There are countless benefits to collaborating as a small business: the camaraderie, the learning, the growth and challenge, the connections, and – best of all – the shared celebration of success. Collaborating has been a big part of my business in the past few years and it’s truly been one of my favorite parts of the journey so far. I love that it connects me with other badass bosses and my community, and as you can tell, I’m a huge proponent of collaborations! But there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your next collab is a success.
1. Find the right partner.
There are a lot of measures for who would be the “right” collaborator for you and your business, so there’s no perfect answer. That said, here are a few things I’ve found helpful. First, find a partner with a similar audience/customer to yours. They’ll be knowledgeable about your ideal customer and you can work together to reach even more people with your offering. A shared aesthetic or style is also helpful, especially when discussing product collaborations. It’s also helpful to find a partner who balances your skill set or expertise. Talk about this when you first start discussing your collab and be honest – I’m not good at X but not as much at Y. Maybe your partner will be great at Y and less interested in X. The final note on choosing the right partner for your collaboration is trusting your gut. You want to be sure you’ll work together well and that you can trust each other to achieve your goals and a lot of times your intuition will tell you if this one is right.
2. Establish your goals and decide how to achieve them.
One of the first steps after you’ve found your ideal collaborator is to talk about your business goals and ideas for how to mutually achieve them. WHY do you want to collaborate and what do you hope to get from the partnership? Is it to grow your audience or social media following? Increase revenue? Build your email list? By having a shared goal, you’ll both be able to bring passion to the project, leading to shared success. You’ll want to be sure that how you collaborate (whether it’s creating a new product/services, merging products/services, hosting a giveaway, trading services, etc.) will get you closer to achieving your business goals.
3. Spell it ALL out and make it official.
After you’ve hashed out the details of your “WHY,” it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of making your collaboration happen. One of the most important steps to a successful collaboration is spelling out all the details for executing the collab. (Since you’ve already picked the right partner and you have some shared goals, this part should be pretty easy.)
Some things to consider during this stage of the collaboration:
Hammer out the details of operations, especially if the collab involves physical or downloadable product. Be sure to set up your systems and double check everything before launching.
Communicate clearly about who is responsible for what tasks.
Discuss all the possibilities – what if it’s hugely successful? What if it isn’t? Thinking through all the potential opportunities and downfalls will make tough conversations easier if (and when) they come up later on.
Expectations for duration of partnership. How long will your collaboration last? Is it a one-off project? Is it evergreen? What happens if one partner wants out?
Discuss finances openly and honestly.
Put it in writing – have a written agreement that you can both understand and feel good about. (Be sure to have your lawyer review it too, especially if it involves money.) No matter how “small” your collaboration seems, this is an important step to making sure everyone feels good about the collab and expectations are clear from the start.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Now that you’ve established the most important pieces of a successful partnership – your collaborator, your goals, and how you’ll achieve them – it’s time to get to work. The most successful collaborations are open and honest and each person feels they are bringing their best work to the table. Talk about challenges or worries openly so you can problem solve together.
5. Be Flexible
Remember when you talked about all the possibilities and potential opportunities? Sometimes something will come up that neither of you could have dreamed of! Does your collaboration lead to an even bigger, better opportunity? Decide if it’s worth a pivot. Is something within the collab just not working? Change it! Does the project need to be tweaked to better serve your customers? Make that change. Your agreement isn’t written in stone, be open to making the changes necessary to be even more successful.
6. Learn and Grow
When the partnership or collaboration is complete, take stock of what worked, what didn’t and be really honest about why. Your learnings will help you make the next collab even better.
Collaborating can help your business reach new people and make you a better business person, all while sharing in the success with another badass lady boss.
Who is this #BADASSLADYBOSS?
In 2009, Kimberly Senn left a flourishing career in creative advertising and embarked on my solo creative journey, pursuing a lifelong passion for art and design. After painting some artwork for her son’s nursery and getting substantial encouragement from friends and family to create art for others, I launched Senn & Sons, a growing family brand on a mission to bring color and joy to family homes everywhere. That business led to incredible partnerships including one with Blue Sky to design a line of planners and calendars exclusively for Target, a product collection with Live & Love MN available at West Elm Local Minnesota and other boutiques across the state, and nursery art exclusively available at Sprout in five major cities across the U.S.
Fueled by her love for storytelling and partnering with incredible creative talent, she also worked with a talented team of people as the production designer on an independent feature film called Dragonfly, which has screened at film festivals across the country.