Collaboration: Go together, and go far

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

Learning new ways of thinking about old problems is Vanessa Perumal’s forte. She has made a career out of forming collaborative relations — whether between business compatriots or even competitors.

“According to a Forbes article, collaboration is the key to your success,” Perumal said. “It starts with you knowing what you’d like to accomplish while utilizing your resources to achieve a goal. Learning to leverage your brand and resources in advancing your goals enables trust.”

Perumal is a media strategist, public relations fixer, journalist and founder of JT Comms, a company of publicity experts, visionaries and content originators.

She discussed how collaboration has affected her business and its potential for other entrepreneurs to follow suit.

“In terms of JT Comms, our experience shows — once we agree and have contracts in place clearly stating expectations and what we agreed — it helps to increase revenue streams and traction where we have collaborated in partnership,” Perumal said. “Clarity on specifics is key.

“The power to influence change in building alliances also depends on how you can work as a team,” she said. “Collaboration for entrepreneurs is about working together to achieve goals. It does not have to be all your goals but at least work as a biz plan that has projections.”

Perumal gave her ways to harness the power of collaboration:

  • You participate in a shared platform.
  • You give permission.
  • You trust.
  • You allow someone in your space.
  • Your business activation is no longer self-serving.

“First, tick off the trust box,” Perumal said. “In your business, network with people who share your ideals and can advance your vision. Be strategic on who you partner with. Common values are key, but also work in networks where strengths are leveraged to win.

“As we grow older in our biz, we are learning the benefits of collaboration,” she said. “It’s the fuel that drives economic impact. When we started, we lacked foresight and believed everyone was trying to steal our biz ideas. We were never part of a generation that learned to share.”

Ready to jump in

Businesses with the best chance to succeed are those that take advantage of opportunities.

“It makes sense for small to medium-size enterprises to collaborate with opportunities that will open a door for your business,” Perumal said. “Be on the alert for opportunities and build relationships. Also leverage what you’re good at to influence impact whether it’s about reach or markets.

“Collaborate economies drive bottom-line success,” she said. “Global influencers know this. Look at Uber, Airbnb and others. These business models are disrupting archaic business practices simply by creating shared economies. This is the game-changer.”

Even in collaboration, one party needs to step out front.

“At some point in a business collaboration a shared vision is also about making the best expertise take the lead,” Perumal said. “Collaboration becomes most effective when trust enables businesses to influence growth areas where there is expertise.

“Having a footprint of excellence is the best profile to connect you to your next business opportunity,” she said. “Coming together is one thing. Understanding and unpacking the value you each bring to a network makes for perfection.”

Collaboration also raises the prospect of sacrificing individuality.

“When it comes to a business growth strategy, as entrepreneurs we need to start leaving individualism aside if it imperils growth and hampers bottom-line success,” Perumal said. “But it’s also a tough ask.

“Too few African entrepreneurs build foresight planning in their business plans,” she said. “Until you understand how much easier it becomes and how profitable and how wide your networks can reach, worrying about your individualism will drain you. Collaboration has risk attached.”

Mind and matter issues

Both psychological and economic factors come into play.

“Individuality versus collaboration is an interesting dynamic,” Perumal said. “When you’re in a network, the greater good for all matters. In business, learn to be strategic and think long term. I find when you lose trust, it’s just very hard to focus on going the long haul.

“If you are losing anything that matters in a collaborative biz relationship, it won’t sustain,” she said. “Be comfortable at what you are prepared to trade off. Make a list and plan to win. Eliminate what you won’t compromise out of the deal.”

Collaborative relationships form several ways.

“Like most things in life, knowledge is power,” Perumal said. “Learning is a skill that digital enables so much more robustly. If you read about the great entrepreneurs in modern times, a common thread harnessed is the ability to build.

“Entrepreneurs start learning that simple business wins,” she said. “Earning your place at the biz table is about how you conduct your business. Activate all your offerings with integrity and influence, and the collaborators will come to you. In our business, we’re known for producing exceptional media strategy.”

Another collaboration centers on leadership.

“Collaborative relationships also are formed when you take a lead,” Perumal said. “Partners appreciate bold leadership. For example, shift how you approach business networks. At JT Comms, we may be learning late, but we realize we have not tapped into Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment opportunities.

“Through collaborations on digital platforms, we also can now influence through aligned ecosystems the plight and peril of African entrepreneurs,” she said. “These simple platforms fuel new networks of influence. Look out for the business collaboration opportunities.”

Subtle differences

There is a difference between a collaboration and partnership.

As Perumal explained, a partnership is a signed contract that spells out the rules of engagement. A collaboration is coming together to enhance and create opportunities through strengthening and pooling resources.

It even is possible to collaborate with competitors.

“This is the risk we all need to take,” Perumal said. “It’s also the bane of why we refuse to take risks. We’ve been burnt so many times. Learn to cultivate a knack for smelling out the competition or convert them to understand why working together can work. This is easier said than done.”

Collaborations face another hurdle when a partner fears losing control.

“It’s this paucity mindset that traps us and alienates our business potential,” Perumal said. “No one said collaboration is a stroll in the park. Be vigilant, but also start easing up and learn to trust in shared economies. Bottom-line growth reaps rewards.”

Any collaboration should have a clear strategy, distinguishing expectation from reality.

“Clarify what rewards to agree on and what percentage of the pie goes to whom,” Perumal said. “Recently in a biz network, there was confusion that could have seen us split as potential collaborators. Thankfully, we had the wisdom to clarify.

“All is not equal in rewards in collaborative economies,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a simple equation of a finder’s fee. Deal with facts.”

Fit for today

Amid today’s global business economy, Perumal explained that collaboration fits well.

“In our compressed challenged economies, the only margin still open for entrepreneurs is the ability to make the circle bigger and create room at the inn,” she said. “Less is more. When you are able to share, the universe colludes and abundance follows.

“The beauty of collaboration is that you will return what you are prepared to share and invest,” Perumal said. “In today’s economy you may have to offer more to settle for less. How you prepare to broker a deal is the game-changer. Look for opportunities that benefit more than you.”

This presents openings for small and medium-sized enterprises.

“We need to create a movement where we can encourage small biz to champion collaborative economies,” Perumal said. “Simple things like supporting a small entrepreneur in your hood for a percentage rather than buying from a global franchise builds and strengthens.”

This again reinforces the benefits of working together.

“Harnessing the power of collaboration is more about losing the fear of wanting to participate and grow in collective networks,” Perumal said. “We can influence our business bottom line by how we participate in a collective and look for the wins.”

To that, she added a guiding light:

“A good place to harness collaboration for entrepreneurs is to learn from African wisdom: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to far, go together.”

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.