Collaborative Working – Top Tips on How Small Businesses Can Benefit

October 7th, 2015

Collaborative working is rising in popularity in the UK, both as an approach within a business and as a way for two or more small businesses to pool expertise and resources. The expansion of cloud-based technology, making it easier for colleagues to work on shared projects, is one reason for this growth. Renting office space for your SME in a business centre where other small companies are based, with opportunities for informal brainstorming sessions, can also help to build successful collaborative working arrangements.

Business People Jigsaw Puzzle Collaboration Team ConceptReasons for SMEs to Collaborate
Many small businesses build their own niche, successfully providing specialist services within a narrow field. However sometimes they may find themselves bidding for a contract where other services are required beyond their own area of expertise. In these instances, working together with another business can help to offer a complete service to prospective clients and make it easier to compete against larger providers.

There may also be opportunities to collaborate with a similar business to your own in order to fulfil a large contract where you don’t have enough resources yourself. Sometimes businesses strike up arrangements with companies in another area of the country, helping them to serve a wider area. One advantage of this type of arrangement is economies of scale, since purchasing equipment or services as a group can help you to negotiate lower prices. Once a good working relationship has been built up, there could also be possibilities of filling in for one another during holiday periods or at times of high demand.

SME collaborations with universities are another growing field, and these arrangements are being encouraged by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The aims here include promoting innovation and providing small businesses with sources of scientific and technical knowledge. Universities may also offer a way into new markets for your business.

Another reason for collaborating is as an alternative to outsourcing to a contractor. For instance, if you need a specialist to provide some services, possibly you can come to an arrangement where you provide them with your own services in return. This could again also lead to the two businesses working together to serve other customers.

Methods of Collaborating
Different companies will find their own methods of working together, depending on the type of project and the personalities of the individuals concerned. However, it’s always important to work out who is responsible for the various tasks within a project, to avoid any confusion or duplication of effort. You also need to arrange clear communication channels so that everybody is kept up to speed with how it is developing.

Where different small companies are working together, there are various safeguards which need to be taken, such as drawing up non-disclosure agreements and not poaching one another’s clients. It’s essential to get expert advice on this before entering into a working arrangement, so that everybody knows where they stand.

Ways of fostering the collaborative mindset include adopting flexible workspace, for instance with break-out areas for informal discussions. Shared desks within an office can also be helpful for projects where colleagues need to work closely together.

A whole range of software tools can be used to help collaborative working, both by different sectors within a company and between different companies working together. This sector is developing fast, with many new apps and services appearing, but the most important tools include cloud-based storage facilities, where colleagues and partners can plan and work on projects together from different locations. Social media has also become increasingly important for communication both within and between businesses.

The Right Environment for Collaboration
When considering collaborative working with other small companies, the most important thing is to find people you trust and feel you can work with, and whose methods complement your own. Even in this digital era, there is still no substitute for face-to-face discussions in getting to know someone properly. Networking and meeting up with other people within your local business community can help to build relationships and identify prospective working partners.

Renting office space within a business centre alongside other small companies gives many opportunities for networking. Basepoint Business Centres help to foster a collaborative environment by organising a range of networking events. Serviced meeting rooms are available, and there are also breakout areas within each centre where people from different small companies can meet and chat.

If you run a home-based business and take up a virtual office package, you will be invited to all networking events and seminars at your local centre, as well as having free access to the breakout area. This helps to make you feel part of the business community and again gives opportunities to build relationships which could lead to collaborative working.

Contact Basepoint now to find out about renting office space in centres including Andover, Evesham and Romsey, and the flexible terms we offer.