It seems intuitive: work with other small businesses to help grow yours.

When you first take the plunge into starting your own business, you are going to be on the lookout for others in a similar situation. The urge may be to reach out to other small business owners with ideas on how to collaborate. You then follow larger businesses on social media for inspiration. At first, you will find comfort in it. You will meet other entrepreneurs and work together to grow your reach on social media and your visibility in the community.

While building and maintaining these relationships are integral at first, there will come a time when you need to “mind your own business.”

When you focus too much on working with other businesses and watching what your competitors are doing, you may lose sight of your company’s vision and goals. I’ll be talking a little about collaborating with fellow entrepreneurs versus when you need to compete—both are beneficial for developing your business.

Five Things to Keep in Mind While Growing Your Small Business

1. Don’t Follow Any of Your Competitors on Social Media

There is no benefit to seeing what similar businesses are up to. Social media can be quite deceiving and it is easy for companies to appear to be doing better than they are. Remember: a large following and lots of engagement do not always translate into sales.

When I see a new small business follows me on Instagram, for example, a few ideas run through my head. The first is probably, “thanks for the support!”, followed by: “… but don’t steal any of my ideas.” So why would you follow your competitors? In order to keep your own ideas fresh and original, it’s best not to even look. Spend more time working on your content and less time scrolling your feeds.

2. Only Work with Businesses That Share the Same Values as You

There is nothing worse than associating with a company with a bad reputation or poor customer service. When I am planning events I typically work with one to ten other small businesses. If it takes longer than 24 hours for someone to respond to an email or they are constantly making excuses or underperforming, take notice and take action.

3. Take Advantage of Bartering

Let’s say you need excellent quality pictures of your products for your website or social media channels, why not have an upcoming professional photographer do the job and offer him/her a sample of your merchandise or provide an irresistible deal? Don’t underestimate the power of a good in-kind opportunity.

4. When Someone Asks for Advice, It Is Okay to Say “No” Sometimes

The life of an entrepreneur is a busy one; you’re always looking for ways to improve your business. When someone asks you for help with theirs, it is okay to decline at times. Remember, as a business owner you are not on salary, nor do you get paid by the hour. You need to focus more on your own business and furthering your goals.

I have a friend that works in a completely different industry than my own who wanted advice on marketing and social media. I now work on contract for his company doing graphic design and social media, invoicing them for my time. It works for me because I’m able to step away from what I’m doing for a few hours a week and see my business more objectively. Also, it is facilitating the goals of my own company by creating another source of financing.

5. Re-Focus Your Networking

I’m not fond of the word networking. It has such a negative connotation. If you have ever attended a networking event you know what I mean. There is a lot of “here is my card, call if you need [a car, insurance, bookkeeping].” It is important to build strong relationships with people that can help to materialize your vision but don’t hesitate to explore other ways you can make lasting connections.

Once I got an email from a woman who worked in the same industry as mine in a more official role that read, “Hey, I think you are super interesting, I want to buy you a coffee.” We ended up meeting and chatting for a few hours about how we each got started in the industry and offering each other some advice and insight.

Instead of spending the evening at an event with people that may have nothing to offer you, email someone you admire and maybe take them out for dinner. You can also attend events featuring influential people in your industry.

It’s important that you aren’t afraid to make mistakes, but you need to learn from them—fast. When you start working on your own business and doing the right things to reach your goals, you will see an increase in sales and your company will grow faster than you have ever imagined.

Connect with our guest author from Portage and Main!