GUEST POST by Lee Lee Thompson
If you’re in the entrepreneurial world, chances are you’ve heard the word collaboration thrown around. Perhaps, though, you don’t exactly know what that means. Does collaboration mean you find someone to work for you for free? Or that you donate your time or talent? Not exactly.
Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword, and it certainly isn’t yet another way for women to be underpaid. Collaborating with others is usually done because Person A has a need and Person B has a talent, resource, or product that fills that need.
For example, I run a women’s magazine and am often looking for products to feature in various beauty, style, and home design spreads. I’ve reached out countless times to shop owners and small-batch makers to ask if they’d loan me a product in exchange for exposure to our audience. This is what we call a win-win.
Despite my extensive positive experiences with collaboration, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to reach out to someone you’ve never met. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons and adopted a few habits that have made my decisions to collaborate a better and more profitable experience.
While it can help to think, “What do I have to lose?” before hitting that send button, successful collaborations typically result between two people that have a “what can I give” mindset.
Here’s a real-life example: A photographer wants to uplevel her blog and start writing product reviews. What does she have to give? Potentially, she could provide a small-batch maker with 10-12 gorgeous product photos. On the other end, a maker might respond to this collaboration not just because she wants/needs new photos, but because she knows she can introduce the photographer’s audience to a new category of materials or a different approach to handicraft.
While these two collaborators are certainly receiving benefits, their original purpose for participating in the collaboration is what they can provide the other person. In this way, the question of whether this was a successful collaboration doesn’t rely on an increase in the maker’s sales or the photographer’s blog reads.
Facebook groups are sold to us as a place where we can connect with other professionals, yet because of heavy regulations and the tendency of some to oversell or take advantage of the ready connections, most moderators have heavy regulations in place about what you can say and when.
Here’s a rule of thumb I try to follow: Use groups to make connections; send emails to propose collaborations. I pay attention and participate in groups where I’m likely to meet potential collaborators, but when it comes time to make my ask, I generally PM them and ask for an email address. This provides a better way to track my interactions with the person and is an easier way to use my collaboration assets, which I’ll speak to next.
On the other hand, if you have a general need (which, according to our definition above, isn’t technically a collaboration), go ahead and post to the group where you’re likely to get feedback. After checking the rules to make sure a post of that nature is allowed, of course!
Even though this is my last point, it’s the one I recommend you start building right away. For any successful business venture, you need resources. If you’re building your email list, you need an opt-in/freebie. If you’re selling something, you need stock. Collaboration is the same—to collaborate successfully, you need to build your resources library.
The tool I’ve found to be most helpful is an old form letter. I know, I know—we all hate getting these. Why? Because form letters are impersonal and inauthentic. A useful form letter (or form email) though, is customizable. Basically, you write your best request ever; hang on to it, and adapt it for the situation and recipient.
I’m also a huge fan of keeping a database of collaboration possibilities, from general ideas to specific people and their websites/contact info. In fact, I have an entire Evernote notebook devoted to this purpose. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist. Saving links or bookmarking various websites is sort of like putting your keys in a different place every couple of days. Create a file, a notebook, or an Excel spreadsheet instead—and don’t forget to back it up!
If you’ve been wanting to connect with other business owners, do it! If you’ve been thinking a collaboration would be a fun way to expand your business, you’re right! I can’t say enough positive things about collaborating with other business owners.
Approach the collaboration with the mindset that you have something to offer, reach out in the most effective way for that situation, and use the resources you’ve been saving up for that moment. If you do your due diligence before putting the request out into the world, I can’t guarantee the person will say yes—but I will guarantee you’ll be confident and comfortable with the result, whatever it may be … and you’ll be even more prepared the next time a collaboration idea strikes.
Lee Lee Thompson is the Creative Director & Managing Editor of The Perpetual You—a brand that exists because of beautiful and generous collaborations between women. If you have a product, service, talent, or resource that brings good to the lives of women, she’d love to give you exposure or offer you a route to sharing your voice with a new audience. Email Lee Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.