13 ways to break the isolation by collaborating with other small business owners

Our wine tour business analysis mission…I mean “holiday”

Earlier this year, Joe and I travelled to the Okanagan with my dad and his wife to go on a self-directed wine tour.

I was looking forward to a break from work and a chance to think about something other than business and marketing. So what did I do? I analyzed the business practices and marketing for every place we stopped.

This tour really got me thinking about how we, as businesses of one, can join together to support each other – through collaborative marketing and exchange of expertise and support.

Here are 13 ideas – beginning with the one that inspired this article.

1. Advertise Together

Our little group followed the Bottleneck Drive wine tour. The host at our B&B gave us a copy of the passport – a handy map of 19 local wineries – with addresses that we could plug into our GPS – which made it super easy to plan our days. And what did we see at the wineries? Other people carrying the passports.

Here’s what made this genius. Most of these wineries were really tiny. The cost of doing this kind of promotion on their own would be prohibitive. But by joining forces and splitting the expenses, they managed to bring people through everyone’s doors.

Technically, these businesses are competitors. In reality? People who drink wine usually drink more than one specific wine. We bought wine at every place we stopped – except, ironically, from the one with the most impressive marketing – there were so many people there we gave up waiting for a sample!

2. Build one website to serve multiple businesses

This is an idea I’ve been brewing for a while – and our wine tour experience really showed me the “consumer view” of this idea. The Bottleneck website provided information about each of the individual wineries – making it super convenient for planning.

A good website is a significant investment. Getting ranked in search engines requires a fair bit of content marketing (blogging, producing videos). What if complimentary (not directly competitive, but serving the same market) businesses created a single website – designed to be an information hub for their target audience?

For example, an acupuncturist, massage therapist, TCM doctor and holistic nutritionist could all be featured on a single website – with lots of valuable content for people who are interested in alternative wellness – along with marketing information for each of their individual practices. (Compare the credibility of a professionally designed group website like this vs. individual websites built with free website builders.)

3. Organize a mini-conference

The Marketing Action Club mini-conference. Photo credit: snapd coquitlam.

2 years ago, the mastermind group I was running organized a mini-conference. We rented a hotel room for a full day and 7 of my clients – along with myself – each took a speaking slot.

By joining together, we shared the workload, so that no one person was responsible for the success of the event. The audience got more value – hearing from several speakers – rather than just me.

We had more “butts in seats” because everyone worked on promotion and inviting people. Which made for a larger, more exciting event. And bonus? We all found it easier to promote because we could talk about the other speakers, rather than ourselves.

4. Create an online conference or summit

I just took part in Barbara Sher’s WriteSpeak telesummit. Each participant had 20 or 30 minutes to deliver a mini-workshop and talk about the book they wrote (or in my case, the courses I created.) Those of us who wanted additional air time volunteered to MC part of the event – which ran for 10 hours.

Just needs a title change – OUR really great book!

Although this was a paid program, there is no reason why a group of people couldn’t organize something like this on their own. Similar to the mini-conference, everyone in the group shoulders part of the organizing and marketing.

5. Write a book together

If you’re a professional service provider, a book can help you build credibility and authority. And…if you’re working on your own as a solo, finding time to write an entire book can be a challenge. (Ask me how I know!)

So why not convene a group of people and have each person contribute a chapter? You can even pool resources to hire an editor, get the book cover designed and outsource the technical work needed to make it available for sale.

6. Network with your competition

This tip is my “six figure secret” – it’s exactly how I built my freelancing business to $100,000/year in billing.

How? By working closely with 3 competitors. We all taught the same courses, held the same certifications and did the same type of freelance/consulting work. We were also each only one person with limited capacity.

If you’re standing in one classroom teaching – you can’t simultaneously be in another room. So we referred business to each other – knowing that we wouldn’t try to “steal” someone else’s client. We also supported each other in other ways – swapping notes or exercises we had created – or helping each other when a technical issue arose.

Which is all fine and good in the situation we were collectively in – more business than we could handle. But what if everyone is struggling? This next suggestion takes a bit more trust and guts.

7. Hold an expo with your competitors

Could your competition be your best source of new business?

At a networking event I attended a few weeks ago, I introduced myself to someone and she said: “Oh. You’re a business coach. You can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting a business coach.”

Questionable social skills aside, she had a point. A lot of business coaches attend local networking events because they’re filled with small business people who often need help growing their businesses. So yes, there appears to be a lot of competition.

A few years ago, one of these coaches organized a meeting for local business coaches to explore how we might support each other. There were about 15 of us around the table. As we each introduced ourselves and talked about our area of specialization, it became clear that very few of us were direct competitors with each other. Some specialized in teams. Others in finances. Some worked with brick and mortar businesses – others with professional service providers. Some worked in larger corporations, others (like me) specialized in solo or micro businesses.

The group decided to put on an event to help people who were thinking about coaching select the right coach for them. Each coach had a booth at the event and potential clients could sign up for 15 minute laser sessions to compare and contrast.

8. Share a meetup group

If you’re planning to hold local events, a meetup group is a great way to reach people who like to attend such gatherings. Here’s the secret to a successful meetup group: the more events you hold, the more people join. So if you want to create a significant reach, you need to meet frequently. Which brings us to that pesky time limitation again.

Why not split the cost of a meetup account, become co-organizers and advertise your events communally? A local meetup in Vancouver- the Spiritual Events Meetup – does exactly that. They have over 6,000 members and 59 co-organizers. Members of the meetup learn about more events that interest them – and the event hosts reach a larger potential audience. Win win.

9. Find some blog and social media buddies

If a blog post is published on the internet and no one reads it – was it ever published at all?

Creating content can be a lonely business – you put something out there – and then…crickets. It can feel discouraging if you don’t know if anyone is reading (most people who do read won’t comment or share.)

Several years ago, when I began blogging – a fellow blogger approached me and invited me to join a group of “blogging buddies.” We would each publish once per week and we agreed to read each others’ posts and leave a comment. Not only was it really nice to know that someone was reading – the appearance of comments encouraged other readers to comment as well. Which lead to exciting things like this post and this one. Each of which had 50+ comments.

Comments aren’t as popular these days as most people prefer conversations on social media. So an up-to-date equivalent would be to share each other’s posts on social media. This has the added benefit of reaching a larger audience.

For my final ideas, we’ll leave the realm of collaborative marketing and move into the emotional support area. As my mentor Barbara Sher says, “isolation is the dream killer.” I firmly believe that a LOT of the struggles solo entrepreneurs face come down to this. Without emotional support, encouragement, accountability – or just plain old company – it can be easy to slip into self-doubt and procrastination.

So how can we support each other?

10. Get an accountability buddy

And did you do YOUR thing? Accountability buddying in a nutshell.

A lot of people hire coaches for accountability. As one of my clients once told me: “If I tell YOU I’ll do something…I’ll get it done. If I just promise myself, it won’t happen.”

If all you need is someone to report to – an accountability buddy can be perfect. Simply agree to check in with each other on a regular basis. Some accountability buddies meet weekly, others daily – or even several times per day. They commit to doing a task, then check in with each other to make sure they did it.

(I’m not sure whether this service is creepy or genius. You connect via video and watch each other work. Apparently we humans are less likely to goof off if someone is looking at us.)

11. Conduct a Frogbuster session

Whoever smites the most frogs wins.

This idea combines Brian Tracy’s advice to “Eat that Frog” – to do the most onerous task on your list first – and what Barbara Sher calls a blockbuster – a group work session designed to help you overcome resistance.

The essence of a Frogbuster is to “work alone together.” You start the session with a conference call and each person commits to completing one or more of their more daunting tasks during the session. Then you check in with each other periodically to provide encouragement and accountability.

I experimented with this over the past summer – offering this as a service and participating myself. I was amazed at how much more I got done. It really does make a difference to know that others are working alongside you on their own projects – and it’s inspiring to hear people break through their resistance and actually DO the tasks they’ve been procrastinating on.

12. Convene a peer mastermind group

One of the best things you can do for your business is to join a group of peers who agree to act as a “board of directors” for each other. You bring your business challenges to the table and everyone puts their heads together to come up with ideas and solutions.

Me presenting at VBN. Apparently I shocked myself with this slide. Photo credit: Pam Drucker

When I taught this as a workshop last night at the Vancouver Business Network, each group managed to come up with multiple ideas for the challenges they were presented with. One group compiled a list of THIRTY-EIGHT ideas for their challenge, while another group came up with 6 solid solutions for a very difficult situation.

Everyone agreed that working in a group resulted in ideas that they never would have thought of on their own. And as one participant noted: “Even though the challenge we were given was not directly related to my business, it was relevant to me and the ideas were helpful.”

The key to a successful mastermind group is to be clear about your purpose – supporting each other with the tough challenges – versus banding together to exchange referrals (aka: a “networking” group.)

As I discovered running my own groups – a degree of vulnerability is required from all participants – a willingness to expose the issues in their businesses, to ask for help and to give help.

While you might think (as I once did) that “exposing weaknesses” would make referrals unlikely, the exact opposite happened. Even though I explicitly told all my mastermind participants that this was NOT a networking group and to NOT expect referrals – the vulnerability resulted in building a strong degree of know, like and trust – and the referrals arose naturally from that (and in far greater volume than in any networking group I’ve ever been a part of.)

13. Share a business coach

Why yes, this suggestion might be a bit self-serving. 🙂

I had a pair of clients do this with me last year. They split the cost of my 6 month program and we met as a trio. Between sessions, they had each other for accountability buddies – and the sessions themselves had a bit of a mastermind flavour.

Building on this idea, I decided to put together a group coaching program for next year.

It combines weekly accountability meetings with masterminding and group coaching – all for a very affordable investment. Details here: 2018 Group Coaching Program.

Self-employed does not have to mean “doing everything by yourself”

A lot of us are attracted to running our own businesses because we want to work alone. We don’t want to consult a committee before making decisions – we want the freedom to do our own thing in our own way.

Unfortunately, we also run into limitations when we take that approach. Primarily time (there’s only 24 hours in each day!) and the reach of our network. When we band together, we can help each other succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats.

I’ve just shared 13 ideas for collaboration. Did I miss any? You can collaborate on this article by posting your idea in the comments below!