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How To Collaborate with Other SMBs

Joining a community of growth-oriented businesses and leveraging free tools can bring added creativity to small organizations.

It's tough surviving as a small business in the post-pandemic world: There's a worker shortage, supplies are often hard to source, and it can be difficult to reach new customers. But, there is strength in numbers: When entrepreneurs partner with other small businesses, they can learn from one another by focusing on their core strengths and sharing skills, strengths, resources, and perspectives.

Many large tech vendors also provide resources for small businesses, connecting them with consultative services and products. Dell for Entrepreneurs is one service where startups and smaller firms can access IT advice and technology planning.

Complementary businesses that collaborate are able to improve their bottom lines by integrating product offerings and services, thereby offering more value to customers. Finding like-minded entrepreneurs can provide a great sounding board as well as a hub for sharing information and resources.

An idea can evolve from a spark to fully formed and vetted much more quickly in a collaborative environment, as opposed to operating in relative isolation. Some ways to find such potential partners include joining industry groups, connecting with local chambers of commerce, joining social media groups, attending meetups, recommending partners, and embracing referrals.

In addition, companies with big dreams but small budgets can leverage a plethora of free tools to enable collaboration. Here's a look at Google Slides for presentations, Boomerang for email management, Canva for design, and Trello for productivity and organization.

Google Slides

Every serious presentation incorporates a deck of slides, and Google Slides facilitates real-time collaboration so the entire team can work together on the same presentation. When your deck requires input from remote staff, vendor partners, or even just a coworker at the next desk, Google Slides are easy to share and edit collaboratively. 

The cloud-based nature of Google Slides is another huge benefit. You don't have to download anything, and you can work directly in any browser. In addition, presentations are automatically saved to the cloud, so no more worrying about losing work due to a sudden power outage or human error. Finally, sharing Google Slides is easy:  No matter how large, every presentation is shared via a link. That's a huge improvement over "Delivery Failed" notices that come when you try to attach a too-large presentation to an email.

Boomerang

Also in the Google portfolio is Boomerang for email management. You can schedule email delivery for specific times, so if you're an insomniac but prefer coworkers or business partners don't know that, your secret is safe. Emails can be sent at 8 a.m. even if you wrote them at 2:30 a.m.

Once that email is "in the wild," it's often necessary to follow up within a certain timeframe. Boomerang can remind you of any tasks associated with that email. Other messages may not need immediate attention from you, but will need review by a certain deadline. You can select the Boomerang button when an email is open and choose when you need it again. Boomerang archives the message and brings it back to your attention according to your schedule.

Canva

Canva is a simplified design tool that's free to use but does have paid subscription offerings. It offers thousands of professional templates, images, and content to help with the creation of social media posts, presentations, and print collateral. It's also fully browser-based, and even the least tech-savvy person on your staff should be able to use it easily. Teammates can collaborate using Canva Pro for $12.99 monthly, which includes social scheduling, team templates, brand management, and other productivity tools as well as 100GB of cloud storage. Canva Pro is free to nonprofits and educational institutions.

Trello

For people who prefer visualizing their to-do lists, Trello is a work management tool that helps teams create, plan, manage, and track their work together. It's a board tool (based on Kanban methods) used to visualize the flow of any project from software development to web support to a team-building getaway. 

You break projects down into a series of lists, and then each task is represented by a 'card' that can be labelled, color-coded, prioritized, and moved from one stage to the next. It is easy to learn and use. In addition to the free version, Trello also offers Business Class and Enterprise for monthly fees.

SMBs often have innovative ideas that benefit from the knowledge and expertise of other entrepreneurs, but, unfortunately, such collaboration rarely happens. Business partners who make that effort -- who are confident in their worth and who come together to share their unique value -- can benefit from increased productivity and revenue.