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Business To Business

November 25, 2009

Faced with a business problem–look for solutions and advice from another business person who is familiar with your type of business. Sounds simple and it makes sense, but most often that is not the course of action taken by the independent business owner. Go it alone and when things get really out of hand, call the lawyers. Sound familiar? There really is a better way.

Getting good advice is one of the most important ingredients in any successful decision making process. When running a business, we have a responsibility to insure that we have the best advice available to us. That advice comes from people who are or have been where we want to go.

The small business, because of the operational demands on the managers, usually has a narrower span of contact with the outside world than does the larger firm. The manager of the small firm needs to make a special effort to develop those outside contacts.

If the success of the business is dependent on the manner in which the business fulfills the needs in the marketplace, it is imperative that the managers stay abreast of the changes in the marketplace. The well run small business is known to maintain close relationships with its customers. However, there is a substantial difference in being close to one’s immediate customers and in keeping abreast of broader developments that effect your markets.

The small business owner tends to know too much about whats going on inside the business and too little about whats going on outside the business. Businesses often feel defenseless as to the major developments that take place around them. Unjustified. The small firm can do much in dealing with external events that will shape their future. Opportunity lies around every curve in the road. You just have to be looking down the road!

Talk with others who operate in areas related to your business so as to spot trends that might effect you as they are developing. Talk to those who are familiar with solving the types of problems that you are likely to encounter, you might avoid some and find novel solutions to others.

Take the initiative and get started. Rarely is there a conversation between two business people that doesn’t result in both parties learning something new. Start to build those relationships now. You will learn a lot and you will establish lines of communication that may be helpful in the future.

Often the best relationships start out informally. Make a list of other business people who you know that have common business interests but no direct relationship such as a supplier or a customer. It might be someone who uses the same bank as you do or a retailer that caters to a different customer base. Don’t overlook fellow members of the local chamber of commerce, professional associations and trade groups. The opportunities are limitless.

Suggest a breakfast or lunch meeting. Perhaps have two or three others for your first meeting. Get to know each other but keep the focus of your discussions on business issues of common interest. Don’t be afraid to ask, “how’s business” and be prepared to contribute as well as receive. Don’t rush the dialog, it will develop over time. Encourage your group to broaden its membership in subsequent meetings.

The benefits from business to business communication are handsome, not only in the pocketbook, but in the piece of mind that comes with sharing the common experience of running a business. Whether it be in informal groups, established networking groups, advisory boards or other mechanisms, more and more business people are getting and giving good advice.

Despite the trend towards business to business communication, there are still many more business people not tapping this fertile resource than there are those that are benefiting from it. What are the barriers that have restrained people from utilizing this valuable resource?

Conventional wisdom has held that the independent business owner and the entrepreneur were too self reliant to seek advice from others. To do so would be a sign of vulnerability and weakness. My experience indicates this is just another misconception based on the myth of the entrepreneur. A much more likely reason for not seeking help is not knowing where to begin or the feeling of insecurity that their business is not quite important enough to command the attention of others. Just like the housewife who needs to straighten up the house before the cleaning lady comes, the business owner always has just one or two more things that he alone must deal with before getting input from others.

The process of business to business advice is a mutually advantageous one–everybody benefits. Because “It’s Your Business”, it’s time you started to share those benefits.

Joe Driscoll is a management consultant whose column appears regularly in the Monday Herald.

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