It is natural for a small business owner to feel like they are constantly competing in today’s market. It can be frustrating to always compete with online mega merchants, wholesale membership corporations and even other small businesses.
However, by establishing partnerships, creating a team or a tribe and joining forces with other small businesses, you can leverage the power of the community and essentially grow together. I suggest you seek out collaborative relationships, either formally or informally, with like-minded professionals and change the mindset of competing to being partners.
Here are a few examples of how you can join forces with other small businesses:
• Join a networking group for small business owners. We all know that a successful business is driven by referrals, connections and ultimately establishing strong healthy relationships. There are a ton of networking opportunities in Lebanon and Wilson County. Attending a networking event is just the beginning. After the introduction, one must encourage a community of collaboration, support and most importantly referrals. Take a strategic thought approach of who in the community would make great referral partners and reach out to them, invite them to the next networking event.
Reach out to the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce and visit their website to see the schedule of business events coming up and attend them. Go one step further, invite someone to go with you and come out of your shell and meet people at the event. Then afterwards follow up with people for a cup of coffee and continue to build the relationship.
• Join an online community. In addition to locally networking in your community – hop online and find a forum that speaks directly to your industry. Follow your suppliers on social media and search topics that relate to your industry on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. Please don’t forget there is more to social media besides Facebook and Instagram.
There are many online forums that encourage groups to support each other while encouraging others as they develop their business. I remember during the Shop Small Marketing Seminar – the best part or what I call the magic, was simply listening to a group of business owners conversing and sharing their challenges and ideas. I also heard a local small retailer explain that he has a Facebook forum specific to his merchandise that people post questions in all day long and they lift each other up for support, vent, cheer and all the things that people crave. There is value in sharing. I challenge each of you to join or follow at least three new forums.
• Remember to give as to receive. Just like all relationships – it takes both of you. Please don’t be that person who takes, takes and then takes some more, give. Remember, give and you shall receive. It is important that for a relationship to develop, grow and sustain – both parties must benefit. I have spent the past two and a half years engaging with small businesses; this includes, but is not limited to listening in on round table discussions, holding marketing seminars, stopping by for a visit, consulting with marketing ideas and, of course, supporting with shopping.
I often hear the mindset of “I” and “me” – don’t forget, you are not alone. It is natural for us to think about ourselves, but in the spirit of partnerships, we must both benefit. So think about how you can truly help each other. Don’t make it all about you.
• Change your suppliers to small businesses. As the “Think Lebanon First” and Shop Lebanon movement is developing, don’t forget to also support your local community for your own business. Whenever possible, seek to work with local suppliers, vendors and service providers. If you are thinking about rebranding and need a new logo – we have businesses in Lebanon that can provide that for you. If you in need of marketing materials to be printed, you don’t need to go online. We have printers right here in Lebanon that can help you with that. In essence, be authentic and listen to your own words and, of course, lead by example. If you are going to be out there asking people to support your small business, make sure you are supporting your neighbors.
• Create your own support group, tribe, partners, networking group. We have several groups in Lebanon that the chamber holds, and we have several business events throughout the year that we all see each other at and chat. I also have had people call me and tell me they invited a small group of local merchants over to their house for breakfast. They enjoyed getting to know each other. They shared success stories and talked about teamwork. They broke down the barriers of seeing each other as competitors and realized they had a lot more in common and could become partners.
There might be some partnerships that come more natural then others, but that happens with relationships, too. Do not be scared. It never hurts to try. The Square Merchants started getting back together on a consistent basis, and new events came out of it such as Rock The Block. When we held our Small Business Saturday Seminar, the discussion evolved to a group staying open on Christmas Eve simply because they were able to collaborate. Just this year, a restaurant roundtable was started, and last year the chamber started a nonprofit roundtable.
These are informal sessions of professionals having an opportunity for discussion and collaboration. Opportunity is everywhere, and sometimes it all starts with simply listening to one another.
Sarah Haston is economic development director in Lebanon.