When you're starting up, teaming up with other businesses and participating in the community is essential - not only does it help you stay connected and supported, but it can help you grow too. We chatted to Rosie, founder of children's party business Poppy's Parties, about how connecting with other busineses is helping her scale up.

My business is Poppy’s Parties, and we specialise in interactive, immersive parties for children with a focus on encouraging creative play. We are just edging into our third year now and are one of the best-known party companies in Sussex, and we’re now taking our focus towards South London and Surrey. It’s a lot of hard work, but slowly and surely I’m getting to the point where I want to be. 

Virgin StartUp - Poppy's Parties

Why did you want to work more closely with other businesses in the community?

A lot of my business comes from referrals and word of mouth, especially as I am a service provider. I knew that by reaching out to people in the local community I was instantly creating a bond with others where by knowing the face behind the business they would feel confident reccomending me to others. In turn, I also wanted to see how I could collaborate with other local brands and encourage people to buy from independents- small and growing businesses are always stronger together! 

How did you decide which businesses to work with?

I really focused into who my audience are, which is parents, and predominantely mothers. I therefore engaged with local women in business and family networking groups to make connections to the relevant people. I found that surrounding myself with women in business was not only really useful as a support network from a business perspective, but I was also creating yet another database of potential clients for my parties. I would really strongly recommend focusing your own efforts into networking with individuals and companies who are specifically useful to you; although it’s good to make connections everywhere, you’re going to be time-poor as a start-up, so look for opportunity and support in the places where you know your target market are going to be. I also thought about my brand message, and my company is very much about creative play, interaction and educational fun, so I wanted to collaborate with people who shared this view. So far I have worked with a local artisan cakemaker, a children’s photographer and I’ve had a local chocolate maker and children’s boutique owner write blog content for me, so it’s great! Think about the kind of associations you want to make with your brand - if I’m working with small, ethical family businesses then that reflects well on me and further strengthens my brand message and trust. Don’t worry about being picky on who you work with - they have to be right for you! 

What results have you seen?

I’ve definitely seen direct business through my collaborations and networking, and purely the strength of word of mouth is phenomenal. If you make the effort to go along to networking events and talk to other businesses you’ll be amazed how many people say “Oh, let me take a card, I’ve got someone who will be interested in what you do.” Also look for the collaboration opportunities - it’s given me the ability to create great content on my website through my blog without me having to constantly write everything, which is great! I also find it really useful being able to be the face of what I do. Yes, your online presence is really important but face-to-face still has so much value, and if people meet you and like you they will like your brand too. 

Another thing I’ve found through working with others is just how much I’ve been able to pick up in terms of advice and tips; people love to share their experience, and especially if you’re going through a bit of a conundrum it can be really useful to chat through it with others who are in your situation (although I’d probably steer clear of discussing it with anyone you’re in direct competition with!!). Many start ups are going it alone, so think of networking and collaborating like being in a huge open plan office, only the office is everywhere and you’re all working on lots of different things at the same time! You’d be amazed how much just being able to talk to other business owners will help you. 

What are the benefits? What are the challenges?

The benefits are pretty obvious, but added to everything else I think it can just really help to know that you’re not alone. Being a business owner can be a really lonely road sometimes, especially if like me you’re doing it all by yourself, and you can often feel like you’re always getting it wrong or you’re not doing enough. By engaging with other business owners, you’ve got people to bounce off of, share ideas with or even just have a moan sometimes! It really has changed my perspective and being able to just catch up over coffee with someone who gets what you’re trying to do can mean everything sometimes. 
I would say that you do need to be aware that you are putting yourself out there, so once you start collaborating and networking there’s a lot more scope for a competitor to meet you, see what you’re doing and potentially see your ideas. But if you’re confident in your product then you shouldn’t have to worry- just make sure that if your competition is quite present in what you do that you’re keeping some of your cards close to your chest! The other challenge is to spot when a collaboration is working and when it isn’t. You should both be working equally as hard on something when you’re doing it together, and if you feel that you’re putting everything in and the other business isn’t then that’s not right- at the end of the day you’re helping them just as much as they are helping you! If it feels like you’re having to do all the heavy lifting then it probably isn’t worth it. 

How are you going to continue to work together going forward (if you are?)

I’m currently working with a local photographer to put special packages together and I’m scouting out new partners to work on new services with, which I’m really excited about! I’m also broadening my business contacts and this year really is the year of networking- I’m going to get to know everyone!! 

Any tips for other businesses hoping to do the same?

Just get yourself out there, get yourself networking and keep thinking creatively- the collaboration or resonance with another brand might not be immediately obvious but don’t discard it alltogether. And take someone you know to networking events- I can happily stand up in front of a group of people and speak, or control a room of 5 year olds but I get quite nervous at networking (go figure!)- I always try and get someone to come with me and I find it really helps! 

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