Our recent research shows that people are often looking for people to collaborate with when they’re out networking.
After all, many people find themselves setting up as one man bands (independent consultants) later in life after a lifetime in a corporate. While the corporate world has some real downsides, if you are an expert in your field it has a number of advantages that the small business owner doesn’t have.
- People to do your admin for you
- People to do your IT for you
- People to do your selling for you
- People that your skills complement to make a complete offering.
Life as a 1 man band is different. You have to either pay someone out of your earnings to do all the above – or you have to do it yourself.
It’s a truism that if you are delivering services yourself you can’t sell when you’re delivering and you can’t deliver when you’re selling. So you might consider forming a little gang of like minded people whose skills complement yours and form a consortium.
This lets you share the load of bidding and spreads the cost and time of customer acquisition. The importance of this can be judged from the preliminary returns from a current project. The average organisation spent about 14 hours on marketing per week which is what you might expect given that most were selling business services, less than half turned over more than £100,000 and employed more than 2 people.
So if the ratio of promotion and admin to delivery is approaching 1 to 1 it makes a great deal of sense to form a collaborative gang which will let you deliver a more complete offer to your client as well as spread the load of tendering.
Once trust is developed and you are in a position to start collaborating, the current development of the internet has made life very easy for you. Most of the tools you need, both for online networking and for collaborative working are either free or comparatively inexpensive.
Apart from email, the main tools you need are a tool to deliver voice over IP (VOIP) which will let you hold conference calls and run chats plus a document repository where you can store documents, manage the email threads and generally work collaboratively. It’s only about 8 years since that was effectively beyond the resources of even a 20-50 person company. So the power of broadband has effectively changed the balance of power for the individual worker. Effectively all you need is a laptop with a wi-fi broadband connection and you can work anywhere. More to the point you can project manage from anywhere too.
So what are the tools of choice?
Skype includes VOIP, video conferencing 1 to 1 only, teleconferencing (up to 5) and chat (up to 50 in a chat). It’s free if both parties are on Skype. It effectively revolutionises how you do business because any gang can have its own permanent running Skype chat. This means that anyone can raise a topic and it sits there until one of the others has time to deal with it.
It has a much greater immediacy to it than e-mail and is almost entirely opt-in. Because it multi-tasks its possible to have ongoing conversations while engaging in writing complex documents – like this one.
This is what it looks like and here is an example of an ongoing chat. As you can see there are about 50 people in this with topics constantly coming and going.
It can be used in a much tighter way between 5 people delivering a project together, Check it out at http://www.skype.com
Google Docs is a powerful tool that allows documents resembling word, excel and PowerPoint to be hosted by Google and accessed by you and your team. The real benefit is that you can have a team of several people working collaboratively on a spreadsheet at the same time, each updating their own sections. You can have a look at http://docs.google.com
BaseCamp is a product of 37 signals that also do a chat product and a hosted CRM application. I have been using it to support my projects for the last 18 months. It essentially gives you some space to store the definitive project documents, allows people to comment allows you to enter and agree milestones and track progress.
I have a fairly modest subscription of about £6 per month which allows me to run 3 live projects plus as many archived ones as necessary. It’s real benefit is that it deals with version control, saves you having to be constantly emailing files to everyone and manages the audit trail of emails as commented threads.
Because its all properly backed up it means that your documents are more secure than sitting on your own server at home.
Uploading files is easy and I’ve now run 5 projects using it.
Costs range from $12 per month for 3 live projects and 1 Gb storage up to $149 per month for unlimited projects and 50 Gb. The more expensive versions also contain basic project planning tools and timer recording.
You can allow your clients access to the environment too so that you can add transparency of project management to the other benefits to the customer of dealing with your organisation.
BaseCamp, in its larger capacity offerings is a secure, encrypted environment. This can be very important to clients as would be need for secure encrypted environments for Video Conferencing and chat.
Skype is a free environment but there are other, equivalent, products which for a modest monthly fee will deliver an encrypted and more powerful service. http://www.megameetings.com for instance will offer video conferencing for 5 at its entry level price and will also offer the facility for secure teleconferencing with recording and transcript facilities.
These tools facilitate the development of groups of consultants functioning as consortia which will enable them to bid more successfully for contracts and deliver them more effectively.
This obviously has an impact on the whole smarter working agenda which we’re going to look at next.
If you would like to know more about this subject we’re running a workshop on 30 July at The Hub near Liverpool Street. full details are available at http://www.punchaboveyourweight/collaboration.htm. This text is taken from 21 Business Stories – a Howtodobusiness.com e-book.