INNOVATION

Note To Small Business: It's OK To Ask For Help

Time to stop, collaborate and listen.

27/06/2016 9:07 AM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:54
Jamie Grill
Working with other entrepreneurs can grow your business much faster than you can do solo.

It's Startup Week, and one expert has a hot tip for all entrepreneurs -- collaborate or fail.

Janine Garner, author of From Me to We, says the era where small business owners found success purely from their own blood, sweat and tears is over -- and collaboration is the only way forward.

She says this is because there are myriad factors changing the way small business needs to operate now -- the change in technology is picking up incredible speed, women are increasingly wielding influence, several generations with very different views on risk are trying to work together and there's increasing pressure to be innovative.

"It's absolutely impossible with this speed of change to know everything, and the only way you can survive is to be brave enough to know what we're great at and equally go and find other people to make us stronger and better together," Garner told The Huffington Post Australia.

Janine Garner
Author Janine Garner says collaboration is central to small business success.

Garner says collaborations aren't just about making money.

"Collaborating can speed up an idea to market," she said. "Collaboration creates that quality of work, it can create stronger engagement, it can explore new ideas and come up with new solutions and it can potentially create commercial success.

"It allows a showing of skills, a mutual exchange of skills, contacts, knowledge, insight of resources to fundamentally allow them to work together."

Garner says Millennials are much better at collaborating with others than Generation X and Baby Boomers, but the latter two really need to get on board.

"The generation coming through are actually believing that the opportunity exists in collaboration not competition," she said. "They don't have the same levels of fears and insecurities that Generation X has with the need to prove or strive or to be something. And I don't think they have the same issue with gender that my generation do. That's really exciting."

Small business owner Jessica Rhufus recognised the power of collaboration and its importance to startups was so strong that she created her own business to foster it.

Collabosaurus is an online platform similar to a dating site where businesses -- big and small -- anonymously seek collaborations. These can be anything from leveraging a large social media following through an Instagram competition, having your products in showbags at another firm's event or even co-creating a new line of footwear.

Rhufus says the anonymity component ensures all partnerships were mutually beneficial before profiles were unveiled, and she felt it was important to alleviate any trepidation.

"There can be some fear around reaching out and being rejected when it comes to partnerships for small business so anonymity adds to the confidence booster," she told HuffPost Australia.

"People are either accepting a match request or contacting you because you have the assets to give so by the time you connect you know that you're both interested -- there's no rejection."

Collabosaurus
Entrepreneur Jessica Ruhfus is helping startups connect through her platform, Collabosaurus.

Here Garner offers some basic tips for finding great collaborative opportunities for your small business.

1. Step up and then out

Firstly, you need to understand your business, its strengths, vision, goals and weaknesses and then you'll know how collaborations could actually benefit you. Then you need to step out of your comfort zone, Garner says.
"To move from me to we essentially it's about being brave, coming to a place of full disclosure and it's about knowing how to mutually exchange values -- so to give everything you have knowing that it's actually OK for you to ask for help," she said.

2. Full disclosure

Before you shake on it, be absolutely transparent about what you want from a collaboration.
"If you are not clear on what you want, it is impossible to collaborate -- it just becomes faking it until to you make it," she said.
"It comes down to working out what you want from a partnership or collaboration and just being really open and honest about that. It's when we try and hide stuff that mistakes happen."

3. Network your butt off

Being exposed to other small businesses through networking groups or online platforms such as Collabosaurus will naturally lend itself to opportunities, Garner says.
"What we have to do is be brave enough to step outside our comfort zone and connect with other people from whom we are going to learn, who are going to test us, challenge us, influence us - and that's quite a scary space to be," she said.
"When you do that and expand your network in that way, that's when you can really look for areas to disrupt and for opportunities to think bigger than where you are currently."

4. Don't be scared of disruption

It's the flashy buzzword of the startup world, but the good news is you don't need to invent a new smartphone or be a fintech legend to be a disruptor. It's just about change.
"Disruption is actually about being open to challenging yourself every day with the question: 'Is there a better way that I can do this?' It's constant little areas of improvement that we build for success."
Garner says you can disrupt your own business by changing how you run meetings, the type of people you recruit or even how to put a pitch presentation together.

5. Know when to get out

If you've agreed to a partnership and things start to smell bad, it's time to go. And fast.
But equally, she says small business owners shouldn't let a fear of failure stop them from collaborating in the first place.
"When it comes to failing, I say embrace it. If we are not failing, we are not trying hard enough," she said.

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