By Karen Axelton
Do you think of other entrepreneurs as your competition? Well, some of them are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. In today’s economy, with big companies creating an ever-tougher environment for small business success, small businesses have to stick together—and sometimes, that might mean joining forces with people you typically consider your competition.
You probably already belong to one or more trade groups for your industry. But what if you created your own (smaller) small business support group? A smaller organization can meet more frequently, and gives you room for every member to be heard. Here are some ideas for starting your own group.
- Figure out how big you want it to be. You want it big enough that even when everyone can’t come to a meeting, it will be worthwhile, but small enough that everyone gets to interact. Two dozen is a good general guideline.
- Determine other parameters for membership. For instance, if your restaurant is in a popular downtown area, you might want to start a group only for downtown business owners. Or you might want to limit it only to restaurants.
- Consider competition. Yes, it’s OK to have people within the same industry (two retail store owners) but if they are directly competitive (two children’s clothing store owners), they’re not going to feel comfortable sharing ideas and information with each other.
- Set a schedule. You’ll want to have regular meetings or your group will quickly peter out. If monthly meetings are too much, make them at least quarterly.
- Choose a location or rotate among different members’ locations.
- Keep in touch online. Start a LinkedIn or Facebook group just for members so you can keep in touch between meetings. (Just don’t let online interaction substitute for in-person meetings; getting together face-to-face is crucial for give-and-take.)
What do you discuss in your group? Time is valuable, so it’s a good idea to set a basic agenda that you follow at every meeting. You can rotate so that one month you share marketing ideas, another you talk about employee management, and another you talk about cash flow issues. Be sure that when appropriate, you also talk about timely issues, such as new parking restrictions that are making it harder for customers to visit your shop and how your group should work with the city to change them. Share your challenges, concerns and insights, and you’ll all learn how to do things better!
Image by Flickr user emilio labrador (Creative Commons)