First and foremost, you need to understand and manage the “democollaboration” style of today’s young and new companies.
Yes, I invented the term, and I’m going to use it liberally in this post! Democollaboration is when a company has a democratic power structure, a horizontal management hierarchy, and a collaborative decision making process.
Often you’ll see democollaboration in startups run by groups of Millenials, but you’ll also find it in new launches by experienced owner-managers who have banded together for financial reasons.
Here’s how the trend in democollaboration is changing how you work with startups and how they want to work with you:
Build deep relationships with more than one person in the customer’s company. I’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating. Within your customer’s organization, many people may have the power, responsibility and influence to purchase your product or service. You will want to meet frequently with their entire group if possible. Keep in mind that, in a democollaborative setting, the startup team will trust each other before they trust you. Earn your way into the circle of trust.
Learn to use collaboration software. If your company uses Basecamp or a proprietary project management program, you may be able to add your customer as a user in a partitioned section. Personally, I adapt to the programs that my customers use so I become a seamless and invaluable part of the user group. There are many project management options that are free or affordable. Be sure the program can be used on mobile devices and accessed from the cloud. At the very least, learn to use Google Docs and Dropbox, so you can manage and share information with multiple team members. Collaboration apps will help you streamline communication, consolidate digital assets, and reduce errors.
Prepare your entire team to interface with the customer’s entire team. Democollaboration can be a real culture shift for a printing company. Your startup customer will want to meet various people in your organization, not just the salesperson or CSR. They may want to hold meetings in your conference room. You’ll probably have a cluster of curious onlookers at the first press check. For meetings, always ask, “Is there anyone else who should be included?” Consider using a web-based option to record meetings for those who cannot attend. Again, there are many free or affordable choices, from Skype to online options like GoToWebinar. If you are hosting a meeting that will be recorded, have a meaningful agenda and control the flow of the meeting so those watching the replay don’t have to sit through chit chat. I have meetings transcribed for customers so we can cut and paste action items and CYA documentation right into our project management software. Develop a style of communication that works for everyone.
Respect everyone’s time. If you are a “drop by” kind of person who shows up unannounced, you may not realize you are wasting people’s time because everything seems so loose and casual. This is not a good precedent. When newly-formed groups are getting up to speed on their own communication and management styles, they need to be around good role models. As startups progress, the roles of the individuals and the structure of power may change. The person whose time you are wasting now may end up being the key decision maker later. It’s crucial to be personable yet professional. Make appointments, have a purpose, and don’t be a “lid.”*
Your company may already have adapted to the democollaborative style of today’s startup companies. that’s good, because this will be the trending topic of the future. Get a jump on your competition and learn how to work with startup companies…now, now, now!
Sandy Hubbard is a marketing strategist for printing companies. She builds marketing programs that can be sustained over the long haul, with affordable tools and your own people…and without stress! Find Sandy on Twitter at @sandyhubbard each Wednesday at 4 PM ET, assisting #PrintChat host Deborah Corn @PrintMediaCentr with a lively online discussion for printers and those who love print.
* A “lid” in ham radio lingo is that jerk who hogs bandwidth, blunders on with no sense of others, and is inept at using the tools of the trade.