Entrepreneurs are not islands. They do not work in vacuums — although they may well initiate their innovations by the power of their individual creative minds. However, their minds working alone, cannot readily bring their innovations to the marketplace. The world is simply too large (even with the internet).
What is the value of entrepreneurs working in collaboration with partners? Firstly, there is a cooperative interaction among multiple creators leading to enhanced goods and services beyond those that could be produced by any single creator. Secondly, there is the impact of multiple perspectives, feedback, and editing focused on responding to a question, problem or market need, as well as the efficiencies of economies of scale and scope in resolving those issues. Thirdly, there is less competition for limited financial, material and human resources when multiple business actors work toward a unified goal instead of at cross-purposes.
Collaboration fosters the delivery of change-agent outcomes along a continuum from incremental shifts in processes and outputs, paradigm shifts in processes and outputs, all the way to quantum-leap changes possibly leading to the point of altering the core business. Such an example would be an organization transitioning from being a desktop computer manufacturer to a smartphone manufacturer. All in all, partnerships help propel an enterprise from an “as-is” state to a “to-be” state.
How can collaboration of this sort occur? There is no “magic bullet” to forming and maintaining business relationships. So, let us ask, how does one go about creating and maintaining personal relationships? This is done every day in the natural course of life, even for people who are not particularly comfortable with socializing. The formula is to apply that personal world skill set to the business world by learning to:
- Create opportunities to meet – This very magazine typically includes references for Santa Fe College, University of Florida, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, government, and other civic and professional association meetings and events, many of which are open to the public and even free of charge. To effectively utilize these opportunities, one cannot merely show up; rather, one must be proactively open-minded to other attendees with whom mutually beneficial opportunities can develop, particularly those with decision-making, purchasing and “checkbook” authority. This is the very nature of networking — the creation of constellations of presently unknown contacts.
- Take time to share by discussing areas of commonality and differences with existing and new partners – Doing this thoughtfully yields new perspectives on issues, problems and possible solutions. And, it requires the participants to become active listeners. The outcomes of this active communication can provide useful information about a partner’s corporate culture, mission and goals, plus the overall innovation context in the marketplace.
- Give – Bring something to the table first. Everyone can provide some potentially useful benefit to a partner or prospective partner. For example, forwarding an electronic copy of a useful article about a helpful topic to a prospective or existing partner will be recognized and likely appreciated. Even if the contribution ends up not being actionable, it causes the recipient to think — momentarily and in a positive way — about the sender. This fosters a trusting relationship between prospective partners.
- Close by actually working together – Finally, do something collaboratively, as opposed to talking about doing it someday. This occurs first in a small way, such as through a single win-win project. And as confidence grows from past successes, this leads to increasingly creative risk-taking ventures. This can lead over time to invitations to negotiate directly, as opposed to responding to invitations to bid. And, even further, this can cause the overall business community to think of the partners as honest brokers who can be relied upon to say what they mean and then do what they say they will do. A side note: This also allows collaborators to learn from their successes and mistakes, which can enhance the learning curve and improve future joint ventures.
- Monitor and evaluate the results – This requires the partners to stay alert and be flexible in “real-time” to the overall business environment, particularly to the quality of partner relationships and their outputs within that context. The parties can then replicate what went well and change or discard what did not.
- Do all of this every day and forever – Why not? People do these things every day in their personal lives without giving them a second thought.
The steps above are not to be deployed cynically but, rather, sincerely and with a genuine intent for the partners to succeed together. One cannot create and maintain positive business relationships by being a user or taker, a good reputation is essential in the marketplace and must be carefully protected at all times.
Additionally, this article is, in fact, written by a lawyer, so the roles and expectations of the partners should be supported by actual written contracts, such as joint venture contracts, partnership agreements, and even confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements.
To close out, if entrepreneurs successfully engage in collaborations, other players in the business community may well come to them for advice and to request technical assistance — and they will do so in absolutely unexpected and unanticipated ways and times. And, they will do so without any particular advance notice. As a consequence, entrepreneurs should be ready at a moment’s notice to respond and react to collaboration opportunities.
One last full disclosure note: this topic is one of my personal favorite business topics and is typically addressed in my business law classes. Opportunities for considered discussions are welcomed…
For more information, call Philip N. Kabler, Esq. of the Gainesville, Florida, office of Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A. at 352-332-7688. NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and readers should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding their legal matters, as every situation is unique.
PHILIP N. KABLER is an Incubator Resource for the Santa Fe Center for Innovation and Economic Development (CIED), will be teaching a fall 2016 semester course in the UF Warrington College of Business Administration’s Master of Science in Real Estate program, has taught various courses at the UF Levin College of Law and the UF Warrington College of Business Administration (undergraduate and graduate), and was a member of the Gainesville Area Innovation Network’s board of trustees. He is also the current president of the North Florida Association of Real Estate Attorneys.