Support crew

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One of the greatest problems of home-based businesses is often a major issue for all small businesses, and it’s called isolation. Sure, the home business might have less passing trade, however, lots of small operators might have customers, but they make little effort to make contact.

More importantly, they don’t make the effort to seek out other people in business and networking groups because they say they are too busy or are too tired after working long weeks. And undoubtedly they are tired, and that underlines a typical problem for many small business owners. They work in their business and not on their business.

Getting into a network is at the heart of many successful businesses. The penny is starting to drop for some small business owners that a life in isolation is fine for the philosopher, but it’s an ineffective strategy for anyone in small business.

Experts on micro and home businesses argue that feeling lonely is the greatest enemy of the home-alone business owner. However, the depth of the problem is more than a social emptiness thing – it’s economic. Some businesses feel that they can’t afford to network.

Where are some good networks?

Smaller business owners should look for local Business Enterprise Centres (BEC), and even local councils could have information about networking groups or mentoring associations. BECs have networking functions, so do some research to find a group that operates near you.

If a one-on-one meeting is more your style, consider hiring the services of a business coach, who not only will talk you through key issues, but might also help you to find a network. Although this may seem like an unnecessary expense, an investment in coaching to help run your business and your life better, has to be a worthwhile one.

But also you have to get out more often. Seminars are often put on for small businesses and quite often they’re paid for by big business.

Many groups ask local businesses to speak. Often these speakers are local, successful, home-based business owners who tell their stories to their hometown fellow business operators.

These people can be inspirational and provide you with some great business ideas. At some forum sessions, those who attend are encouraged to think about forming a network to help each other, to give each other business and to create a force for change.

Benefits of networking

Historically, small business owners have been reluctant to join associations, possibly because there are fees involved with membership, but the main reason is because they don’t understand what is in it for them.

The good associations not only offer networking opportunities, which can not only mean collecting new customers, it can result in new and possibly cheaper suppliers.

But wait there’s more. There’s the exchange of information, membership services support in areas such as industrial relations, tax and better management.

At one networking function there was a story about a thriving food business in Sydney that had grown quickly to employ more than 20 full-time staff.

The owner confessed that he wasn’t in an association that helped with industrial relations matters. He had so many staff issues and didn’t know where to turn for help and eventually went broke despite having a great business.

Doing business in isolation without the support of fellow business owners can be a recipe for disaster, or at least mediocre performance.

What about global organisations?

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, joining a peer support group is not a business-seeking exercise, it’s an opportunity to learn, be inspired, or discuss common business issues.

Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon, is a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO). “[My involvement] is steering the direction of our charter within Sydney, so we’re here as a peer-to-peer support and education group,” she says.

“We have education events once a month where we have a guest speaker or we do an activity that is a learning event, and we also have once a month a forum meeting which is effectively a quasi-board, or a group of advisers who we confide in about our businesses. There are the local benefits, but [EO] is a global organisation and we have global resources available to us.”

Simson says there are some important etiquette rules that members observe.

“We don’t talk about anybody else’s business, we don’t even talk about who else is particularly members. Anything about our members, their businesses or what we do is absolutely confidential.

“Peer networking to me implies that you’re trying to do business; it’s against our charter at EO to do business with existing business, you are not allowed to solicit business from your fellow chapter members. It’s an educational organisation, that’s why we call it peer-to-peer support, it’s not peer networking,” says Simson. “It’s the only place where I don’t sell anything,” she adds.

Although EO is a support organisation, Simson recognises the importance of peer networking in business.

“If you are the leader of any business, no matter what size, you’re alone there, so quite often your family and friends aren’t running a business, and not only that, they have a vested interest in how you’re running things, so you might not be as prepared to take risks. So to have external people [to talk to] is very beneficial.

“There are lots of other organisations beyond just EO, because EO is just for people running fast growing, entrepreneurial businesses, so that’s a sort of different beat.”

For all businesses great and small, it pays to seek outside support – you never know where it can take you!

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