Small Business Basics: Build Community and Collaboration in 2 Steps

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collaborationNetworking, business mixers and conferences.
Ever wonder why these social settings seem so easy and natural to some, and painfully awkward and scary to others? Where do you fall? If you consult Meyers Briggs, you’ll be able to pinpoint your place pretty perfectly (Sorry–not sorry. That alliteration was just begging to be written!), though lately, there are more discussions circling about modern day, hybrid networkers, or Social Introverts. Yeah, they exist. I rather consider myself one.

Whatever your social interaction makeup, business involves people, and occasionally, networking on scales of all types and sizes is one way that business is cultivated.

Now don’t get all sweaty-palmed as I talk about this; if you’re a person in business, you will invariably have to interact with others.

For better or worse, there’s a truth you need to confront: your comfort aside, people matter. They form what can become a nucleus of friendships that will consist of some of your best, more supportive connections, provided you treat these relationships with the care and attention they deserve. Do the opposite and you end up being the person in the room people tend to avoid. Bummer.

This is our last installment in our series Small Business Basics, so kick back and enjoy!

Community Begins With A Conversation

Step into any town, big, small, bustling, sleepy, modern, rustic, and you’ll find a few things in common; there’s are a cast of characters that make up the business community. There are some people that we’re drawn to, and others we’re inclined to hide from. There are some people always looking out for themselves, while others are looking out for others around them.

That latter group is what defines any successful business community, no matter the size or location. They’re often referred to as “connectors”, and they have the undeniable spark and charisma that is contagious. 

Their style of conversation is not intimidating and they seem genuinely interested in meeting you, creating friendships and connecting friends to one another, with the discussion of business for themselves being way off in the distance. They are active listeners, asking questions, acknowledging your answers, and even providing valuable insights into things you’re saying.

How do they do this so effortlessly?

And even though they’re not doing anything directly or “in your face” to make you want to do business with them, their sincerity puts you at ease and starts you thinking about how you can get some business their way.

Who can you refer to them and who should you introduce them to?
After all, isn’t that part of community, too? Yes, it is, and it’s how strong ones are built. So…

Step One: Be an active listener.
Let the conversation be about the other person and see what happens.

Ask questions, listen for answers, respect people’s time and genuinely be part of a two-way conversation. I’m reminded of a tune by the artist Griffin House, where one of the lyrics in the song goes, “Well enough about me and more about you, ’cause that’d be the gentlemanly thing to do.” It sums it up perfectly.

Good Conversations Lead to Awesome Collaboration

Now that you’re on track to listen more actively in your next conversations, begin thinking how you can build a fabulous network of like-minded people, who embody the same great standards you do, but in complementary businesses to your own.

What does that mean? To increase collaboration, think in terms of working to create a group of “power partners” who you can trust and refer business to, so they can do likewise. Some entrepreneurs never experience this level of collaboration, but it’s pretty simple to do. It can be like assembling a brain trust of sorts, so what you’re building is an elaborate service network based on friendship.

Fab Collab

Here are some examples of what these collaborative partners might look like: Say you’re a CPA, but don’t do books or handle complicated IRS stuff; a bookkeeper or tax attorney would be great power partners. What if you’re a florist? You can build power partners with wedding and event planners. Thinking of how to expand your consignment clothing boutique customer base? Power partners for you could be fashion/image consultants and clothing tailors .

Collaboration with the right people can lead to all types of business that you never expected or even planned on. Your new collaborators are in contact with a bunch of other people you’re not connected with…yet.

These relationships are rooted in trust and patience, and because you’ve been listening to your new collaborators and learning more about what they do, you’ll be more likely to think about how their work can solve the problems of other people you know, or clients you encounter in your daily activities. So…

Step Two: Create power partners with whom you can collaborate, and help others create theirs.

Not all relationships are destined to be part of your collaborative group, so think about how you can connect those people to others you know that can be a good partner for them.

Nurture your relationships with your collaborators and the people they’ve connected you with, and you’ll soon discover business becomes not just more satisfying, but getting new customers seems to become slightly less stressful and a lot less “cold”.

But Wait, There’s More!

Collaborating has more benefits than simply good connections; with good collaborative partners, you can:

  • share marketing budget on specific campaigns that are directed to the same demographic
  • help promote each other on your social channels, without it being awkward
  • bounce ideas off one another, so you both have greater success

So the next time you have to network for business, think about things in a new light; think of it as an opportunity to make some great new friends and hear about someone else’s adventures in business. They very well could be your next partner in crime 🙂 And I’d love if you shared in the comments how you build community and collaborate with others.