Are you getting the most from your business relationships?

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However, many collaborative ventures fail or fall short of their original promise. To help smaller businesses unlock their collaborative potential and to avoid the pitfalls, the British Standards Institution has developed a free guide to building collaborative business relationships.

The benefits and complexities of collaboration

Businesses of all sizes and from all sectors benefit from collaborative working. Collaboration can be defined as two or more businesses working together to create a new or mutual benefit. Or more simply put, one business working with another to achieve something that it could not achieve alone. Benefits could include additional sales, reduced costs or prices, access to new customers, distribution channels or components, or new product development.

Increasing competition, rising costs and supply chain pressures mean that small businesses need to understand the complexities of collaboration as well as the potential benefits and risks. Supply chain collaboration between buyers and suppliers is typically cost driven but other benefits can include improved responsiveness and product quality.

Government purchasers

Government purchasers are increasingly looking to collaborative arrangements to achieve value for money and to make supply chains accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This means that, for small businesses, collaborative working maybe crucial in bidding for contracts. SMEs have a unique place in many supply chains as a source of innovation.

Strategic partnerships

Collaboration can allow businesses to optimize their skills, resources and market position through strategic partnerships. Marketing and R&D partnerships occur between businesses (including competitors sometimes) and can help partners reach new customers and improve new product and service development. Such partnerships rely on greater levels of joint working and of sharing resources, information and know-how.


Understanding organisational culture and fostering trust and mutual commitment will help ensure that neither partner is dominant and the partnership delivers successful outcomes. In all collaborative relationships it is important that each partner understands what they bring to the table and what they are looking for in return. If this is not clear, the collaboration might not be appropriate and there will be no return on investment.

Collaborative relationships can require dedicated investments and long-term relationship management. Joint negotiation on contracts, goals, KPIs and operations can be key to avoiding disputes, and to fostering trust and transparency between partners.

About the author

Nick Fleming is Sector Content Manager at BSI (British Standards Institution), the UK's National Standards Body. The Smart Guide to Collaboration is based upon the BS 11000 series of standards for Collaborative Business Relationships published by BSI. Visit the BSI website for more details or email

To read more on business growth, read our article on the 'Top 10 tips to catapult your business growth'.

Last updated 8th June 2016


Collaborative working is an increasing source of new revenue, competitive advantage, innovation and efficiency for businesses.