How to collaborate successfully when you’re used to working alone

More and more of us are working alone. But we all need collaborators from time to time - whether you’re buying in services, developing a product or publicising an event. How do you go from one-man band to a well-tuned orchestra?

Embrace co-working

For entrepreneurs looking to grow a business, home isn’t always the best environment, says Alessa McNally, community manager at The Office Group (TOG). Working in a shared space means you never know who you might end up sitting next to, and what skills they could bring to your business. "Networking and relationship-building is a main reason as to why people are making the shift to shared working spaces," she says. "In our case, nearly 40 per cent of TOG members - which include entrepreneurs and established businesses - have collaborated with another member at some point. Choose a co-working provider that prioritises an engaged community and focuses on maintaining an environment that encourages people to network, whether through a chance encounter in the kitchen or lounge area, or while attending an event."

Get excited

Whoever you choose to collaborate with, make sure they’re just as excited about the project as you are. "There’s a temptation to think that because these are temporary relationships, the only thing that really matters is that collaborators can fill a function," says Alex Smith, entrepreneur and founder of branding agency Basic Arts.

"If entrepreneurs don’t find it easy to catch the imagination of potential collaborators - if they see you as just another gig - that spells big trouble. If entrepreneurs can’t excite collaborators that they’re going to pay, how can they excite clients they’re going to charge? I try never to search for a collaborator ‘cold'. I simply take note of the people who ‘get' what my business is about. The more they get it, the more I’ll be inclined to work with them in the future. It’s always nice to work with a fan."

Find what unites you

Megan Allen runs Rural Roots, a PR agency specialising in working with businesses in the country. The success of her collaborations lies in shared values. "I work with small, rural businesses because I'm not from a corporate background," she explains. "Therefore, I work very well with other small businesses. But as soon as you get someone who's corporately driven, it automatically puts up a barrier. Not coming from a corporate background doesn't mean we don't get things done. It just means we're more mindful about our approach and that's important, not only for me but for my clients. As rural business owners, they can be overwhelmed by a ‘big business’ approach, so ensuring the people I work with respect them is essential."

Offer real value

When entrepreneur and inventor Martha Silcott set up FabLittleBag - the first fit-for-purpose bag to dispose of tampons, pads and wipes in the bin, rather than flushing them - she got used to doing everything on her own, from invention to patent. But she needed water companies on board to grow. So she told them she could help save them £88m a year - the amount they spend clearing blockages in the sewers caused by people flushing tampons, pads and wipes. That got their attention.

"Seven of the UK's major water companies now give out FabLittleBag to customers in their area to educate them and nudge them towards less damaging habits," she says. "They quickly realised that my product could help them solve an issue costing them millions, as well as allowing them to communicate positively with their customers."

Be brave

When Meggan Roxanne, founder of @TheGoodQuote, started her business, she was too overwhelmed and distracted by its rapid growth and popularity to think about collaborated. But she found that it was hard to move forward and out of her comfort zone when working alone - until, by chance, she was introduced to her now business partner through a friend.

"He was equally as passionate about the brand and had all the qualities the company needed to move forward," she says. "I was able to collaborate by putting aside all personal doubts and fears, taking the necessary risks and stepping out into the unknown. That introduction changed the future of our company. Most business owners are emotionally attached to their companies. But to be successful, you need to find effective ways of combining your strengths and skills with others who possess equal or better abilities."

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