By: Nellie Akalp
on Friday, November 23, 2012
Nestled in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Small Business Saturday, a relatively new holiday that encourages us to “shop small” and do some of our holiday shopping at local businesses in the community.
When I think of Small Business Saturday, I think about the spirit of collaboration within the community, shoppers, and small businesses. However, as a small business owner you can put the power of collaboration to work for your business throughout the year.
By looking at fellow small businesses as partners, you can grow your customers, message, and sales. Here are three ways how:
1. Create your own referral network
No matter the industry, business is driven through recommendations and connections. This is particularly true with small businesses. A small business typically focuses on a meeting a few specific needs very well. However, your customers may need other products or services outside the scope of your business. Instead of ignoring those customer needs, you can build a circle of small businesses that you know and trust to recommend in these cases.
For example, a graphic designer can recommend a copywriter or Public Relations pro. A wedding photographer can recommend a florist. A landscaper can recommend an external painter. You may not be able to fill a specific need yourself, but you can still help your customers get what they need. And you can bet that your trusted referral network will pay it forward and recommend your business in return.
Be on the lookout for ways to grow your circle and help fellow small businesses out. Check with your local chamber of commerce or online at Meetup.com to find a relevant group in your area. There are formal referral groups as well, or just forge informal alliances with complementary entrepreneurs. Just remember the number one rule in networking: whatever you give out, you’ll get back in return.
2. Co-market with complementary businesses
You can work with fellow small businesses on joint marketing projects. If you get creative, opportunities are anywhere and everywhere. For example:
- A local CPA can collaborate with other small business service providers (such as an insurance agent, lending agent, social media pro) to put together an evening educational series or “small business bootcamp” where they give tips and information to small businesses in community.
- A group of crafters can team up to put together a local holiday sale where they invite their combined pool of customers.
- A local health food store can offer a discount to anyone taking classes at a nearby yoga studio (and vice versa).
These informal alliances bring new value to your current customers, in addition to expanding your visibility into new audiences.
3. Get inspiration from other small businesses
Beyond referral opportunities, fellow small business owners are a great source of inspiration, words of wisdom, and support. Share your knowledge (and learn from others) by participating in online forums like Quora and LinkedIn. Likewise, consider finding a weekly/monthly local meetup group – or just invite a neighboring small business owner to coffee. You’ll be amazed at just how inspired you can become from the energy of others.
In addition, today’s trend of shared office space can be a great way to meet other small businesses and self-employed pros in your area. Websites like LiquidSpace.com, Loosecubes.com and WorkSnug.com focus on co-working space in major cities, but the trend is quickly catching on in smaller towns too.
Collaborate your way to the top!
By seeing fellow small businesses as partners and not competitors, small business owners can harness the power of the collective to attract more customers, get inspired, and help their overall bottom line. While I always love a good competition, I know that collaboration can sometimes be the key to success.