Do you realize how much you collaborate during a typical business day? You and your employees work closely with each other to come up with new ideas and resolve issues that arise. Your vendors are (or should be) dedicated to ensuring that you get what you need at reasonable prices. And, you do the same for your customers.
If you’re a solopreneur, you still need other people to meet your goals, so you need to know how to collaborate. Here are some ideas that can help you create a fine-tuned team that supports your business.
Encourage and Facilitate Collaboration Within Your Team
Whether or not you hold regular team meetings, there are a number of things that can formalize the collaboration process and make it more effective. Here are some ways to bring everyone in the company closer together.
Offer space for easy collaboration.
In my experience, open office designs don’t encourage collaboration so much as noise and distraction. In fact, one recent study supports my belief, indicating that many open-office workers wall themselves off with headphones, while others choose to work from home or send emails to nearby employees to avoid the fishbowl effect.
Conference rooms are more appropriate for idea sessions, but their formality can thwart creative thought. If you can convert unused corners of your workspace into more casual gathering areas, they may improve the communication flow. Colorful areas with plants can help. Add a coffee pot (snacks optional).
Encourage employees to collaborate beyond department boundaries.
If you’ve ever worked with programmers, then you know that they think differently than software users. As a technical writer, I represented the user community and regularly contributed a great deal toward making sure that customers actually got products that were comfortable in real-life application.
Everyone in your business has a unique perspective. Accounting personnel takes a practical, money-oriented viewpoint. Your sales team knows what customers want. The people who make the product understand what is possible during production. Encourage healthy debate among individuals who see things differently, and you’ll get better products or services.
Take advantage of today’s collaboration tools
You probably already have certain tools to stay coordinated. Email and network calendars are just two examples of ways that facilitate the process of staying in touch … sort of. The right mix of collaboration tools extends beyond the basics, providing a seamless interface that brings everyone to up-to-the-minute on every detail.
A search for collaboration tools reveals plenty of options. Your job is to determine what features you need. Certainly video conferencing is great for meetings and demonstrations. Document sharing is vital when you work with multiple people, and it typically prevents collaborators from over-writing each other’s changes. And, the ability to share a project desktop ensures that everyone remains up-to-date at all times.
Keep in mind that small business employees often work remotely, at least sometimes. The right collaboration tools make it seem like they’re in the building. Bottom line: when working with others — no matter where they are — always remain alert for holes in the process. Chances are, there’s an app for that.
Show Customers Your Collaborative Spirit
Collaboration with customers can take many forms, from communicating issue resolution through social media to exercising your soft skills to take a personal approach to solicit feedback by phone. Whatever approach you choose, the point is to show your cooperative spirit by working with customers to make their dreams a reality.
Perhaps a customer regularly buys most office supplies from your store, but they lament that you don’t carry the SuperDuper brand of paper that they like. Even if you don’t want to stock it, you might arrange to special order it so that your store provides one-stop shopping services. Or, if they wish that the hefty wrenches that you sell were more portable, they might be thrilled to help you design the best-ever wrench holster.
Service businesses have many opportunities to collaborate better with their customers, and consulting businesses are prime examples. In many cases, the key is to keep them plugged in to project progress. If you’re producing written material, can you provide current versions online so that they can easily edit or comment on the work? For that matter, if you’re producing custom software, placing a beta or even earlier version online gives them the opportunity to test and react to it before development goes too far.
Given the opportunity, many customers would welcome the chance to provide input that gets them what they want. Your reward will be increased sales and loyalty.
Recognize that You Can Help Vendors Serve You Better
When you’re the customer, of course, collaboration with your vendors gets the results you want. Maybe their shipments are consistently late, and you know of a shipping company that’s more reliable than the one that they use. Perhaps your calls to Customer Service are less than spectacular because they have to put you on hold every time to look up your order. If your business has a better system, you might consider sharing information with the vendor to improve their support services.
Of course, if a vendor shows no interest in your issues — or your ideas — it might be a sign to look for a new one.
Share Cooperative Ideas With Other Businesses
When you run a small business, you might turn more dreams into reality by collaborating with other small businesses. Let’s say that you want to expand your interior design business to accommodate smaller-budget customers. If you work with a local, trusted upholsterer, you can offer fresh looks for customers who can’t afford to replace every stick of furniture in their homes.
Collaboration Can be a Great Equalizer
Particularly when you’re trying to compete with large businesses in your industry, you have an important advantage: your ability and willingness to collaborate can overshadow a competitor that works within a strict box. As Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”