Thursday, March 27, 2008

Moving Safely through Collaborations

A couple weeks ago Bootstrap Austin had two opportunities to enlighten the attendees of SXSW Interactive on the hallmarks of what it means to be a Bootstrapper and how to be a Bootstrapper. In the second panel discussion, Bootstrapping through Entrepreneur Collaboration Networks, the panelists Kevin Koym, Allen Beuershausen, Bijoy Goswami, Bruce Krysiak, and myself illustrated how the "collaboration networks" that we use to grow our businesses, are actually a community. Once we view the ever-available resources of the bootstrappers as a "community", then we can move into a collaboration dance with other entrepreneurs. In contrast to the other models of building businesses, bootstrap businesses don't impose arbitrary structures on themselves. Instead, they extract structure from chaos with tools like the wiki and see the potential of opportunities everywhere, finding that the best ones are often those that are unexpected!

It is the collaboration dance that I find so fascinating! This is not simply because I am a Relater (Bijoy's MRE model of energy), an Extrovert (Myers-Briggs personality preferences), or that the college degrees I've collected include the word, "psychology." These one-to-one collaboration dances are how I have grown my business and created new service offerings! Nevertheless, being driven, energized, and overly-trained regarding people, I also tend to enjoy collaborating with others and realize that for many entrepreneurs, they do not have this same comfort. During our panel discussion at SXSWi, a good number of questions from the audience were about concerns dealing with the people in their collaborations/partnerships. One person asked, "You put yourself out there and make yourself vulnerable, working to build a collaboration with someone. What if they aren't being honest with you and don't have the same level of integrity?" Hence, the need to move safely through collaborations.

To begin with, we need to find the "right" people for our collaborations. Think about the effort we put into hiring people...okay, think about the effort that business people who hire GREAT employees put into hiring; it's a process where they spend time. They spend considerable time and energy, ask good questions, contact references, look for fit of the individual in their company, look closely at the needs of the company, and assess the individuals ability or likelihood of meeting those needs. In developing collaborations to build your business, keep in mind that the "right" people are a complement to you! They are not your clone. Of course, the "right" people are different depending on who YOU are, what your business is, the time it is in your life, local/global economics and where you are in your business (the stage of your venture). In trying to figure out if someone is the "right" person for you to develop a collaboration with, here are a list of features that you will want to know about the person:

  • strengths and natural talents
  • personality preferences
  • values and passions
  • skills and expertise

For more information about collaborations, you can also reference EIN's August newsletter, Boutiques for Sole Proprietorships. Finally, remember that mutual respect is a critical component in the successful collaboration dance.

So what else is important for safely building collaborations?

We also need a lot of clarity and awareness about ourselves. The quote, "One must know himself before they can know another' applies directly. What are our own strengths and weaknesses? Our personality preferences, values, and passions? So it is, that in the collaboration dance, it is vital to really know who we are. After all, we are looking for our "business complement". Furthermore, it is important to know what we need in our business. This could be any number of things. Do we need a collaboration to: take our business to the next level; expand our reach; handle operations; manage people; create new products/services; or simply meet the demands of a new, large-client project?

As we're collecting all this information about ourselves, our business, and potential people to collaborate with, we want to be mindful of possible hitch points that can come up along the way. And sometimes, it is simply a matter of timing, and not the right time or a good time for this collaboration. Hitch points, however, are signs or warnings that it may not be safe to proceed with the collaboration. They can show up as:

  • conflict in ethics or values
  • skewed power or lack of balance in power
  • lack of reciprocation

Essentially, whenever we sense any of these dynamics, it is our wise, intuitive self trying to warn us that there is a high risk that this collaboration will be a costly and negative experience. This is also discussed in Business Relationships: Develop the Essential Components and Dodge the Hitch Points.

Finally, after we've found the "right" person, uncovered the specifics of ourselves and the needs of our business, and there haven't been any hitch points, focus on setting this collaboration up for success! As we develop the collaboration, spend time discussing what each of us need and outline and agree to the parameters of what we're actually doing together, who is specifically doing what, and when things will happen. These steps will help to ensure that we not only safely venture into collaborations, but that our collaborations will also be successful!

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