Collaborating with other businesses can build your bottom line
Business collaborations can be a crucial growth tool for cash-strapped startups and small business owners.
Best described as a mutually beneficial relationship between two parties, a collaboration could see two businesses share staff, intellectual property, client lists or office space, for example.
Jarryd Daymond is a project manager in the Faculty of Business and Economics at Macquarie University, where he negotiates and manages various collaborations on behalf of the educational institute.
While collaborations are often broadly accepted as a good idea by many in business, actually negotiating successful collaborations can prove difficult, he says.
A good partnership will see both businesses benefit, he says.
“To have an effective collaboration, a business needs to connect with the right organisation to help them in their endeavours, share information and skills in a targeted manner, and be responsible custodians of what’s being given to them by their partners.”
This relies on both parties listening, helping and sharing, he says.
“However, it’s not altruistic. The collaborative relationship stands to benefit all parties in the long run.
“The challenge is for businesses not to pre-emptively shut themselves off from potentially beneficial relationships, because you really only know which collaborations are beneficial once the wheels have started turning,” Daymond says.
A well-suited partnership
A recent collaboration between online tailor InStitchu and Australian startup mPort has revolutionised an entire market.
Men can now be fitted for a new tailor-made suit without ever setting foot in a store, with mPort’s 3D body scanning technology to roll out in shopping centres around the country. The technology allows men to design a suit tailored to their exact measurements in a few minutes.
InStitchu co-founder Robin McGowan says the collaboration is a huge win for his customers, making the online tailoring process even easier.
“Our goal has always been to make quality tailored suits accessible to all men. We’re genuinely excited to have partnered with mPort to deliver this exciting retail innovation to the Australian menswear market.”
Australian manufacturer of pure beeswax candles, Queen B, ventured into several successful collaborations last year, which helped to significantly bolster profits.
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Business owner Cate Burton says she collaborated with Dinosaur Designs to launch a couple of new products, which they then sold across seven stores, including New York. She also collaborated with an Australian fashion house to create a candle in a ceramic vessel, and Opera Australia to make all of the candles for its stage production of Tosca.
“We also collaborated with the International School of Colour and Design, which based an entire section of its course around coming up with a new design for our candles.
“I was so impressed with the designs that I pulled together a judging panel, and co-ordinated with the media to run a story about the collaboration. The judges picked a winner and then we opened voting up over our social media channels.
“All of these collaborations happened in the past 12 months. As an Australian manufacturer, you’ve got to be clever in knowing your point of difference, as we can’t compete with cheap imports.”
Collaborating for credibility
Credibility was the main goal when Caitlin McColl sought collaborations with others in business. As a pet photographer, she admits that early on, she struggled to get other businesses to take her seriously.
Now that her business, Ragamuffin Pet Photography, is well established, she’s gone on to be pickier about who she collaborates with. “I’ve learnt that the marketing or the money isn’t worth the stress of working with a business that doesn’t share my values, and I’m no longer afraid to walk away.
“To me, collaboration is about two businesses trying to help each other market and grow. We share a common ideal client, our existing database of clients and take advantage of cross promotion in social media.
“When I’m collaborating with another business, I make it my mission to tell as many people as possible how awesome I think they are, and I trust that they’re doing the same for me.”
Business coach Sally-Anne Blanshard, of Nourish Coaching, says for her, collaboration means working with like-minded businesses to offer an add-on service for her clients, with a preferred supplier list adding great value.
Once she’s finished with the coaching and the business needs PR support, for example, she introduces them to a PR practitioner she’s worked with numerous times, she says.
The pair has shared clients via referrals and has developed a trusted relationship over time, she says.
“She has become an extension of my own brand, and refers her clients to me if she feels they need the bigger picture addressed before drilling down into specific campaigns – it’s a win-win,” Blanshard says.
Tread with care
However, as many explain, business collaborations take time to cultivate.
Blanshard admits she’s had to work with some monkeys to develop a list of preferred suppliers she trusts.
After some mistakes, she now takes time to get to know business owners she hopes to collaborate with.
“It’s important to verify the kind of work they offer, what success they have, and also do a little stalking to see if this stacks up with what they’re offering.”
The head of marketing at Getpocketbook.com, Andre Pinantoan, agrees. While collaborations have definitely worked for the marketing manager of the online personal finance planner, it’s easy to let the other party carry the partnership, he says.
“As a partner, you need to contribute your share to the relationship and make sure the other party walks away happy with the outcome.
“Some partners can try to push the boundaries. As the smaller company in the partnership, you might feel obliged to comply, as we did once. We’ve since learnt that if they don’t treat you as equals in the beginning, they won’t do it later, either.
“One-off successes are great, but the real prize here is actually the relationship you build,” Pinantoan says.