your collaboration, and holding each other accountable are key to a successful collaboration. 


EXPERT INSIGHTS:

Attracting a steady stream of new customers is key to small business success. Whether your sales have slowed down or you’re simply looking to expand your customer base, collaboration can be a powerful tool to help you expand into new market segments and use existing relationships to spur new sales. 

Why is collaboration so important? In many industries, sales are handled solely through your company. Whether via a website, salespeople, email or walk-in traffic, everything is built and maintained by your business, for your business.  

Working with a partner can help you explore a new sales segment. Your collaborative program could be with a company, person or organization. By combining forces, effort and opportunity, you can power up your sales. 

Use the examples in this article to brainstorm ways collaboration could work for you, based on your industry, location and needs.  

Find a Partner Whose Strengths Balance Out Your Weaknesses

Finding the perfect collaboration partner starts with identifying what you do well. For example: 

  • Your design business has a fantastic team that can leverage its creativity. 
  • Your consulting business boasts veterans of big-name firms like McKinsey, KPMG and Accenture. 
  • Your restaurant’s signature dish is locally famous, generating lines of hungry diners down the block.  

Take stock and write down your strengths. If you were a superhero, these would be the superpowers that everyone envies. Somewhere out there in your network, community or neighborhood are people, groups, companies and organizations that have completely opposite attributes. Where you are strong, they are weak. 

However, their superpower is something you don’t have: access to customers that are buying from them, but not from you (yet). By combining forces, you can help them build a new sales channel to maximize relationships with their customers — and vice versa. 

Share Your Superpower 

Suppose you own a graphic design company catering to local businesses and you have a very creative art team. Consider collaborating with companies that help other businesses with their branding, such as: 

  • Marketing or advertising agencies 
  • Social media companies 
  • Retail and brand consultants 
  • Website designers  

These companies’ strength is their relationships. What they lack is your expertise in creating designs that can wow their customers. If you can bring a steady stream of fresh ideas to the table, both parties can reap the benefits. 

Suggest New Products, Services or Markets  

Think about companies that currently don’t offer what you sell but could. Let’s say your company sells personalized apparel such as screen-printed T-shirts. Reach out to the local veterinarian, hardware store, outdoor-park system, city council or other entity that’s not selling apparel and discuss what you can offer them. Here are some ideas: 

  1. For the vet, offer digitally printed, personalized shirts featuring their furry “patients.”
  2. For the hardware store, consider creating shirts with construction equipment or sayings like “Measure twice, cut once.”
  3. For an outdoor-park system, design apparel that shows the trails, has fun graphic logos and can be sold for a fundraiser.
  4. For the city council, what about designing shirts that promote local pride in the area to be sold on the city’s website? 

Don’t assume they’ll say no. Remember, they’re busy running their core business, not necessarily thinking about the benefits of selling apparel to their customers. Your job is to introduce the idea to them and get the partnership started. 

Get the Collaboration Going

First, identify a few prospective collaboration partners. If you don’t know them personally, send them direct messages via LinkedIn or other social media. Once you’ve found some collaboration partners, the next step is up to you. Here are a few ideas to get you started: 

  • Do a joint promotion: Work with another business on a promotion featuring both companies. Marketing can be expensive but by pulling together, you can minimize the cost and increase exposure — especially if you’re promoting a collaborative effort between your businesses. Continuously promote each other’s businesses on your social media feeds and share updates and news about the promotion.
     
  • Host a pop-up shop: What if you collaborated with your new partner to launch a limited-time pop-up store? Both you and your partner can invite customers to a “secret” grand opening or reveal party. Make it fun and exciting with ongoing social media updates; customer interviews and reactions; and daily surprises. Who else in your area could contribute to the flavor of the pop-up? Maybe a local coffee shop or brewery? What about a civic organization or university?
     
  • Create a locally themed gift guide: Retailers, restauranteurs and others can work together to create a locally themed gift guide featuring products and services from participating businesses. Offer items at all price points. Put your gift guide online and distribute print copies for free, including URLs and QR codes to direct customers to participants’ online stores. You can theme gift guides for different times of year, such as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July or Christmas. Have all participants share it on their marketing feeds, newsletters and social media. 

Secrets to a Successful Partnership

Taking a few key steps will increase the odds of a successful collaboration. 

  • Be prepared. Figure out your angle but see if they are open to collaboration and discussion. Have examples ready but be prepared to modify or adapt to their ideas, too.
     
  • Draft a simple agreement. How does the collaborative relationship work? Who pays for what? How is the revenue split? When will everyone be paid? Who is responsible should things go awry?
     
  • Set dates and accountability. Seek clarity with the project. It’s a partnership, but people have other things on their plates. Make collaboration as easy as possible for your partner.
     

This article is adapted from a piece initially published by Impressions Magazine. Marshall Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Consulting LLC, is a decorated-apparel industry production and efficiency expert who focuses on operational efficiency; continuous improvement and workflow strategy; business planning; employee motivation; management; and sustainability. He also co-founded a decorated-apparel industry sales and marketing education company called Shirt Lab. For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at marshall@marshallatkinson.com.