Collaboration doesn’t come naturally to many business owners.

Often what made business owners successful was the extra work they did that nobody else would do. They risk their own money, time, effort and emotional energy. They drive themselves harder than everyone else. They depend on no one but themselves, and sometimes see themselves as “lone ranger” figures that are keeping the cash flowing in and the bill collectors at bay.

They’re sure as heck not going to trust their success to anyone else!

And that’s what keeps their business small. And sometimes, that’s what causes their businesses to fail.

To continue our series on Jay Levinson Conrad’s Sixteen Monumental Secrets of Guerilla Marketing,  Secret Number 12 is “Learn to become dependent on other businesses and they on you.”

(I prefer Steven Covey’s term “interdependent,” meaning that each party becomes more than the sum of its parts, rather than simple dependence.  But that’s a discussion of philosophy and psychology that goes even farther afield from marketing that this story already takes us.  So, another article for another day. . .   🙂

Meanwhile, depending on other people is not something that comes naturally. ABCI was started by folks that were much more comfortable depending on themselves, knowing that we could be up all night if necessary but we would absolutely deliver what ABCI had promised. We still have to work at collaboration constantly.

I had a colleague that felt the same way.

He had enrolled an Executive MBA program where, he found to his dismay, the program required participants to work in a team of six for the duration of the program.  For the next eighteen months, the team would succeed or fail together.

Now understand, each of these people was a C-level executive and was used to running his or her own show.  None of them would concede control of the group, everybody was still thinking “every man for himself, and I’ll do all the work necessary to make the grade, and I’ll carry all these other people if I need to, but I’m sure as heck not going to let one of these other clowns run this team and jeopardize my grade.”

They had several meetings that ended in stalemates.

The way the course was structured, the team couldn’t complete the work necessary without depending on each other. Deadlines were looming, they were at odds about the approach to take, duplicating effort, working too hard, and getting frustrated.

I was working at the time as a facilitator and project manager. My colleague called and asked if I’d be willing to take on an independent project.

“We need an outside person that doesn’t have a dog in this fight to help referee this mess. Can you help us get through the first project?”

They all agreed to participate.  I interviewed each team member separately and discussed their concerns, and then got them together as a group.  They were very surprised to hear that each of them had exactly the same concerns. Everyone in the program had been carefully interviewed and selected primarily BECAUSE they were competitive, high-achieving, “Type A” personalities.  The hard part was not getting them motivated to do the work (which is what they all assumed from past experience) the hard part was getting them to trust one another enough to allow someone  besides themselves to be responsible for crucial pieces of work.

There were a couple of rocky meetings, and one team member was eventually “fired,” but the group of five became so interdependent that years after they’ve completed their MBAs, several members of the team have participated in other business ventures together.   They’ve come to depend on each others’ unique skills to augment their own.

As business owners, we depend on our vendors, suppliers, partners, and also on our customers. Sometimes these folks let us down.  But without them, the range of products or services we could offer would be pretty limited. And the people we could offer them TO would be pretty limited as well.

From a marketing perspective, we depend on these folks for product development, joint marketing ventures, joint mailers, events, referral programs, affiliate programs, and many other marketing initiatives.

How can we make sure these projects add up to synergy and not disaster?   Here are a few things we’ve learned the hard way:

  • Recruit only the best. This goes for customers  as well as vendors, suppliers and partners! We’ve walked away from potentially lucrative deals with a customer or partner who has less-than-sterling business practices. We’ve learned the hard way that it will cost you more in time and hassle than it’s worth.
  • Write clear, specific agreements. Even when everyone has the best of intentions, people don’t always think or communicate the same way or remember things the same way years later.  Writing everything down as clearly and specifically as possible (and doing some brainstorming about what could go wrong) saves everyone hard feelings and missed opportunities.
  • Trust people. Maybe we’ve been lucky, but businesspeople in aviation are good, honorable folks.  If we’ve gone to the trouble to recruit the best and write good agreements, then suspicion and supposition is pointless, unnecessary, and too late to do any good, anyway!

Now that we’ve got the caveats out of the way and have found some trusted compatriots, almost all of the businesses we consult with could benefit from a healthy dose of collaboration and interdependence.

Interdependent marketing strategies to consider:

  • Have a guest author on your blog or newsletter. Or write a guest article on your partner’s blog. Or both. Use words, video or images to tell the story of how you worked together on a project.
  • Do a joint mailing. Postage is expensive, so are lists of customers.  Create a joint marketing piece for a direct mail campaign and split the cost.
  • Create a commission or affiliate referral program. Provide a commission or discounted services based on the value of referred business.
  • Offer a package or set that includes products and services from several companies. During the holiday season, one helicopter charter company offered their typical “tour of the city” to see the Christmas lights, plus dinner at a local restaurant, limousine service, and roses.   The charter company did all the organizing so that customers were treated to a smooth, effortless, romantic date night.

Start with something small, have a “Plan B” in case Murphy strikes, and build up the complexity of your collaborations as you gain experience and trust with one another. We encourage members of our Marketing Master Class to collaborate with each other and we actively look for opportunities among class members.

Want to join us?  Find out more . . .

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