There are many reasons why we should be looking to build lasting relationships with local businesses. Once you stop treating local companies as competitors looking to steal your customers, you will find that there’s a bustling community willing to share experiences and help each other out.
You’re not going to throw open your doors and suddenly find yourself surrounded by other business owners and professionals. It’s good to start small: get to know the businesses near your own premises – learn what they do and recommend them to others if appropriate. Little acts of kindness such as recommendations go a long way and you’ll find others likely to reciprocate.
First things first, not everyone is looking to help. It’s important to build up a business network full of people that may offer you benefit in the future. Look for people who can act as mentors. They needn’t be in the same trade as you, but someone who has been operating in the local area for the past 20 years is likely to understand the challenges you will face.
If someone in your network is looking for favours, advice, product discounts and asks you to spread the word but never gives anything in return, then they’re not worth your time. Ditch them. Or rather, ghost them, as you don’t want to burn any bridges. After all, a few months or years down the line they might have learnt that healthy business relationships are about give and take.
The same goes for you, too. Don’t be a spoilt child who takes without giving. At first you mightn’t feel that you can be helpful until you’ve found your feet, but we all have something to offer. You are going into business because you have an expertise. What you consider to be mundane, everyday stuff might be mind-blowing to someone else.
If you have some observations about how someone else is running their business, don’t gossip behind their backs. It can be tricky to approach someone if you think their business model needs a fix. You could mind your own business, but if you want to be helpful you’ve got to be careful about how you come across. Find a time to bring the topic up naturally when no one is around and try to find out whether they are even aware of the problem. Try posing it as a question: “How have you found online sales, then? The insights are really useful for prioritising best sellers, aren’t they?” sounds a lot better than “you’re still getting the hang of this new-fangled ‘internet’ thing, aren’t you?”
It takes time to build a relationship and other businesses aren’t likely to put faith in you without seeing your worth. Once they have seen that you listen to advice, use common sense and can make a success of your business, other business owners are likely to approach you. As with other areas of your life, staying away from gossip and being authentic goes a long way.
Knowing your neighbours is a really good way of finding a community of business owners, but networking events are also a great way to meet other business owners in your area and further afield. Events like the Propeller networking held on the second Tuesday of each month are a great way to get out there. Guest speakers offer insights and expert advice on a variety of topics outlined before the event. It’s a great way to ease into business networking as you can ask people about their opinion rather than diving in with a hard-sell. For Propeller events check out our events page.