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Many small business owners and managers participate in Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, business networking groups, and conferences. They belong to these organizations and attend events to network with other professionals and to pass out business cards. The purpose, some people think, is to build relationships to drum up business. That’s often true, but there’s another very useful opportunity that these organizations and events offer.
In my work facilitating discussions about the problems and issues entrepreneurs are facing, I see firsthand just how enlightening the chance to learn from other businesses can be. Most of us tend to interact mainly with people who work in our own areas or industries, not seeing how those who work in very different businesses can help us. But learning how business owners in fields other than your own tackle and resolve problems and capitalize on opportunities can be enlightening. Sure, the bakery owner and the small manufacturer of precision parts deal with entirely different products and services, but they both might be looking for new ways to attract competent workers. They can share ideas they’ve tried and help one another learn from their experiences, mistakes, and successes.
To reap these benefits, you can form your own group or join one that already exists (check with your local Chamber, trade group, small business center, college, or university). Also, consider taking even a few minutes at the next networking event or convention to begin a conversation with people you might never have thought of talking to before.
Lisa Gundry, PhD
Professor of Management
Director, Center for Creativity & Innovation
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