Healthy competition is ingrained in today’s business environment, but is that always the best approach to business?
Thanks in part to social media, society places high value on community and connection. This shift away from an ultra-competitive landscape gives rise to collaboration as a smart business strategy.
So is it possible that collaboration, rather than competition, has the power to generate stronger business outcomes? Looking specifically at women-owned businesses, I like to think so.
The current statistics about the challenges women face in business aren’t warm and fuzzy–they’re a wake up call. As much as we hate to admit it, gender bias, “old boys clubs,” wage gaps, and societal norms still exist in places and often hinder women.
How do we overcome these ingrained, intimidating challenges? Embracing partnerships has to be part of the solution. Collaborative, win-win relationships can accelerate growth, generate new opportunities, and provide a network of supporters to help founders through the challenging times.
That said, finding the right partners can be challenging and scary. That little voice in the back of your mind worries, wondering, “What if someone steals my idea? What if they poach my customers?”
A true partnership, however, is built on trust and loyalty, which should calm concerns about these fears. The reality is that nobody–no matter how smart or talented they may be–can scale a business on their own. Behind every great CEO and company leader, you’ll find a network of supporters, confidants, partners, and mentors. After all, the best leaders don’t just play to their strengths. They’re self-aware enough to realize their weaknesses. As leaders, they know that establishing partnerships that fill those gaps is a smart business decision.
Over the years, I’ve worked with and spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs. Through those experiences and conversations, I’ve learned that plenty of women want to run their own businesses, but they don’t always know where or how to start. That knowledge gap inspired the idea for Hello Fearless, a movement to create a world of unstoppable women.
My goal is to provide female founders with the education and resources they needed to build their businesses, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. To make a meaningful impact, I needed partners–both individuals and organizations–that were willing to work together to create a bigger, better solution. Here’s how we approach collaboration as a business growth strategy, and you can, too:
First, I sought to find a cofounder whose strengths and weaknesses compliment my own–we even took tests to prove it.
One of us thrives on innovation and seeing the bigger picture, while the other is more detail-oriented and likes to focus on the operational side of the business. A deep understanding and acceptance of each other’s blind spots positioned us to be better leaders from the get-go, both individually and as a team. Plus, that yin-and-yang balance helped us generate early momentum as we started soliciting partners to build the business. First and foremost, you must collaborate internally.
From the beginning, our mission has been to push all women-owned businesses–not just Hello Fearless–forward. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s why we don’t believe in competitors–a point we made very clear during early conversations with potential partners. Since we all share a mission, we refuse to waste time worrying if someone might try to steal our ideas. Instead, we focus our energy on nurturing partnerships that help us create the best possible experience for our customers.
I know enough about crowdfunding to be dangerous, but does that really make me the best resource for someone looking to explore it as a viable option for growing their business? Probably not. But reports show that crowdfunding is a game changer for women-owned businesses, with female-led campaigns on Kickstarter having an eight percentage-point advantage over their male counterparts.
In addition to the hard data, my conversations with women looking for new and alternative ways to finance their companies solidified the fact that access to crowdfunding resources and expertise needed to be baked into Hello Fearless’ offering. Enter our partnership with Plum Alley. Who better to provide that level of support and education for our programs than one of the leading crowdfunding sites for women-run businesses?
The takeaway? Find partners with missions that align with yours and who can add a layer of credibility and expertise to what you’re doing.
While our community benefits from having access to Plum Alley’s crowdfunding platform, their members now benefit from having access to better education, training and mentors through ours. While this may seem like a no-brainer, the best collaborations benefit everyone involved–not just one party or the other.
If collaboration can accelerate growth and strengthen customer experiences, then investing time to explore and build partnerships should be high on all our to-do lists. After all, it’s not just about whom you know; it’s about how you work together.
—Sara Davidson is founder and CEO of Hello Fearless, the school for female entrepreneurs. She teaches women how to build highly impactful and profitable businesses that meet both their personal and professional aspirations.