“Support small business” or “shop local” are mantras that have grown in popularity - especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what does supporting small businesses actually look like?
As a business owner, you might be wondering if collaborating with other small businesses makes sense for your marketing plan. Or perhaps you’ve been eager to join a network of community businesses, but you’re not quite sure how.
In this article, you’ll find some of the top benefits of supporting locally owned businesses, as well as suggestions about how you can tackle building a professional, mutually beneficial team within your local neighborhood.
Why Supporting Small Businesses Matters
When businesses in a community work together, there’s much more to be gained in the local economy. Understandably, the idea of working with competitors may sound a bit off-putting at first. However, there are a host of advantages to prioritizing partnerships with other small businesses.
Cultivate Network Expansion
Instead of stacking competitors up against one another to vie for the top spot in the local area, locally owned businesses that collaborate by linking professional circles can create a larger network than they could on their own.
For example, real estate broker Jason Hershey was able to foster positive relationships with other real estate agents to the benefit of all parties. In one case, a listing agent asked Jason if someone on his team or someone he knew was interested in becoming a site agent for a development she was working on. The end result? A supportive community, success for multiple agents, and a slew of happy customers.
Here are a few places you can look into to help you get connected with other, like-minded businesses:
- A local Rotary Club chapter
- The local chamber of commerce
- Other Business Pages on Nextdoor
- Small business development centers
Diversify Your Audience
Local business collaboration not only expands the reach of the participating businesses, it also diversifies the audience. A large part of marketing strategy involves defining a target market that best aligns with the value propositions of your business and customizing marketing efforts to reach that audience. However, when small businesses join forces, you may realize that your product or service could satisfy the needs of a segmented audience in ways that you hadn’t considered before.
Working together with businesses in your community and its surrounding areas can:
- Lend itself to new partnerships
- Widen your geographic or cultural reach
- Help you approach new sectors within the market
Share Knowledge and Resources
Support small businesses and grow together by creating opportunities to exchange knowledge, ideas, and resources.
Take a look at True Respite, for example. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, this craft brewer and wholesale business developed a pickup and delivery platform called Biermi to sell directly to consumers. This method took off and allowed other craft breweries to distribute their product in the middle of the government shutdown.
By sharing resources, it allowed businesses to stay afloat across the country.
Collaboration in Action
Not sure how to support other small businesses? While the benefits of small business symbiosis may sound good on paper, what actionable steps can you take toward achieving these benefits?
Be Their Customer First
When businesses collaborate in a professional setting, it can be easy to forget that business owners and staff members can be potential customers, too. It can also be challenging to build a network and authentically support the local businesses involved in it if you yourself have not benefited from their services or products.
Actionable Step: The next time you go out to dinner, consider stopping by the local pizza joint that you’ll be working with at an upcoming event. Order a couple of pizzas for takeout or for dine-in and see what all the neighborhood buzz is all about.
Create Opportunities for Cross-Promotion on Social Media
If your business uses social media as part of its marketing strategy, make sure you’re following the accounts of other small businesses in the area. Since social media algorithms can be tough to crack, local businesses trying to improve their online presence may be inclined to adopt a mutually beneficial approach to help drive sales for a product launch or broaden the scope of their audience.
Actionable Step: Reshare another local store’s Instagram story or post about their new product to your profile gallery or 24-hour story. It costs you nothing, opens the door for business-to-business communication via direct messaging, and can be a favor that is returned on the other end.
Collaborate on a Giveaway
Collaborating on a giveaway is another way social media platforms can be used to expand the reach of small businesses within a community. By setting clear contest rules and deadlines, it can be a powerful tool that boosts engagement over a short period of time. When you work with other local businesses with different audiences, it’s a unique opportunity to diversify the followers on your platform.
Actionable Step: A coffee shop, a local artisan, and a local farm stand decide to work together on a social media giveaway. Each one offers up something (e.g. a gift card, a piece of art) to be given away to a local resident who enters the contest by following all three businesses on social media. The appeal of a free item or service helps to drive engagement from the community while the multi-business collaboration expands the overall reach three-fold.
Plan Networking Events
Hosting or participating in a gathering for small businesses and local residents brings a multitude of new potential customers within your reach. It can also be an opportunity for you to reconnect with a customer or small business you’ve done business with before.
Getting the community together in one place for an in-person event is an effective way of generating conversation, widening your audience, and encouraging positive interaction among several members of the neighborhood.
Actionable Step: A real estate team can decide to host an open house event for an available house on the market. Make it an all-day event by inviting a local restaurant to cater or host food trucks on the property. Encourage attendance by planning games and arranging prizes for the winners, such as a two-night stay at a local hotel or a gift card to a nearby pottery shop, to be donated by businesses in town.
Small Business Spotlight: Real Examples of Small Business Symbiosis
Ready to feel inspired by some small businesses who are doing symbiosis the right way? Read through these real-world examples to motivate your next move in your neighborhood.
Altair Global is a management consulting company located in Frisco, Texas. Despite the expectations of a tumultuous year ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Altair Global decided to focus its attention outward. According to a report from the Community Impact Newspaper, it led the charge and partnered with over 20 local businesses to supply teachers at the Frisco Independent School District with 4,500 personal protection equipment kits for the 2020-2021 school year.
This was not only a networking and learning opportunity for small businesses in the Frisco area, but it also was a way to serve the community and build trust with the residents they serve.
My Pet Child
My Pet Child, a small business that provides financial assistance to pet owners, is another COVID-19 pandemic success story. While the number of pet adoptions began to rise across the country in quarantine, employment levels fell. This left a number of new pet owners without the proper financial means to support their new companions.
John Cho, an animal lover with a background in digital marketing, set out on a mission to help. According to an article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cho garnered support from local pet food stores, veterinarian offices, and other industry businesses to access grant funding for pet owners in need. As Cho states:
“I knew that this could be beneficial for everyone involved. Businesses and charities would get more exposure...and pet owners would get to keep their pets healthy, fed, and housed in loving homes."
Support Small Businesses with Nextdoor
The next time you take a walk down to your favorite local coffee shop, pretend you’re visiting for the first time. Before stepping up to the counter to order, have a look around and see if you notice any signs of small businesses working together.
Do you see any business cards on a shelf or countertop for a local construction company or real estate agent? Are there any photographs or pieces of artwork that showcase the work of a local artist?
Chances are, you’ll find clues of community support just about everywhere you look.
Community Impact Newspaper. Local businesses collaborate to donate 4,500 PPE kits to Frisco ISD teachers. https://communityimpact.com/dallas-fort-worth/frisco/business/2020/09/07/gallery-local-businesses-collaborate-to-donate-4500-ppe-kits-to-frisco-isd-teachers/
Harvard Business Review. To Overcome Your Company’s Limits, Look to Symbiosis. https://hbr.org/2013/06/to-overcome-your-companys-limits-look-to
U.S. Chamber of Commerce. To the Rescue! How Small Businesses Are Helping Each Other Survive During COVID-19. https://www.uschamber.com/co/start/strategy/small-businesses-help-each-other-through-pandemic
Small Biz Daily. In This Together: Helping Yourself, Helping Each Other in the New Pandemic Reality. https://www.smallbizdaily.com/helping-yourself-helping-each-other-new-pandemic-reality/
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