I did my undergraduate work at Binghamton University. I was an English literature major and Russian language minor, and in my senior year, I was tired of all of my English and Russian courses, so I took (what was in 2005 a new) biology course by Dr. David Sloan Wilson called “Evolution for Everyone.” One of the most fascinating points I learned was about how species approach survival.  Essentially, different animals functioned as either “Selfish,” “Altruistic,” or “Cooperative.” The animals who were solely selfish survived, but did not thrive; the animals who were solely altruistic did not survive; as no shock, the animals who were cooperative survived and thrived.

When was the last time you accomplished a major goal completely on your own?

No help. No guidance. No coaching, mentoring, sponsorship, advice. No partnership. 100% on your own.

I bet you find this challenging.  The very nature of our existence is based on partnerships and collaboration.

As an educator by training and trade, I approach business structure through the unique lens of a teacher.  Teaching students in the 21st century comes with a unique list of skills, which always includes collaboration. To collaborate effectively, there must be a high level of emotional intelligence, empathy, and the construction of a partnership.

Bringing this same understanding to building small business, why do small business owners compete with one another?

There seems to be an underlying belief system that if someone else succeeds in the same small business field as another, then there is no room for both of their success.  This idea is not only wrong, it can be detrimental to your business.

Partnerships help businesses survive and thrive.   It may seem counter-intuitive to partner with a competing business, but there are multiple reasons why two businesses who are competitive would do better by partnering.

  1. Healthy competition fuels innovation.  Forging partnerships with competing businesses gives you the opportunity to discuss different areas of focus, allowing innovation and growth in your particular specialty area.
  2. Collaboration can function as an opportunity to learn from each other. The sharing of ideas, processes, and systems can enhance both businesses to help each other fill in the gaps.  Giving knowledge in a partnership creates a bond where one can also ask for help freely.
  3. Partnerships create a space of mutual understanding where there can be freedom to express and discuss, sharing frustrations and accomplishments.  From these discussions there is often enlightenment and different perspective that can be offered by an outside party.
  4. Partnerships can also create a place to share customers.  Forging the relationship with another business with a mutual understanding that you will both refer your customers to each other’s businesses.  As an example, the supermarket Stop & Shop partners with Shell Oil to offer “gas points” when you shop at their supermarket. You can use these “gas points” to get discounts on gasoline. This partnership is mutually beneficial, encouraging the customer to shop in both places.
  5. Forging partnerships with other businesses is a wise networking tool which also enhances professionalism. The presentation of a business who works well with other businesses gives the perception of a business who cares about community structures and organizations. Customers appreciate these partnerships because it creates trust. For perspective, how likely are you to shop from a small business owner who is always admonishing or bashing another small business owner? How much more likely are you to shop from someone who exhibits professional decorum and positivity?

I recommend evaluating your business model to include partnerships.  These relationships do not have to be with your direct competition, but do work with other small businesses who complement your products and business philosophy.  The beginning of a beautiful partnership will certainly include growth for both of your businesses.

Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo, CEO, Vine Vendor Network

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