While forming your own business is an ideal way to truly follow your heart, it can also be a lonely affair. Frequently, the decision-making and responsibility rests on the shoulders of one person, and being a sole trader or small business owner means you can spend hours working alone.
However, tech-savvy business people often use business communities to their benefit. With access to a whole range of people with whom partnerships of all kinds can be formed, they ease the isolation and also bolster business prospects.
IDC research in the Tech-Savvy Businesses Do It Better white paper, in partnership with Sage, shows that 77% of tech-savvy businesses that have access to communities and opportunities grew twice as fast as those using little or no digital technology.
In comparison, only one third (35%) of small businesses that have yet to adopt digital technologies have access to the same communities.
Keeping an open mind
Many successful entrepreneurs achieve their success by keeping an open mind and constantly looking for fresh perspectives. Treating customers as business partners and encouraging a two-way relationship can bring substantial benefits to your business.
Asking for customer feedback, for example, can encourage customers to talk about your business on social media. And if that individual has a substantial following then that’s essentially free marketing – if it’s done right.
Who doesn’t want advocates of their business walking around, sharing their success story with people they meet or interact with online?
In addition, forming partnerships can also help reduce the time needed to reach new markets, create synergies, and reduce marketing and operational costs. In a business context, your success is implicitly linked to your customer’s success.
This is also why we see that some suppliers share co-branded marketing resources that customers can personalise and use for their own marketing operations at a low or zero cost.
These kind of partnerships can help enrich your product or service and make it a more attractive proposition to customers. In short, successful small business owners are constantly looking for growth opportunities but also partnerships of all kinds.
Using business communities
How can you benefit from the experience of the partner network and the business communities around you? Here are three suggestions:
1. Social media
As with our personal lives, the ability to connect with like-minded individuals through platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is a powerful tool in the hands of a small business owner.
Social media can bring you into touch with successful professionals in your field from other areas. You can draw on their experience and “lessons learned” or you can team up to address a specific gap in your market.
2. Real-life events
You might be surprised to discover that many civic groups in your local area, such as local councils, like to encourage small businesses and start-ups. They may well run things such as regular meet-ups or networking events that you can attend.
These offer the opportunity not just to sell your services or goods (you might be invited to give a presentation about what you do, for example), but you can also take advice from individuals who have already been through some of the stages of business life that you’re experiencing.
3. Remain open and alert
It’s said the most successful business people never switch off, and it’s certainly useful keeping your ears and eyes open for like-minded individuals in every real-life or online situation you encounter. No reasonable person will refuse you if you reach out to chat and shoot the breeze about something you have in common.
For this reason, it’s also a good idea not to consider competitors as enemies but instead to reach out to them in order to foster a spirit of camaraderie – whether it’s to share an interest or with the common prospect of boosting each other’s business reach.
You might have noticed that some very large businesses have had success with a cooperative model that at first glance appears dangerously counterintuitive. Although Microsoft, Apple and Google compete directly on many levels, this hasn’t stopped them developing apps for each other’s mobile device platforms.
Ultimately, seeing the world in terms of black and white, competitor versus customer is an outdated concept and it can be surprising how partnerships can be formed.
Which business communities are you using in a bid to get the help and support you need to grow your firm? Let us know in the comments below.