Collaboration – some key methods and advantages for small businesses

In the current recession climate, along with increases in business rates and rent, we personally believe that business people running small independent businesses need to be as creative as possible to increase sales and attract new customers. One approach that seems to work for us is collaborating with other independent designers, galleries and creative businesses. Here are some key methods and advantages that we would like to share with our readership:


From our experience networking groups tend to be made up small and large corporate businesses. In times of crisis both types can support each other, and learn from successes and failures. If you can find a group that fits in with your own ethos and is made up of a series of business members that could offer you regular client referrals you may find membership a valuable investment for your business.

Business types that work well together tend to fall into distinct groups: Financial  – banks, insurance and pension groups, financial advisors and investors; Building Services – surveyors, architects, builders and decorators; Beauty and health – dentists, doctors, massage therapists and osteopaths; Artists and Designers – gardeners, florists and interior designers. The latter work well with Building Services too. We believe that florists, interior designers, IT and telecommunication companies tend to have more than one referral target group, e.g. all groups may require flowers from time to time and most will require IT and telecomm support for their business systems.   

Many networking groups offer introductory visits before insisting on a commitment to a full membership. We suggest that you take advantage of visitor days or sub for a friend/colleague who is already a member. Try out different sub-branches until you find one that suits your business.

Local Business Associations

Despite this government’s protestations that they support local businesses many small shopping parades are dying. A few years ago we collaborated with other local businesses and formed our own trade association, inviting residents as members also. If your local high street is like ours, where parking has become a major issue and congestion charges have certainly affected trade, sharing concerns in such a group can be effective and supportive. As a business collective you stand a better chance of persuading councils to sit up and listen to your shared concerns. We can’t promise they will listen but inviting residents on side too may strengthen your case. 

Hosting annual events as a collective can help to boost individual sales. For example, our street association organises an annual late night shopping evening once at year, about one month before Christmas. Local choirs are invited to sing, raffles are organised with prizes donated by each business, warm-seasonal refreshments are on sale to tempt shoppers from their domestic comforts.

 Independent businesses

There are of course many companies that work independently and therefore may not be based on a local high street, or offer a service that falls outside of the scope of referrals sourced from networking groups. Some of the companies we have collaborated with fall in to this category. A few have contacted us independently and others we met at trade shows or exhibitions.

Trade shows are a golden opportunity to (i) keep abreast of business and design trends, (ii) expand one’s network of suppliers, (iii) meet potential customers and finally (iv) network with allies from your own industry.

 Joint ventures

Glassware by Pippa Stacey: Pippa is a very talented artist who creates her own range of glassware, with designs featuring healing flowers, fairies, and fauna. Her themed glassware ties in beautifully with our own stylish floral creations. This led us to showcase a selection of her bowls at our workshop. They have proved to be very popular with our customers and visitors. www.

Cake decorating by Abigail Bloom: At one of the Creative Open House Events we invited a handful of local creative people to display their work in and around Amwell Street. Abigail did some amazing and fun demonstrations of cake decorating throughout the evening. Crowds of visitors poured into our workshop to watch her nimble hands at work. With a captive audience admiring her finished handiwork and tasting the delicious cakes Abigail seized the opportunity to promote her business by distributing her business cards.

Vintage photoshoot: A year ago our team of florists, a make up artist, a stylist, and a troop of model brides, wearing vintage wedding style dresses, took part in a photo shoot at Pennies Vintage shop  and the very regal, Regents Park. This was a collaboration on a much bigger scale as the images were not only used to promote Pennies business and our wedding bouquets, but also to create a portfolio of photographs for the stylist, Sandra Hutton Miller makeup artist Annette Beauvoir, and the trainee model.  A good friend also captured the entire proceedings on movie film. This has since been placed on ‘you tube’ and makes great viewing.

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