You Can't Succeed Alone — Why Small Businesses Must Work Together
Sep 11, 2023
Over the last several months, I have been deeply immersed in the Goldman Sachs 10k Small Businesses (10KSB) accelerator program. In partnership with Babson College, Goldman Sachs developed an in-depth curriculum that requires small business owners, or "scholars," as we are called during the program, to take a deep look at each aspect of our businesses and our leadership styles.
Goldman Sachs developed this program with the belief that small businesses are the economic engine of the American economy and that the stronger those businesses are, the stronger and more resilient the American economy will be. This is particularly important today as we face tremendous economic uncertainty.
The program curriculum was demanding and required a significant time commitment. The result was a 70-page, comprehensive business plan. The business plan was tangible evidence that my fellow scholars and I completed the program and dug into the guts of our business. We each identified a "Growth Opportunity" and created a detailed plan to capture that opportunity.
But to be clear, the plan was not strictly the result of the program curriculum. It was also the result of the invaluable network of hundreds of small businesses from every state in the union in my Goldman Sachs cohort and the alumni of over 13,000 small business owners that now make up my community.
As I sit at my computer today and pour through my company's daily, weekly, and monthly financial reports, it is increasingly evident that I cannot do this alone. Like business leaders everywhere, I am concerned about the realities of the economy, the supply chain, access to capital and all the myriad factors that affect my business, which I have no control over. The one fact that is crystal clear to me is that, as small business owners, we need to join forces.
There is power in numbers. Small businesses are successful when we work together and take advantage of each other's strengths. Diverting focus from our core business to spend time on our own every internal business process is costly and wastes time. This point was stressed time and time again over the nine months I was in the program.
If marketing isn't your core business, find and hire a small business specializing in the marketing type you need to get the message out to your customers. Hire those services you need from another small business so that you can focus. If distribution isn't your core business, find and hire a business that specializes in logistics. And the list goes on and on. If we are intentional about looking for other small businesses to provide the services we need so we can focus, we can find virtually anything.
Spending money is one of the most terrifying things for a small business owner. Like many of you, I look at the bank account and think I can't afford to hire an outside service to do this. I will do it myself and save money. Here is the rub, how much time and effort am I wasting learning something new? What is my time worth? What if I could spend my time focused on what I do best, on my core business competency? Would that pay for the additional cost of a service?
I have been forced to take a tough look at my business in a new way. It is not that I suddenly realized that I had better cash flow and could outsource things. I didn't, and I can't. But it costs money and lost opportunity when my key employees or I spend time on things that don't fall within our immediate business and enhance our offerings.
I will give you a perfect example. I have years of experience in marketing, but marketing is not my core business today. I lead an ecommerce platform for women-owned businesses. The last thing I thought I needed to spend money on was marketing. I have done it for years and know how to identify my target audience and what channels to use to reach them. I have actively resisted my team's push to hire marketing services. What I didn't factor in is how much time my co-founder and I spent on marketing execution rather than focusing on building our sales platform.
My core business is NOT marketing execution, so why do we have one of the most valuable members of the team spending hours a week focused on it? We need to find a small business whose specific business is marketing execution for direct-to-consumer companies like mine and hire them. I am confident that freeing my co-founder up to focus on building our core offering will enable us to pay for the cost of the outsourced marketing execution.
The bottom line is that, as small business owners, we can't do it alone. As the uncertainty in the economy continues, capital is harder to access, and consumers reduce spending, the best thing I can do is surround my business with experts focused on how to grow and invest back into our communities.
Small businesses have long been the American economy's growth engine; for this to continue, we need to fuel economic stability and growth by investing and supporting one another. I am fortunate to have been able to participate in an accelerator program that jump-started my network. But there are many places where small businesses can and should connect. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great resource, as is the Small Business Administration and industry affinity groups with chapters nationwide.