Collaborate or Die – Why Collaboration Is Important To Small Business

“Anyone who uses the phrase
‘easy as taking candy from a baby’
has never tried taking candy from a baby.” –
R. Hood

Let me start with a personal story. I have an acquaintance who’s freelancing as web developer. More on a creative side, less on programming, but essentially the same web development and web design as we do at Zealus. We’ve known each other for quite some time. This person (let’s call him John) oftentimes asks for my help on projects just to drop me off a few hours or days later. The typical conversation goes the same every time – first a phone call for help, brief description of the project and (almost) begging because John has overestimated his capacity or knowledge. I spend about an hour explaining and pointing out at least two acceptable solutions. John thanks me in the warmest terms. In about 10 – 12 hours (usually early next morning) he’s calling me again to discuss more ideas or ask more questions which takes up another hour. During this conversation John would offer me either to take the project completely off his hands, have me equally involved or make other advances – usually to make me divulge as much thinking as I possibly can regarding my approach to solving his problem. Then, out of nowhere, he would come up with completely different scheme of things that simplifies the problem to one single bare bone and makes my role in a project completely redundant. With elevated cheer and almost theatrical (in a bad sense) happiness he says something about how happy he was to be able to find such a simple solution and how he’s going to nail himself, since it will be so simple. With all that said he hangs up for another year or so.

So why do I always fall for his cries for help. Obviously, I’ve seen this go through time and time again. I know the story inside out and can even predict what his simplified solution would be. How come I keep giving up my time for this schmuck?

Well, first of all, any such story pretty much always ends the same – John has never landed a job from the client he needed someone else’s help with. So I am not the biggest looser here. There are, however, certain takeaways from any such situation that I think are worth spending my time on.

First – it’s a good Q & A practice. You would think you’ve had enough practice answering your other clients’ questions, but you would be wrong. Practice makes perfect, practicing on someone your income doesn’t depend on is saving you money. Think about that for a second – you are getting a free target practice session to polish your Q&A skills topped with fuzzy warm feeling that you are trying to help somebody.

Second – it’s a collective brain storming. Even a way less qualified person that you are is capable of coming up with inventive idea you didn’t think of, twice so – in creative environment. Listen before saying something is the rule of thumb. It’s like digging for diamonds in the rough, but some diamonds are well worth it.

Third – it is good to train your brains on someone else’s problem. Your brain actually functions differently (with a lot less stress) if you don’t have to solve the problem. So you end up with really good ideas and solutions for things you still may encounter in a future – but at least you will be prepared well in advance.

Fourth – I get to hear what other crazy requirements people have for services similar to mine. This way I can think of/create something in advance and beat my competitors by over-delivering before they even start talking. Think about this – if everybody out there wants a forum installed (which actually was the case a few years back) you can do your home work and pair up with great forum developer or designer who specializes in forum skins. When the time comes and you get asked to add a forum to your client’s site – you don’t go on a desperate trip to find someone capable of doing things at any cost, you go to a person you pre-screened for this job already.

Fifth – and the last one for today – is the simple fact that I am selling myself to John every time he asks me something. He may do this for a different reason (to extract information) but what he ultimately hears is that I can do this job for him better than he can do it himself. When the time comes and he gets that big fat client that he would not want to drop at any cost – I’ll be there.

As you can see, even these little things are well worth the trouble, let alone other perks (free coffee?). This is why collaboration – even if you cannot understand or realize its benefits right away – is always better. Once you start collaborating with your peers, you turn them into your agents, instead of head-on competitors. More on that – in the next post, stay tuned.