Entrepreneurs are innovative thinkers and daredevils, brave enough to forge their unique paths in the working world. But we’re also human, and experience bouts of doubt, overwhelm, and burnout. For those of us in the midst of managing a small business, staying afloat can seem like a daunting, impossible task. How can I feel fulfilled by my work? How do I keep my fire going? Keep reading to learn about the magic of small business collaboration.
I’ve been there, and through my 10+ years of running my own small business, I know how to build a sustainable and fulfilling business.
Despite popular opinion, success is not about knocking down your competition and “winning.” In fact, success is a reflection of the opposite: building others up and focusing on small business collaboration.
There’s enough success to go around. We don’t need to feed into the scarcity mentality. Your business can share opportunities, and benefit from them in the process.
My Business Story (How I Started)
Like most entrepreneurs, my business started with me quitting a job that was no longer serving me. I wasn’t fulfilling a life-long dream of becoming an entrepreneur, I just knew that I wanted more freedom and wanted to ditch the endless string of mindless meetings I had no control over. I had ideas I was passionate about, and was tired of being dismissed. So I quit.
My website development agency, Alchemy + Aim, helps entrepreneurs elevate their online presence and get the right technology and website to be successful. Today, we help people do exactly what I did when I quit my job. We help them transform their dreams into reality. We’ve helped clients heighten their influence in their fields, by helping them not only define themselves through a functional and representative website but by connecting them with everything they need to continue growing.
What I learned early on was that none of this would have been possible if I kept all my work for myself, and didn’t exercise one of the first morals we learn as kids: Share! Collaboration boosted my business, and it’ll boost yours too.
My Small Business Model Philosophy (+ How It Changed For Me)
When I first started out, I wanted to do everything—and I mean everything—that I could for my clients. My first two years were exhausting. I was extremely maxed out. I worked weekends and was turning down projects I was really passionate and excited about because it was physically impossible for me to get it all done.
That’s when I worked with a business coach and realized something: I could work with other people. It sounds obvious, but an ingrained sense of competition had kept me from considering it. When I was presented with an opportunity, I grasped it as tightly as I could. It clearly wasn’t working to my benefit.
My business coach helped me realize that my desire to do it “all” wasn’t completely impossible. I could say yes to all the projects that made me feel excited, and all I needed to do was open the door to collaboration with other designers and professionals to get it done.
Once I opened myself up to the possibility of collaboration, the flood gates opened. I have been on a networking marathon for the past six and a half years. Who said being an entrepreneur is lonely? I’ve been able to weave human-to-human connections into all facets of my business, even when I operate it all online.
I started listening to my clients and their pain points and needs, not just with regard to the website I was building for them, but with regard to their business as a whole. Due to my constantly growing network, I could collaborate with people on projects that fit with my company and refer clients out to people who I trusted for needs that we didn’t do.
What Do You Want From Your “Business Model”?
Enough about me already! What do you want out of your business? How can collaboration help your business achieve what it wants and needs? Here are some questions to think about.
How much do you want to grow? Meaning, do you want to grow as big as you possibly can, or is there a moment in your business growth where you would feel content, happy, comfortable, and satisfied? This question is closely related to the life you want outside of work. Do you want to have time for your hobbies, family, and friends? Entrepreneurs are particularly at risk of becoming workaholics.
Because you’re your own boss, your inner critic can take over, compelling you to work too much. But what does your ideal life look like? How can you leverage your business to get you there? What is your purpose?
Answering these questions will help you examine and align your values and goals with your everyday work. For me, this meant integrating small business collaboration into my business model.
What Does Collaboration Really Mean?
When I say collaboration, I’m talking about sharing. It’s simple really. Instead of hoarding any and all opportunities that your business is presented with, create ways to turn the opportunity into a chance to work with others.
We learn by working with others, we grow by sharing our talents with the world. Collaborating means growing a network of people that you can lean on when you can’t do something on your own. It means not thinking of every part of your business in terms of money and gain, but ways and opportunities to build connections.
Listen to my podcast episode with Better Than Big on small business collaboration.
5 Small Business Collaboration Tips
#1 Focus on Connection
Starting a business can be a bit lonely. You don’t have coworkers, you don’t have water cooler breaks. You might not see someone for days on end, typing away frantically on your computer from your work-from-home set up. But if you’re intentional about it, and focus on connection, your small business can be filled with meaningful, long-lasting relationships. It’s your business, so you get to decide what kinds of people you connect with, building a team of experts that share similar values and interests, all while adding their own personal flair.
#2 Growth Requires Letting Go
In order for your business to grow, and for you to grow, you need to learn how to let go of the need to do everything yourself. There is a level of trust in bringing people onto your team, and working with them to get things done. If you’re a perfectionist, this one can be especially hard.
We want things to be perfect, and the only way to ensure this is to do absolutely everything ourselves. But learning how to trust the expertise and uniqueness of others will make your business stronger.
Nobody’s perfect, but a team of people collaborating can get pretty close.
#3 Build a Network
Collaboration is only possible if you find the people you need. I don’t mean hopping on Google the next time you need a designer to help you create a website you can’t do yourself. Putting the time into building a network can be the best investment you can make for your small business. The key is to build the relationship with that person first, then if it makes sense, you can work with them or refer them to clients you can’t help.
#4 Prioritize What You Enjoy For Long Term Success
It’s important to enjoy what you’re doing. That’s what’s so great about collaborating with others, you can do what you enjoy (and do best) and bring on others to handle the rest.
#5 Build Sustainable Systems
In order to grow a sustainable business, you need to implement systems that can withstand the shifting tides of your work. That means working with others that you can lean on in moments of overwhelm or gain inspiration from in moments of discouragement. Working with a team means you need to be extremely organized. Does it get messy? It can, but if you’re intentional about your systems, it won’t.
The key is intentional and regular communication. Make sure everyone is always on the same page. Use communication tools to make communication a breeze. Hire a project manager to make sure everything is happening at the times they need to happen.
For my small business, we stagger out the phases of each project. This way, we don’t overlap parts of the process at the same time. For example, we will leave two weeks of wiggle room in between the branding phase and copywriting phase of our website project. It’s how we reduce the clutter of collaboration and discover the wonder and power that co-creation brings. With our intentionally designed structure, everyone knows who to reach out to with a question or for advice, and what’s expected of them.
It’s the wave of the future to say, “Let’s work on this together, let’s co-create together.”
What You’ll See Happen When You Focus on Collaboration
You can achieve your wildest small business dreams through collaboration. If you put your trust in that process, you’ll find you have freed up time to dream bigger, fine-tune processes, and create the space for more human-to-human connection. For my business, collaborating has helped us grow. We are able to serve a wider variety of clientele than most other companies can because we have built out a large enough network to cover almost any niche.
The Future Is Collaboration
While our first instincts might be to hoard our opportunities in order to “get ahead,” the best business model for small businesses tells us to do the opposite. What happens when you share? What happens when you build a team of talent, instead of intentionally doing everything solo? Co-creation leads to possibilities beyond what any
I absolutely love enrolling people, not just in my vision, but in a shared vision that we are creating and evolving together.
The key to reaching higher levels of excellence is to focus on collaboration. It is possible to fulfill your creative drive in a way that serves the world, our clients, and ourselves—and that’s through small business collaboration.