A few weeks ago Babson and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program released our first progress report, Stimulating Small Business Growth. While the outcome numbers as far as revenues grown and jobs created are very good, especially when compared to businesses in the general economy, one of my favorite parts is what we've learned about business owners working together. According to our participants, by the time they graduate from the program, 80% of them are working together.
Working together can mean a lot of different things and to put a bit of color commentary around that number, we talked with one of our scholars to see what it meant to her. Ayala Donchin of Evelyn's Kitchen in Harlem, NY, categorizes it as sharing advisors, clients and suppliers. She purchases janitorial, printing, construction and renovation, and website services for her business through this network. She personally uses a styling service from this network. She sells holiday gifting products to another member of the network. And she is part of an informal business group with two other members of her 10KSB network.
Why? The easy answer is that she knows them and what they can do as far as their products and services. My suggestion for the next layer is that she trusts and respects them. 10KSB places a very strong emphasis on explicitly talking about how the participating business owners want to work together in the program. The business owners in the program always stress the crucial importance of respect, trust, and integrity. These attributes then become the cultural hallmark of their alumni network.
Why don't we talk about these attributes more often when we're choosing with whom we want to do business? Last month I was part of a group visiting the Downtown Project in Las Vegas through TechCocktail. One of the highlights of the visit was our start-up stroll where we literally walked a few blocks in either direction to visit a number of start-ups. All but one of the start-ups talked about the importance of community and collaboration in their casual presentations to our group. One of my favorite examples was when the folks at Ticket Cake talked about being able to draw from the local businesses for a "passionately supported beta." Their peers would be their testers and absolutely provide very direct and honest feedback. The development of our own business community, whether based on organizational membership or geography, does make a difference.
So what do you do? I challenge you to:
- Take the time to think about the world of business as you wished it worked. How should people work together? What are the basic expectations of a business relationship?
- Decide what this means for your company. How does this become a key component of your company values that guides what and how you and your team act?
- Don't accept that you have to "play the game" in a way that doesn't fit those values. It's not necessarily easy, but it's way easier for those of us in the U.S. than the students at a school in Bangladesh who asked me if they really had to pay all those expected bribes when they were starting their businesses.
- Share widely and loudly about your value based approach to doing business. It's the role model thing.
The personal mantra in 10KSB is that entrepreneurship is about identifying opportunities, organizing resources, and providing the leadership to create something of value - for you and your community. You get to decide what that value means.
Patricia is the National Academic Director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.