Collaborating with the Competition

 

 

As a Business Coach in Lancashire, I work on growth strategies with Business Leaders and collaboration forms part of the conversation almost every time. Adopting an approach where, if one benefits then everyone will benefit, is key to collaborative partnerships in business.

Over the last few weeks I’ve posted several articles on collaboration as it’s such a fundamental part of success in business. We all start small and want growth. Collaboration is a great way to achieve it.

Collaborating with your Competition

Somebody once said you should never be critical of your competition, it’s your competition that make you better. Being respectful of those you compete with does not just should respect and integrity but it’s true, it can also serve to drive you forward.

I tend to take the view that there is enough business out there for everyone and if we understand thoroughly where our true value lies we’ll tend to all naturally find clients for whom we give the best fit.

However, those people that you immediately might regard as competitors may just be your best sources of work.

Same Sector, Different Skills

Just because someone is in the same line of work doesn’t automatically make them a threat. It could be that although you are in the same sector and give similar services you may specialise in totally different areas of that sector. Just think of the potential similarities in place. You may have similar goals in terms of growth. You may have similar approaches in lifestyle choices when looking to strike a work life balance. One of you may be a great business developer whilst the other might be a technical specialist. Together you might have an incredibly strong proposition. You don’t know this until you’ve had the conversation.

Larger Projects

You might have no ambition whatsoever to work formally in partnership with someone else but what if you wanted to pitch for a particularly large piece of work which required more manpower? It’s always useful to have people you can fall back on for support that might be interested in such projects. This type of collaborative working is becoming more common nowadays.

Have an Open Mind

I work alongside several coaches and speak to them regularly. We all have specialisms which can benefit one another and more importantly our clients. This open minded approach means we can bring the right person in on the right project. In a world where projects are becoming the norm more and more often this flexible approach can often meet the client’s demands effectively. It can work both ways as just because you lead on one project it could be your partner the next time.

What’s you approach to working alongside competitors? Do you think that it’s healthy to have a strong relationship with people who sometimes you can compete with?

If you want to know more about how to build a culture of collaboration within your business which can help your next stage of growth please get in touch.

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The Power of Collaboration and Referrals

 

 

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When is a referral not a referral? When it’s a lead.

I’ve posted recently about the strength of collaborative relationships but perhaps the biggest plus of a collaborative relationship is the potential for new opportunities and business growth. If you ensure that you manage relationships correctly as a sole trader or small business, with those people you collaborate with, then the result can be a significant increase in your work.

When you start out its just you. You tell people and hope that advocates like friends and family will help to spread the word. Eventually you start collaborating with others. Once you have these relationships it’s almost like you’ve doubled your sales force.

What makes a good collaborative partner for sales?

In my opinion you can’t just refer anyone. For me it has been important to differentiate between what is a referral and what constitutes an introduction. A referral is more of a recommendation where you vouch for the quality of someone’s work, whereas an introduction almost comes with the caveat that you cannot vouch for the quality. Why? Ultimately you reputation can be impacted through association. The people you refer are an extension of your judgement.

The Three Steps to Collaborative Referrals

There is nothing better than having collaborators who you are happy to refer. What is important and quickly becomes evident is that the relationship works in two ways, you refer work back. Only then will this become a powerful thing. However there are three other steps to working with collaborative referral sources:

Step 1: Know your partner – does this person have the right skills and attributes to make them a credible referee. Ask yourself would you employ them as a sales person?

Step 2: Clarify a Good referral – do you understand who your collaborative partner is looking to work with? Do you come across such clients? Are you both going to capably recommend each other within your own networks to the right people?

Step 3: Ask about the referral – especially if it’s from someone that doesn’t normally collaborate with you it’s important you understand what the expectations are from the potential client. What has your referral source recommended? You don’t want to sail blind. You want to make sure that what has been suggested can be delivered.

Referrals lead to a six times higher chance of doing business. The more referrals we get the better. If you are serious about the services you deliver though you want to make sure it’s the right work. By establishing great relationships with your collaborative partners everyone will understand how to spread your message.

I’m Paul Aisthorpe, collaborator, business growth coach, leadership and employee engagement specialist. Please get in touch for more details.

Reaching the Market through Collaboration

 

 

Over the last few years we’ve really seen budgets tighten up. The layers of approval people need just to buy pens seems to be incredible. When you are starting out in business money is naturally tight. Speculate to accumulate they say but you can only speculate with what you’ve got. So when you are on your own trying to build a portfolio or a business where should you start with limited time and budget? How about your collaborators?

A couple of weeks ago I started talking about who your collaborators are. Collaborators can come from anywhere. They can be friends, acquaintances, family or just people you’ve met through business. There doesn’t necessarily need to be an emotional pre-established relationship.

As your career develops though you will meet like-minded people with whom you have much in common and perhaps your goals may well be aligned in many ways. Quite often as well you may be at similar stages in the growth of your businesses.

Marketing can be very expensive. Employing sales staff can be risky. However, with a good knowledge of your key collaborators you may not need to do either.

Why Collaborators?

They say that a referral is six times more likely to turn into business than a cold call.

Look at your phone book. How many people present an opportunity to do business? What if you had access to three or four more phone books like that? Your collaborators will give you access to those people.

Over time the sales process has changed. Consumers are savvy and know when they are being sold to. They are much more interested in having their needs matched in a way that can add value to their business. By getting to know your collaborators well, by helping them to understand your business and you theirs you will open up the opportunities for new business.

How often do you see something or hear a comment and think “I will tell so and so about that.” You may do it subconsciously but if you have a great relationship with your collaborators it could be that these opportunities are most likely top of the mind.

Collaborators don’t necessarily need to be the people in your local networking group, they can be people who you see from time to time or regularly do business with. The important thing is that there is mutual respect and the relationship works two ways.

My top tip is to do an audit of all the people you regularly come into contact with and the business that you have so far. Who are the contacts? Who has sent you business before? This should start to give you an idea of just who is referring you and which collaborative relationships may help you along in future.

As a Business Coach  in Lancashire and a small business owner, I understand that I need to work and collaborate with like minded people to be successful. If you want to find out more about how I help other businesses reach out and find their key collaborators, I would be happy to hear from you.

Who are your Key Collaborators?

 

Lets Collaborate

 

In the early days of any business, and indeed the latter days too, there are a great many relationships but one of the most important is with your collaborators. What are collaborators and why are they so important?

The Environment

The World is changing. Over the last few years UK PLC has wanted to create a Britain which stimulates business growth and makes it the easiest place in the world to start a business. And easy it has become with more than half a million new companies starting up each year. Portfolio careers are becoming the norm, and online communication is making it much easier for us to find clients even when are services are so niche.

But no man is an island and we need still the support of others to help our businesses grow and flourish.

One of the easiest ways to do this is through collaboration.

What is Collaboration?

Collaborating is working together on projects and businesses without the formal structure of a company in place. Some examples of a collaborative approach to work might be:

  • A web designer and a social media consultant working together to deliver a digital marketing strategy for the same client.
  • Two independent business coaches working together to deliver multiple staff workshops
  • Business owners who meet up regularly just to share the challenges and problems they face as business owners.

There are many more examples of collaboration.

This might seem little bit like teaching you to suck eggs but how well do you really understand the importance of these collaborative relationships?

How important is Collaboration for a Small Business?

These relationships are fundamental to the growth and development of your business. You will often find that these people are your best source of sales and referrals. They are the people that help you solve your problems and challenges. They act as confidants, trusted advisors, sounding boards and your sales force.

When you understand these relationships you can make the best of them.

Top Three Tips for Authentic Collaborative Relationships

Understand who your collaborators are – they may not always be the people who you immediately have business synergy with but it may be people you can work alongside effectively.

Assess their values – by understanding your potential collaborators values you’ll be able to manage the relationship for the longer term.

Know their motivation – Put yourself in your collaborators shoes. What are they looking for, how can you help their journey. The strength of your relationship will come as you help one another.

A collaborator relationship is one of your most important as you start out. Where the relationship could lead… who knows? What is important is that it is two way.

I’m Paul Aisthorpe, Business Coach and Mentor with Imaginative Coaching. 

 

The Disastrous Consequences of Poor Engagement

 

We all know that better performing businesses have more engaged employees, employees who understand the what and the why of their company’s performance. According to the Hay Group employees that are fully engaged in their work are 43% more productive. This would suggest therefore at those crucial contact points with the customer, employee engagement affects interactions and indeed impacts company performance.

What does an disengaged employee look like?

When someone is disengaged with the business they are less concerned about the outcomes of these important interactions. A customer becomes a distraction from the procrastination of the day. They are clock watching. Before the day starts they are dreading even coming in to work. It becomes evident in their appearance, their tone and their body language. When you think someone is disengaged they probably are, as humans we can pick up the signs pretty easily.

What does an engaged employee look like?

On the other hand an engaged employee is attentive. Every customer is an opportunity to grow the business. They know what their targets are, they know how far off target they are and what they need to do in order to achieve them. They look forward to getting into the office, they attack the day and make sales. They know exactly what the company is seeking to achieve and understand their role in this.

The Link Between Sales, Marketing and Engagement

Companies invest a great deal of time in understanding their customers. Through marketing activity they gain an understanding of who the customer is and where they should target their key advertising messages. This information helps to inform where sales staff should be deployed. Advertising budgets in the millions are used to build shop fronts, websites, advertising campaigns; the whole array of advertising platforms. Imagine investing all of that money for one moment of disengagement which stops the customer dead in their tracks of their journey with you. How often does this happen? How many chances are being missed?

Employee engagement isn’t a destination, its a journey. Great companies have a culture that focuses on engagement. Over the last few months I have been speaking to staff members of a particular Bank. Whenever I speak to to staff from this particular institution I’m amazed at the levels of engagement. Every staff member understands the values and principle aims of their employer. I’m sure if you are a member of the professional community you may know the people i’m referring to. However, employee engagement cannot stand still. Competitors will be looking to see how they can change to promote levels of engagement like this.

So how engaged are your teams? How do you know if they are engaged? And wouldn’t it be great if there was something out there to help us measure tangibly the levels of staff engagement in our teams and how it impacts customers?

Well, maybe there is……

You Just Don’t Know How Strong You Are

 

Sometimes we just don’t understand how resourceful we are. In business the majority of us have focus, goals, aims and ambitions. Every now and again though life happens. These aims fall to the bottom of our list of priorities as we focus on other challenges that take place. It feels like we are fighting the battle every day.

I recently worked with a client who had been going through their own set of challenges. A hugely successful business owner had been stopped in his tracks by life events. Family problems and becoming over run with issues in the business had compounded to bring a unique set of challenging circumstances.

Our coaching centred on the business challenges and we’d meet regularly to discuss goals. When it became apparent he was becoming over run with other concerns it was time to get down to basics. It became apparent that his personal horizons were changing on a daily basis and so it became hard to do anything with the longer term in mind. Instead we worked on setting some short term goals; goals designed to get him from one month to the next, one day to the next.

Two days before an upcoming coaching meeting I received a phone call. “Paul, I’m really sorry but I think we should postpone, I don’t think I’ve done anything that we talked about last time and things have been very difficult this last month.”

“If you want to rearrange that’s fine but it might help just to have a catch up anyway. Forget the goals for now, let’s just meet for a coffee and go through what’s been happening in the business.”

So we met up and started talking. From the look on my clients face I could immediately tell he was actually relieved to be away from everything else and having a chance to unload. It’s always the job of the coach to provide non-judgemental listening with and empathetic approach, now more than ever.

I knew what the goals we’d spoken about previously were, so hidden into the conversation I happened to drop some questions indirectly related to these. I made a mental note of the progress.

As we came towards the end of the conversation I fed back my mental notes. “Do you realise that during the last month, without realising, you’ve hit all those goals that we discussed last month.” I then held the mirror up and repeated back what he’d told me. He was amazed.

We are a resilient breed. Programmed into many of us the ability to keep going when the chips are down. You’ll be amazed just what you can achieve even when you are struggling. It’s in our DNA, sometimes just some positive reinforcement is all we need to realise just how capable we are.

Have you ever beaten the odds to achieve a goal? Do you know someone who has carried on going despite challenges? I’d love to hear from you.

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As a professional offering Leadership Coaching in Lancashire I would love to hear from you to have a no-obligation chat over coffee to discuss how we might work together on achieving more of your personal and business goals.

 

Growing Your Business

 

Let’s Not Over-Complicate It

OK, here’s a scenario of starting in business. Let’s use the age old example of widgets.

In month one you create 1000 widgets and sell them for £1000.

You want growth.

In month two you make 2000 widgets and sell them for £2000.

Between month one and two you’ve had growth.

In month 3 you sell £3000 worth and hey, growth again.

We live in an age defined by rapid growth. Nowadays someone can have an idea and before they know it they are getting seven digit sums of seed capital thrown in by wealthy investors. The problem is for many would-be entrepreneurs it gives the impression that you can’t have a business without such backing. I think this is especially true for young entrepreneurs.

We all have great ideas. These are the ideas that come to us when we are laid in bed a night, thinking before we go to sleep. You’ve been thinking about that problem you keep having. You hit on a solution. You realise you can make something to fix it. Hang on… you could make thousands of these things and you can sell them. Everyone will want one. You’ve just opened a factory. Now you’re exporting. Wait a minute, international blue chips are now looking to buy your business, your idea is about to make you a million…. No wait… a billionaire.

Then you wake up the next morning. Guess what? You don’t do it. You just go back to work. That great idea remains just that. An idea. You think it will never grow without some investment.

I was speaking to a friend last week, a motorcycle enthusiast. He’d made a part for his bike, a brilliant piece of kit, from scratch. He wanted to produce it but guess what… he said he needed too much investment for machines and materials.

“Why do you need investment? You haven’t even sold one yet?” I asked.

Don’t be put off by growth. Growth starts by selling one. Then two, then three and so on. It’s great to have the long term plan but break it down into small steps, otherwise you risk the plan being so big you freeze.

Remember the first step is the one most people don’t take.

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I’m Paul Aisthorpe, a Business Growth Coach, Mentor and Trainer with Imaginative Coaching. I work with businesses in Lancashire and the North West on growth strategies and aligning your team behind those strategies. If you are looking for a Business Coach in Lancashire or would like to find out more about the benefits of working with a Business Coach please contact me at paul@imaginative-coaching.com.

Knowing Yourself for Leadership

 

Is self-awareness the most important criteria of becoming a leader? Possibly not.

Are all good leaders self-aware? Not necessarily.

Does self-awareness make you a better leader? YES.

Leaders who know themselves are better equipped to manage the relationships around them, grow their businesses and make effective decisions.

It takes grace, intellect and foresight to make statements like that of Steve Jobs (pictured) but above all else great self-awareness. In a commercial environment understanding what you are good at, but more importantly not so good at, can allow you the opportunity to bring in good people to support growth.

That’s not where self-awareness ends. We are all different. Having knowledge of your own personality and how you respond to people can help you to manage personal relationships more effectively.

I recently worked with an entrepreneurial leader in a rapidly growing business. Like most entrepreneurs his thought process was on a different level, always thinking of the next growth plan. However detail and day to day challenges were not his forte. Recognise this?

In an environment regulated by compliance he needed a highly focussed ‘details’ person who could support the company’s compliance. The only problem was this approach to detail could provide a stumbling block to his ‘act fast think later’ approach. Such issues could lead to a fractured relationship.

Fortunately we identified this before the recruitment. Subsequently we did some work to allow the leader to get to know himself and identify the attributes in others that he may need to develop new relationship management strategies for. The entrepreneur successfully adapted his management style and the way he approached conversations with his new recruit allowed him to bring the best out of that relationship.

Steve Jobs was right. If you want growth get self-aware and bring in the smart people who’ll do it for you.

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I’m Paul Aisthorpe, a Business Coach in Lancashire working with some of the County’s Leaders of tomorrow. Please inbox me to find out how I can help prepare you for leadership. If you like this article please share it with your community.

How well do you know yourself?

Self Awareness

We can all stand back and be quite blasé about understanding ourselves. ‘I’d never do that,’ ‘That’s right up my street,’ ‘I’m such a good judge of character.’ They’re all things we’ve said and thought at one time or another. Perhaps its human nature to believe so strongly that we understand ourselves.

As you move up a career ladder, especially one that is characterised by successive promotions in early stages, it can often become natural to think that such progression will continue. I find it in sales and marketing in particular. People often start to think that they are almost invincible, that the sky is the limit them suddenly they stop. The career plateaus. Results don’t get better any more.

You’ve spent all that time believing what other people have said that you’ve not taken the chance to actually do the important thing – REFLECT ON YOURSELF.

The people I know that have been very successful consistently have had self-awareness; they know their blind spots. For those that have plateaued they have reached a point and stopped. Their performance today has been excellent but perhaps they’ve only concentrated on what they’ve been good at.

Companies will often pay lip service to personal development and why shouldn’t they? You are performing well, they tell you that you are great. Why would they tell you were your blind spots lie, risking upsetting you and you leaving? You are profitable in the here and now, that’s what matters.

And the truth is why should it be someone else’s responsibility? It’s your career. I’ve worked with a lady recently who had to do some soul searching as this had happened to her. Her career had stalled at senior management. She had worked in the role for three years expecting in internal promotion to department head. When the time came however she was overlooked by someone who the organisation thought was better equipped to be a leader.

In our conversations there was some deep questions and some regrets. She asked herself why no-one had told her previously about this lack of skills, and why she hadn’t done anything about it. Leadership was her blind-spot.

Once we realised this however it gave us the opportunity to realign her personal brand and her CV to make sure that in 12 months she would be ready for the move. Suitable courses were identified and a project came up at work to lead a dynamic team for a change initiative.

Understanding ourselves is the key to understanding others and what they think of us. Then we can start to take ownership of our own actions and fit them into the world around us. 

Believe me, your ability to be able to hold the mirror and reflect on yourself could well be the greatest skill you will ever develop.

Did this article help you to reflect? If so, feel free to e-mail me, comment on Linked In or get in touch.

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I’m Paul Aisthorpe, a leading Business Coach in Lancashire working with Corporates, SMEs and one man operations to develop leaders of the future.

What Happens if You Dont?

As a Business Coach one of the most rewarding moments of any relationship is ‘The Lightbulb Moment.’ This is the moment when the coachee makes a realisation; suddenly the clouds have parted and the path is clear. You can physically see and hear the change. Body language shoots up, tone of voice changes, eyes widen and the coachee becomes alive. Sometimes it’s the simplest question that encourages this.

For the last three months I’ve been working with an Area Sales Manager* of a business that provides B2B support services. A rapid career trajectory stalled a few years ago as family commitments took priority however, as his children have started school and his wife has gone back to work he was ready to realign his career goals. He enlisted my help with this.

At first we discussed goals and how his relationship with his employer had changed. He felt he’d fallen behind some of the people he was competing with for promotion and his personal brand had suffered. He also talked about moving company to further his career.

As the coach though I felt something was missing, as if there was something that I hadn’t been told.

After our second session we parted with the coachee having some actions to look into opportunities elsewhere in the field. When we met for our third session I asked how he’d followed through with these. He hadn’t. I asked what had stopped him from pursuing this. His response was time and that he wasn’t convinced he wanted to leave. At this point I knew I needed to investigate this relationship between him and the company further.

As I asked a story came out. Ten months earlier a major prospect that he’d been courting for over a year had become disillusioned with their supplier. My client smelt a deal in the air. He set to work and within 3 months had signed the customer on a 2 year contract securing his company a hefty income. Everyone in the company celebrated the achievement and things were looking up. Just a couple of months later he’d applied for a promotion to a Regional Sales Director role. On the crest of a wave he felt confident in getting the job but was pipped to the post by an external. He received feedback but was very disappointed.

The conversations from the previous sessions, the goals we’d talk about all became a side issue. The real problem was how he’d been overlooked.

Do you recognise these feelings?

The focus of our conversation changed to this challenge. How would he get passed this problem? The emotional contract between him and his employer was suddenly fractured. No one else had tried to address it and he’d said nothing. I asked him what he could do.

“I’ve thought about so many things I could do. Some days I just want to walk in and tell them where to stick the job. Then I remember how good they’ve been in the past and I’m self-critical so I think maybe it’s my own fault. But maybe I need to say something to my boss.”

At that point I referred to one of the most challenging yet simplest questions in a coach’s locker:

“What happens if you don’t?”

The moment of clarity. The clouds started to disappear.

So what would happen if he didn’t? He’ll continue to feel down. He’ll amble through a job search trying to find something different. He might get to a point of asking ‘what if?’

Take a moment to think. Have you got a key challenge coming up? What will happen if you don’t take action? Can you remember having a challenge and taking no action? What happened when you didn’t?

After that my client and I worked on how he could present a case to his manager to help further his cause. We established goals and identified a win-win situation which made him feel far more comfortable and started to repair the relationship with the employer. Sometimes just having the objectionable view point of a third party coach can be the catalyst to help you take action to achieve your goals.

I’ve worked with this client successfully and many more like him and I want to work with you to. To find out how I can help you to achieve your goals get in touch today. Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter @ICoachingLTD.

*Identities are protected for client confidentiality purposes.