Building Strong Local Business Communities
Whatever challenges you face as a business owner, they can be eased with the help of a strong business community.
We all need to have a network of people that we can relate to and fall back on when issues arise. This is even more important when it comes to running a business because every day presents new and tougher problems.
We all use the internet to host our websites, provide services, and we use social media to communicate with the outside world, but few of us are using technology to build up our local business community? I don't need to tell you this, but the impact of your business is incredibly important to your local area. According to the SBA, small businesses have generated 64% of all new private-sector jobs over the past twelve years. Your single business may not seem like it has that big of an impact. But when we work together—building and fostering a network, we make our community and our company, better all around.
So how do we go about building our local business community?
If you are part of a business association you likely have meetings quarterly so that meeting is supposed to be about new agenda items and decision making, but ends up in lots of side conversations and ramblings. After the meeting, the conversation continues outside of the public forum through text, email, calls, face-to-face meetings and a number of other channels—leaving many out of the information loop.
1. Start Small
Possibly the most important thing about being a part of a cooperative community is “face time.” It’s meeting other merchants in the area and getting to know them as a person. It's likely that you already talk to the shop owner next door about the community. If there is something you'd like to involve the business community in start presenting those ideas whether it's how you can get more foot traffic, or how to solve an issue specific to your area. Collaboration is the first step to a thriving community and it's not only good karma, it's good business.
It's also likely that other business owners around you want the same things.
2. Develop a Mission
As a community, it's likely that there is something unique to your area, whether it's cultural, historical, or specific about your typical customer. If there isn't, find out what it is. This is a little bit of a marketing thing but it's how customers perceive your area. For instance, here in Austin, the east side has a cultural and historical significance that it's balancing with new local residents and businesses. The East 12th Street Merchants Association has a mission to "advocate for the preservation, sustainment, and development of the East 12th Street Corridor." This mission defines the guidelines and inevitable outcome whenever they take action on something impacting their area.
This mission should encapsulate the values that are important to you, your business, and your community.
3. Communication & Action
Now it seems like taking action would be the easiest part, but in our research, we've found that communication is easily one of the biggest hurdles communities have to get anything done. Business owners have a lot on their plates. The planets align more often than their calendars sync up. So when this unicorn like moment arises and everyone can meet up and discuss local issues or coordinate an event all the background information needs to be discussed first, and then once everyone has had their say, there is some "I'll get back to you" and "let me check my calendar" before and final decision is made. Depending on the community, this can be a slow process. So it's a good idea to find a way to communicate about all the small details ahead of time, but this is usually happening via text, call, email, face-to-face meetings—leaving a lot of people out of the loop.
Here at Weird Street, we focus on improving communication within business communities to keep all these side conversations in one place, where the everyone can be informed of what's going on. That way Association meetings can be for decision making and to discuss new community issues. We think you should be able to talk on your own time, avoiding the issue of coordinating with everyone's schedules to discuss what could possibly take a few lines of text.