Time for a new trend. Introducing collaboration.

Networking is like my favourite go-to handbag. Good quality, trusty and reliable. It happens to be a Mulberry Roxanne from way back. I’ve had it years. I’ve looked after it, used it well and still get a lot from it. And in pebbled sea green, people usually love it or hate it. A bit like networking really.

If you read my last post you’ll know I love networking. Not just any networking. On that, I think you get my drift.

But like my trusty Mulberry, networking can become a little familiar. Sometimes you just need to inject a Chloe crossbody or a little bit of Miu Miu magic to up the ante, to shake things up. You’re probably thinking ‘what the hell is she on about?’. (A fair point, I’ve spent the last 12 hours in front of my laptop, I’ve had no carbs or sugar and I’ve drunk far too much coffee).

What I mean is networking needs to be shaken up a bit. You can’t just turn up month in month out, spout your 60 second elevator pitch and chuck your business cards in the air hoping someone will catch one. They won’t.

So, when 2016 comes around, I’ll be declaring networking a little last season. Don’t get me wrong, it will still have a place in my life, my business and my heart, just like my Roxanne, but there’s a new trend about to hit. It’s name is Collaboration. 2016 will be the year of collaboration. Or it will be for me and my business.

I run a corporate photography business with my husband, he being the photographer, me being the ex-PR who just can’t help but PR him. This year I’ve worked hard on building a good team of networking buddies, people I can trust, speak honestly with and share my business ideas and plans. They recommend our business services to their clients, they use our services themselves and I do the same in return. But for 2016 I want to change things up. I’m going to inject a little extra something to my networking. I’m going to work hard on collaboration as I believe it’s the key to furthering my business model.

I read a great blog post recently written by an ex-PR colleague of mine. She’s now doing wonderful things on the other side of the world but it seems she’s as passionate about collaboration as me. In fact she sounds like a trailblazer when it comes to co-working and interdisciplinary thinking. In her blog she suggests that when meeting with another business owner, instead of just asking ‘what do you do?’ you should ask ‘is there a better way for us to work together?’. She talks about ‘networked thinking’ and that’s a term I’ve constantly got in my mind now as I make plans for the coming business year.

Working alone is an easy habit to get into as small business owners. But we must be cautious to not get trapped into working too autonomously. I tell my kids that it’s good to share. To share is to grow. And I think this is totally the case when it comes to business growth. Collaboration will introduce new dimensions and greater profitability into our work life.

On the subject of growth, Reading based GROW is a really cool co-working space at Green Park. Workers come together and work side by side. Collaboration is key to it’s success, not just in terms of profitability but in terms of business development and knowledge. If you’ve not been, go. It’s fabulous! And tell Louize I say hi.

This year I’ve recommended the people I respect like crazy. But for the new season, I don’t just want to do that. I want to work with those people as part of my business offering to make it a better proposition for my clients. I want to add services. I want to add value. Collaboration will help me do that. As consultants, freelancers and small business owners, it’s easy to get locked into our own businesses. Of course we all need to focus on our offering, be clear that we have ‘our house in order’, that we have strong foundations and we’re confident our services are attractive before we launch ourselves out into the market. But going forward, taking our business models onto the next level, and our networking into the next year, it may be time for our businesses to connect with others on another level. For my business, I’m starting as I mean to go on. At our next PopUp Studio (a monthly pop-up event where clients can come along for a business headshot), I’ve enrolled the services of a make-up artist from my networking group. Rather than just passing clients over to her to book in, I’m taking ownership. I’m offering it as one of our new services. I’m hoping to do the same with a videographer I’m talking to and I’m also discussing possible web photography packages with a web designer who will be able to sell in our services as part of her client pitch. It’s exciting.

I’m at a business masterclass tomorrow to talk about lessons learned in this last business year and discuss plans for the next. I’ve massively streamlined my networking during the last 12 months. I only go a a few key meetings and I’ll continue to be at them next year, very possibly with my sea green bag! I don’t intend to trade it in or trade it up. But I might just invest in the latest Mulberry Kite, a bucket bag from their Resort 2016 Collection. A bucket bag big enough to fill with my collaborative dreams for the coming year.

Rachel Bradley

Jon Bradley Photography

Wokingham Member & Chair