For the second time, I (Meg Fenn) was a speaker at WordCamp London #WCLDN and my topic Collaboration vs. Competition is the inspiration behind this post. I realised from the comments and questions from attendees after my talk that wanting to become more collaborative with companies offering similar services and understanding how to go about doing that, are two very different things. Even understanding who to approach can be a bit daunting. So here’s some advice on growing a business with a collaborative mindset and we’ll start with collaboration.
The competitive landscape for creative companies in particular has changed and collaboration has become the new competition. Competitive advantage is increasingly being driven by resources that we can all access; resources we don’t actually own, such as social platforms, web platforms and SaaS based tools like Asana and Slack. Remote teams are becoming the norm and we are using these open source tools to communicate with one another, for project management and to facilitate collaborative working.
This new way of working, making it easier and quicker to share knowledge and communicate means that there has been a shift in the way we view and work together, including our competitors.
This is exactly how we’ve grown our company; helping our clients to succeed and helping our competitors to succeed along the way too. When we launched Shake It Up Creative in 2015, we did it with a collaborative mindset. Our purpose is to help organisations find or hone their purpose which informs the brand messaging, visual identity and marketing actions that are delivered by our creative team. In addition, we started as a partnership and wanted to build a company that attracted talent with a reputation of being a desirable brand to work for. Day to day, we wanted to work with our clients and not just for them. We wanted to reach out to business owners in a helpful way by sharing our knowledge; showing them what we know and how we work.
This resulted in the following:
- A united and authentic partnership
- Long-lasting client relationships
- Strategic partnerships
Let’s unpack this list a bit to explain our approach to growing a business with a collaborative mindset and how you can make a start too.
A united and authentic partnership
We, (the directors Meg and Rachael) come from very different backgrounds both personally and professionally so when we came together to form Shake It Up, we could pull from extensive and varied experiences. This collaboration set the tone for the company culture and how we work in partnership with others.
You can also make a start by fostering collaboration within your business. Having a collaborative mindset will then come naturally to your team when they interact with others externally. Internally, working as a team creates a much better environment. 33% of employees say the ability to collaborate makes them more loyal. Lack of open communication has a negative effect on employee morale. Collaboration and communication also means projects will flow better because there will be fewer misunderstandings.
Long-lasting client relationships
We work with our clients and not just for them. This approach means we work together with our clients from the start, ask for and value their feedback early on and strive to always have open and clear communication with them. We are diplomatic, professional and patient. It also means that customer service and ensuring a great user experience is at the forefront of everything we do.
Decide how you want to work with your customers and what kind of user experience you can consistently provide.
We take the time to get to know our competitors and that means reaching out to those we think might be a good fit for us, having a coffee (or virtual coffee) with them to see if we can add value to one another. Having a collaborative advantage; forming strategic partnerships, can give your business access to new products, or a new market. It means we can pitch for larger scale projects and be able to deliver that project with all of the skills required, by working in collaboration with other companies. Start by being open-minded. Identify your skills gaps and how working with your competition can help fill those gaps. In addition, when a partnership isn’t the right way to go, giving a referral is another form of collaborating with your competitors. It also strengthens your company reputation and means that you are being helpful to a potential client and a potential collaborator.
Remember, ‘collaboration is the new competition’ and if you bear this in mind when it comes to your competitors, your approach will shift, allowing partnerships to naturally become part of your strategy going forward. Strategy is key. We know that not all competitors are suitable or sometimes, even willing, to collaborate. Ensure you are forming mutually beneficial partnerships in order to help your business grow and develop, strengthen trust and build a solid reputation.
We launched our company running this initiative and are now in our fourth year of providing this free marketing support to our business community. Before we launched, when thinking about how we could add value and give-back, we came up with the idea to do something that hadn’t been done before in our area, in our industry. We also wanted to break down those barriers that business owners often come up against such as marketing jargon, the technical side of websites and having a clear idea of how marketing can be beneficial to their businesses and where to start with it all. Having a collaborative mindset enabled us to establish this initiative and we sustain it by partnering with organisations that can offer us a space to hold them. It’s a massive win for all involved.
We’ve also seen over the past few months that other design and marketing companies have started to offer a similar free help service. Creative Blend offer #cbsessions at Down to Earth Coffee (Hove) and Creative Bloom offer a drop-in help clinic at The Projects (Brighton). We are pleased to see that our initiative is inspiring others and making free marketing support more accessible to all business owners.
What could your company do to strengthen your value or support your community?
The idea to offer this annual competition came about in a similar way to the idea for running free marketing drop-ins. One main contributing factor was that we wanted to give back to our business community. As freelancers with an already established client base and reputation, we didn’t need to start from scratch when launching Shake It Up – we were in a good position, not in need of funding, staff or equipment. So offering free professional marketing help to a growing company was a way for us to ‘give back’ or ‘pay it forward’. Again, we are in our fourth year and love working with exciting companies ready to go to the next level. And again, a win for us is that we get to work with some amazing companies and generate some valuable case studies – a win for our Shake To Create prize recipients too.
To sum up, we are proud to have started our company and continue to grow it with collaboration at the forefront of what we do. It has also been a vital part of our organic progression to becoming more purpose driven.
We wanted to share our guidance on growing a business with a collaborative mindset. Perhaps this post has inspired you to make a start on becoming more collaborative? I know my WordCamp talk definitely had that effect! Please get in touch with us if you think we would make a good creative partner for your company.
Meg Fenn, Director of Shake It Up Creative