FIVE LESSONS ABOUT COLLABORATION
About halfway through lockdown I had a startling realisation: I don’t like working alone.
I like to think that I am the very model of an independent, female entrepreneur. Self-sufficient and self-reliant. But there I was, sat at my desk in my little studio office at the end of the garden, feeling utterly despondent at the lack of office camaraderie.
This was not a huge surprise to anyone who knows me – and looking back, I should have realised this much earlier. Collaboration is central to the way that I work and ‘community’ is one of Actually’s core, guiding principles (or values).
The desire for collaboration led me to establish a group of “Partners” from the very outset of Actually: people who have complementary skills to my own, who share similar values and a similar sense of purpose. And that same desire for collaboration was what prompted me to invite the wonderful Julie Minns to become an Associate. The two days that she works in Actually each week are the best days of the week!
Clearly being utterly alone was always going to be anathema to me and, ironically, I am not alone in this.
Over 50% of purpose-led entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants who have so far completed the Actually Quiz are doing it all by themselves.
And nearly 70% of these soloists feel as though there’s no-one that truly ‘gets them’ with many saying that it’s pretty lonely.
As I considered my not-so-splendid isolation, I realised that the cure for what ailed me was collaboration. So, here are five lessons to foster more and better collaboration in the Actually community. I hope they help!
FIND COMMON CAUSE
When I teach people about communications strategy, the very first thing we talk about is ‘purpose’ or what Simon Sinek calls your big ‘Why’. Purpose is the thing that will motivate you to get out of bed each day and a common sense of purpose creates the foundation for great collaboration. You don’t need to have an identical purpose to your potential collaborator, but there must be common cause: a compatibility between your respective visions for the world. For example: Actually Partner Laura Coleman is a meditation expert. Nothing whatsoever to do with communications and business strategy. And yet we have common cause: we both want to help people to achieve their goals without sacrificing their physical or mental health in the process.
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Collaboration is, by definition, a mutually beneficial arrangement. If the benefit is one-sided then you don’t have a collaborator, you have an unpaid supplier! But in order for benefits to flow in both direction you EACH need to be clear about what you can offer and what you want, need and expect from your relationship.
For example, I offer active referral of work to all of the Actually Partners but I am very clear that I will not charge referral fees. Instead, I ask them to take part in the Actually Community programme which provides 12 months of support – including Mastermind access – to a small social enterprise or charity each year. This year we are supporting Blue Bear Coffee and the partners have been hugely involved including Nicola Deverson who has offered Blue Bear a huge amount of accounting support. Thank you Nicola!
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
No collaboration will flourish in which I am expected to provide tech support. Tech is just not my area of expertise. When my brilliant tech guru Jason Kruger starts talking to me about the back end of our membership site, I am sure he is speaking very intelligent English but what I hear is ‘Blah-di-blah-di-blah’. Zero comprehension!
Knowing what you are good at – and what you are not – is an essential starting point for collaboration. It requires a degree of self-awareness and humility but then you can structure your collaboration so that you are eachplaying to your strengths and operating in your zone of genius.
KEEP YOUR PROMISES
Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship – and this is equally true in a business collaboration: without trust the whole thing melts away like a Magnum in the sunshine (anyone else yearning for some sunshine right now? Or an ice-cream for that matter?).
To build and maintain that trust you HAVE to stick to your commitments. The unconscious question that every potential collaborator is asking themselves is: can I count on you? Will you be there when I need you? If the answer to that question is unclear or an outright ‘No’ then the opportunity for collaboration is lost.
IT’S NOT ALL WORK, WORK, WORK
Clearly, we are talking about business but one of the best ways to foster collaboration even in this context is to socialise beyond work. Assuming we are ever allowed to meet face to face again (I am writing this in the middle of the global Covid19 pandemic of 2020), nothing beats meeting up over a coffee, a drink or a meal to encourage better understanding and communication which in turn pays dividends in your collaboration.
One of the many great things about the projects that I work on with Actually Partner Kate Wolf is the time we spend chewing the fat! Some of our best ideas have come out of those conversations over a bottle of wine and a Thai meal!
So, make the time to socialise and talk about things beyond work or the project you share. And whilst we are all restricted in our ability to meet up in person, a virtual catch up can work almost as well.
Collaboration is not only, in my opinion, the cure to entrepreneurial loneliness – it brings a myriad of other benefits too. Finding people to collaborate with can be inspiring; you will learn new things and access new insights and new skills and you’ll be able to offer a broader range of services to your clients. What’s not to love, right?
So if you’re a purpose-led entrepreneur – don’t keep struggling on alone. And if you’re interested in collaboration with Actually – get in touch, any time. Let’s have a virtual cuppa!
Let’s ACTUALLY make a difference.
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Phew! Doesn’t that sounds awesome?
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