Coast River Business Journal, August 2013
Kevin Leahy, Executive Director CEDR and CCC SBDC
Small businesses need to work together in order to compete with their larger counterparts. It’s only by joining forces that small businesses can achieve economies of scale and have a voice loud enough to compete with larger corporations. There is power in the collective, and businesses can harness the power of togetherness to move forward in unity and accomplish so much more than they could alone.
Competition is good; competition is healthy. The better we are at competing, the more customers we’ll have for ourselves. But looking at it from a local perspective the shared “pie” is only so big. If you collaborate with other businesses and discover your niche then you may find your own pie, and have it all to yourself. If you can’t have your own pie, how do you share professionally with others and get enough that you are full? By pursuing symbiotic relationships; formally or informally build a collective co-op of like-minded businesses and individuals. Small businesses need to view each other more as partners and less as competitors.
Small town business is driven by referrals and connections. Local businesses should aim to tap into the power of collaboration, support, and seek to develop a network of referrals. A business philosophy of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” (and mean it) leaves both parties in a better position than they would be in trying to handle it all on their own. The best networking embraces a philosophy of developing relationships and sharing of advice and experiences with fellow small business owners.
Our focus should be on building community, making our lives better as a collective group. Are your fellow small business owners’ decisions harming or helping your business? Are your business decisions hurting your fellow small businesses? Are your business decisions helping you and your neighbor live better lives? The basic principle we’ve all heard of “pay it forward” really applies here. By helping those near you they will help others around them and a robust environment of mutual benefit can result. Selfishness robs us of collective improvement; we must work to be conscious of how your decisions affect your fellow small businesses.
How does a small business work together, promote others and achieve their own sales levels? Focus on strategic partnerships. Work with other businesses and business owners toward a mutual benefit. Keep mutual gain the focus, what helps you should help them or vice versa. Form strategic partnerships that work together to expand both businesses, increase visibility, enhance customer service or offer better products and services.
Rural small businesses share a common primary denominator, a smaller population to draw on for customers and consumer spending. Finding or developing a unique selling proposition can help insure that your business makes enough to start, to grow and hopefully, to thrive. Duplicating products and services in our market is inefficient and does not optimize productivity.
Alternatively, providing a balanced commercial mix, sharpening the competitiveness and merchandising skills of business owners, and attracting new businesses that the market can support will strengthen all businesses. Pursue training or education to make your service unique and distinct. Offer a product that matches those traits and enhances the overall mix.
It pays to remember that no business operates in a vacuum. This is an often overlooked principle in many communities. A small business owner who recognizes the effect of other businesses on their sales should work in strategic partnership toward the goal of creating mutual benefit.
Our communities promote ‘buy-local’ and people respond. Residents support the local economy. They realize that having a strong small business core leads to robust economic development and healthy communities. It is equally as important for local small businesses to work diligently to strengthen our small business core. Local businesses that buy from each other, cross-market, share information of successful endeavors, pitch in with ideas to help each other address unique issues, and make their local business areas attractive to customers and visitors, will foster overall local small business stabilization and prosperity.
The CEDR/CCC Small Business Development Center is here to serve your small business and our goal is to see you succeed. Our advisors have a pulse on local business. We’d be happy to brainstorm ideas with you. If you are struggling to compete or recognize that strategic partnerships enhance both businesses, a meeting with our advisor can help you leverage your business interactions to provide greater mutual benefit.
Strategic Partnerships for Mutual Benefit:
Acknowledge that your business affects other businesses
Communicate with other businesses to learn their needs
Discuss and analyze how to help them fill their need in a way that benefits both parties
Present your ideas for discussion and open feedback
Continue to grow your network, the more you work together, the greater the shared benefits