2016 has been a year of extreme polarisation. If we want to make a success of ourselves in a world that’s experiencing a lot of change, then 2017 has to be the year of compromise not competition - that will be the secret to success. If you can create a win-win situation, why turn it into a zero-sum game? Politicians could certainly learn something from entrepreneurs on this front...
Start-ups have always known the value of cooperation. Bootstrapping your way from the ground up is tough. Partnerships and a sharing ethos can also help smaller businesses through the early days when funds are tight.
As one of our members at The Supper Club, Alex Minchin, founder of Zest digital marketing agency, explains, "there’s no rule that says you have to be good at everything - I would argue it's better to be really good at one thing and find strategic partners who will benefit from your specialist expertise.
"Compromise and collaboration is a fundamental part of our business. As a small business, we rely on partners and complimentary service providers to add to our offering, and to join forces to win bigger business whilst not diluting our own specialist service."
Change = opportunity
In 2017, and for the next few years, one of the biggest challenges for business owners is likely to be in navigating the shifting international markets. Tariffs, rules and laws will change as we start to exit the EU and renegotiate trading relationships with other countries, creating instability. But as Celia Francis, CEO of Rated People, a platform connecting homeowners with tradespeople, says, "one of the key takeaways of 2016 is a reminder to stay fluid and to look for opportunity in surprising situations".
Tim Oldman heads up Leesman, a global, independent think-tank that has the largest collection of workplace effectiveness data ever amassed. "The cliff-edge drop in the value of the GB Pound reminds us that whilst an outstanding business is rarely constrained by international borders, currency instability makes it imperative to think local and international at the same time."
Over the last year, we’ve seen more interest than ever before from business owners expanding overseas, into major new markets like America or China, or thinking about doing so. One way to de-risk international expansion, and speed up the process, is through collaboration and partnerships.
Both China and America are hugely challenging environments to start up in, with very different sales and working cultures, legal and regulatory standards, and customer expectations. Building partnerships can help to avoid the pitfalls and get inside knowledge on how to succeed.
Secrets to successful partnerships
Building relationships with large multinational partners can raise your profile with potential clients and help you launch with lower risk. A few key rules will help structure the relationship to ensure you’re getting the most out of it.
Set low targets with new partners in new markets in the first year but incrementally increase those targets as partners demonstrate their ability to deliver and market potential. If they deliver below expectation give them a period to prove value, before you switch to a more motivated partner - sub-distributors, for example, who could step up to main distributor.
Don’t over-complicate a partnership and keep the terms and targets simple. Look at where each party adds value and focus on core delivery. You might not make any money in the first year, but play the long game and be clear on what you need to make in three to five years.
Give and get
At The Supper Club we like to think we’re pretty good at helping entrepreneurs connect and share knowledge, contacts and experience. But the reality is, in the UK as a whole, we’re way behind some other countries. All too often people are more focused on secrecy and competition rather than cooperation.
Tim Leesman is a proponent of collaboration over competition. "Conflict saps energy that is better directed at building relationships inside and outside your business," he says. "And knowledge shouldn’t be hoarded for private self-interest but disseminated as widely as possible for the benefit of all."
America, for instance, is much better at this than we are. Networks are more fluid and people are often happy to be generous with their contacts. Showing other people your underbelly is the norm, as is asking for help - it’s the currency of business. And after Brexit, we might see more opportunities in the US, so a shift in business culture could help as well.
There’s no time like the present...
Celia Francis believes that collaboration and compromise is just as important within the business. "Having people with different points of view can lead to innovative solutions to everyday problems," she argues. "There is a global problem of people taking more extreme views and a lack of dialogue across the social and political spectrum. Much more listening, dialogue and collaboration is needed."
Building a culture of cooperation within your business creates the right basis for successful partnerships outside the business: getting your team in the habit of spotting and seeking out partnership opportunities and enabling them to capitalise upon them. If anyone can navigate these times of uncertainty and even find the opportunities on offer, it’s the entrepreneurial sector - as long as we stay nimble, flexible and collaborative.