Compatible Collaboration: How to Pick Your Perfect Partner

How to Pick the Perfect Business Partner

Compatible Collaboration: How to Pick Your Perfect Partner

Collaborating with a fellow solopreneur is a great way to expand your business and explore new platforms or markets -- without all of the pressure of trying to figure it out on your own. But partnering up with just anyone can make for a collaboration that brings more stress than success.

When you’re on the hunt for the perfect partnership, keep these essentials in mind.

Where to find a collaborator

While you could bump into your collaboration soulmate while walking down the street, there are two places in particular I recommend looking for potential partnerships.

1. Online communities: Membership communities like One Woman Shop are a great place to connect with like-minded business owners who are open to collaborating on a business or marketing idea. This is especially powerful when the group brings together solopreneurs from various fields and areas of passion or expertise. (Editor’s note: Just look at what OWS members Jill and Julienne recently brought to life!)

If you’re not yet a member of a community like OWS, free Facebook Groups are another great place to connect with potential partners. Chances are there’s someone whose posts have caught your eye, and if you’ve felt the spark, they may be the person to ask.

2. Group courses or programs: When you’re in a group course and interacting with the rest of the students either in a private community or on group coaching calls, keep your eyes open for potential collaborators. While you and your cohorts are developing a specific skillset alongside one another in the program, you’re also sharing your individual strengths and passions, and there could be a perfect match in there for an idea you’ve had brewing.

Of course, those aren’t the only places; they just happen to be my top recommendations. Here are a few other places to meet business partners:

  • Social media: Stellar Instagram shots or witty Twitter banter could lead you to a good match
  • Real-life networking: Making small talk and exchanging business cards at a conference or event can lead to partnerships
  • Your business community: A subscriber to your email list may impress you with their responses and engagement
  • Your social circle: Friends or family could be a great fit -- just be aware that mixing business and friendship can create high stress situations

Collaboration compatibility

Once you’ve set your sights on a potential partner, it’s time to do a bit of research and reflection to determine if you’ll be a good fit, and if the signs are pointing to a profitable collaboration. Here are the three must-haves for a strong match:

1. Balanced skill sets: If you and your potential partner are both bringing the same skill sets to the table, your partnership is going to be rocky. While your combined expertise may trump any and all competitors, you’re going to be left with some serious skill gaps that will create extra work and stress for both of you. Your best bet is a partnership where your skills will complement one another’s. Even then, you’ll inevitably have gaps, in which case outsourcing will be key.

2. Similar styles: Branding is important, and goes beyond the color palette you use and the funky fonts on your site. It extends into your language, communication and tone -- and is designed to attract more of the clients you love working with. A collaboration will struggle when there’s a big difference between the tone of your business and your partner’s. If your presenting style is upbeat and bubbly, and you partner with someone who communicates with a brash, in-your-face tone, your audience is going to be 1) confused and 2) turned off by one or the other of you. This leads to poor sales results and frustration for both of you.

3. Aligned expectations: There is a vast variety of projects that you can collaborate on. Blog post exchanges, webinars, courses, even full-on joint ventures or new companies. So being on the same page when it comes to what the vision is for the project (World domination? A fun side gig?) as well as how each of you will be investing when it comes to time, finances and energy is important. The saying is true: You can go farther when you go together...but with the caveat that you need to have agreed on the destination ahead of time.

Picking that perfect partner

In the rush of excitement of launching a new partnership or collaboration, it can be tempting to skim over the research and reflection on whether or not you’ll be compatible. True -- some of the must-haves can be managed or massaged with clever contracts and strong communication later on, but spending some time assessing the strengths and challenges your collaboration will face ahead of time can save a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.

Have other tips for finding the perfect partner? Share with us in the comments below.

We Need To Talk: How To Effectively Deliver Feedback

Outsourcing for your solo biz via @OneWomanShop

outsourcing for your solo business via @OneWomanShop

In a perfect world, you’re a solopreneur with a perfectly assembled team of specialists to outsource to, who you’ve onboarded with ease. Your business is running like a finely tuned machine. Work gets done on-time, with expert quality, and all the moving pieces gel sublimely.

Except that sort of situation is exceedingly rare. So at some point you’ll find yourself in the position of needing to sit down with a member of your team and have “a talk” about how they’ve missed the mark or delivered work that isn’t up to your standards.

This can be awkward, nerve-wracking, and frankly something you would just rather not do -- but it’s got to be done. Fear not, because today you’ll learn how to effectively deliver constructive criticism to your team, minus the panic.

Get clear on the issue

The foundation of a low-stress feedback session with a team member is being prepared. Getting crystal clear on the exact issue will help you stay focused during the conversation, and will also yield the best results. Is there an issue with timeliness or lateness of their work? Mistakes or errors slipping through the net and into your hands (or worse yet, the clients’)? Or perhaps what they’re delivering is technically correct...but is missing the mark in representing your style and brand in the best way possible.

Being able to summarize the issue you’re experiencing in a short sentence or two will help you avoid accidentally rambling or skirting the issue. For example: “We need to address that your last three articles have been late.”

A tip: One way to proactively avoid these issues in the first place is to have a stellar onboarding process. Process docs are critical in onboarding.

Schedule the feedback

Delivering constructive criticism to a contractor isn’t the sort of thing that goes over well as a surprise. No one likes to feel as though they’ve been put on the spot. Schedule a meeting at least a week in advance, preferably to take place on Skype or over the phone, if you’re working remotely. Email may seem like the quick and easy way to take care of delivering the feedback, but it lacks the two-way communication that’s essential in avoiding misunderstandings. The goal is that you’re both feeling prepared and comfortable when the time comes to share your thoughts on where improvement is possible.

A tip: A classic method of delivering feedback is the Sandwich Technique, where you deliver the criticism “sandwiched” between two pieces of positive feedback. On the surface this seems like a great idea because it lets you get the conversation going with a low-stress compliment, deliver the negative feedback, and then bring the tone of the conversation back to a positive place with some more sweet words. Everyone leaves feeling pretty great!

But delivering feedback is about creating change, not warm fuzzies, so I recommend avoiding this technique when you’re delivering feedback to your team. It dilutes the importance of the critique you’re giving. There are times for positive reinforcement, and times for criticism -- mixing the two can leave everyone unclear on where they stand.

Bring solutions to the table

Identifying the problem is only half the journey in improving your team’s performance. Think back to high school and what it was like to get a big red X on a math exam. Not much use to you in figuring out what to do differently the next time. But the teacher sitting down with you and walking you through the better/correct/more efficient way of solving the problem meant that you were building a skill set that’d help you ace it the next time around.

Same goes for our businesses. Provide the criticism, and the skills or tools they’ll need to get it right. Below are some you solutions you might propose.

If the issue is...

  • Timeliness: Ask what’s causing the delays, and explore how you can help them hit deadlines. Consider offering to reschedule deadlines to another day of the week to avoid overwhelm in their calendar, or commit to giving a minimum advance notice on work you need done.
  • Errors or omissions: Review onboarding materials and offer to provide additional training on the issue areas. Screen sharing, recorded guides and manuals can be great supplementary materials to guide the team in hitting your expectations.
  • Brand or tone: Provide examples of language or visuals that are on brand, or assemble a style guide to help with consistency. You could even book a follow-up call to workshop some of their lacking/off-mark deliverables and help them understand why and how to adjust going forward (just like our math teachers walked us through the tough questions).

Encourage communication

Feedback goes both ways, and establishing regular check-ins with your team members gives you an opportunity to exchange feedback. At first, team members may be hesitant to share their thoughts on how you could do better (or differently) to help them be successful at their work, but handling their feedback with grace -- and taking action to adjust course -- will go a long way in fostering that flow of communication.

Having the hard talks is part of being boss

Discussing opportunities for improvement with a team member is never pleasant -- but as a solopreneur, it’s an essential skill that will help you cultivate a strong network of contractors and specialists that can help you deliver your best work to customer and clients. Focusing on clarity, solutions, and being open to receiving suggestions will help you make the process as stress-free and productive as possible.

Your turn: What difficult conversations have you had to navigate as a solo biz boss?

How To Ask For The Support You Need

There are few things that strike fear into an entrepreneur. Networking. Taxes. Tech glitches on launch day. And asking for help. After all, we’re in charge of everything – doesn’t that mean we’re supposed to be the expert on everything?

Nope. Not at all – the pressure is off.

It can be tough to fess up when something isn’t your strong suit and humbling to ask for a helping hand, but reaching out for support isn’t a sign of weakness - it’s a sign of strength.

Asking for support will require effort and vulnerability on your part, but before deciding to stick it out on your own, consider the impact of not asking for help: hours spent slogging through trial-and-error; not having energy or time to create new content or connect with potential clients; the added expense of bringing in a pro to save the day after something goes wonky. Or worse - being stuck in the status quo, and not moving your business forward. Facing risks like these, asking for the help you need trumps stubborn independence, every time.

Read on for three steps to getting the support you need to help your business thrive.

1. Clarify

First thing’s first: figure out what you need help with. Get clear on what will move you forward, and what you can’t do yourself. It’s important to fill this list with intentional and strategic activities.

A good place to start is your to-do list. If an item has been making multiple appearances, yet never getting crossed off, it’s a good candidate. Whether it’s fear, skill set or lack of time that’s preventing you from getting it done, that can be overcome. Another good place to find items you need help with is in your future plans. What big, exciting services or products are you bringing into the world? Do a quick brainstorm of all of the moving parts associated with each of them, and circle the ones that aren’t in your sweet spot.

2. Curate

With your list of ‘help me!’ items in hand, begin compiling a resource list of people who have the needed skill sets. Think of it like building your business’ go-to team. Look towards your friends, family, and colleagues (both online and in real life). Start with going through your social media contacts and jotting down which areas of expertise jump out at you. It’s not about delving into profiles and portfolios just in case they’ve got a secret super power you haven’t noticed before. Most of us have a stand out specialty that will be top of mind. Still have something you can’t find a resource for? Tap into your second circle of connections. Know a gal who knows a gal? Ask for an introduction or referral. [Editor’s note: the One Woman Shop directory is a great place to start your search for talented solopreneurs.]

3. Communicate

The final step is to reach out and ask for the support you need. This involves clearly expressing what you need help with, outlining expectations, and aiming for an ‘easy yes’ for the other person. Let’s see how those wrap up into your request.

  • Get Specific: Asking for ‘help with your website’ is far too broad. Narrow it down to the specific action item you need help with. “Can you please help me come up with a great headline for my sales page?” is much better.
  • Outline Expectations: What kind of support do you need? A quick email? Phone call? A done-for-you tweak? Spell out how you’d like to receive help, and what your timeline is. “I have a few ideas, and would appreciate your thoughts via email or Skype. My launch is scheduled for 4 weeks from now.”
  • Easy Yes: Your chances of receiving help are greater when you bring down the barriers to someone saying yes. Consider their schedule, how long helping you will take, and the strength of your connection to them when asking for support. “I know you’ve got a full week, but am hoping that you’d have 15 minutes to hop on the line and help me through this. I’ve attached the ideas I’ve come up with, and your input and perspective would be very much appreciated.”

Shifting your mindset is key in taking these three steps. It requires understanding that admitting blind spots and asking for help makes you a stronger business woman, capable of tackling – with the help of your go-to team - whatever life or business throws your way.

Support is a Two-Way Street

Now that you’ve unlocked the keys to asking for support, be open to offering assistance, or stepping up when someone has the courage to ask you for help. The impact of helping others will be more valuable than you can imagine. As solopreneurs, contributing to the success of others is just as important as making sure our own needs are met. After all, we may be one woman shops…but we’re certainly not in it alone.