When you think of businesses in the same space, you think competition, right? Business, no matter what kind, is often competitive. But for small businesses and entrepreneurs, mutual uplifting is vital.
To that end, Amy D'Alessio devotes about an hour of her day promoting small businesses in Essex, Connecticut, where she owns a clothing store called J. Alden Women's on Main Street that lives in a shared space with her husband's J. Alden Clothiers.
D’Alessio serves as president of the Essex Board of Trade, an organization she says comprises 100 small businesses in the town, and tells USA TODAY that small businesses are more powerful as a group – part of why she spends so much time lifting others up.
“This idea of community is what makes us stand head and shoulders above the big-box store,” D’Alessio said.
When it comes to support, it doesn't matter if it's coming from businesses in the same space.
"It truly takes a village and supporting other small businesses does not take away from your own business," said Sahra Nguyen, founder of Brooklyn-based Nguyen Coffee Supply, a specialty Vietnamese coffee brand.
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John Childress, president of Childress Business Consulting who often mentors early-stage entrepreneurs, echoed Nguyen’s point.
“Because most small businesses don't have the resources to do everything on their own, they often rely on other small businesses for help and/or for collaboration,” Childress said.
But boosting each other’s brands is something that’s become more prevalent in recent years, Childress continued, noting the trend isn’t just because of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today's new entrepreneurs are not from the 'Wall Street' Gordon Gecko ‘Greed is Good’ mentality that most entrepreneurs were raised in decades ago,” Childress said. “Most of today's entrepreneurs care about more than the bottom line; they want to make money while helping the community and environment, not hurting it.”
Terri Maxwell, CEO of business growth community Shift/Co, agreed: For small businesses, making money and doing good "aren’t at odds like they are in most corporations."
Small business community boosts more than business success
It goes beyond fiscal success, though, according to Gwen Beloti, owner of Gwen Beloti Collection, who said it’s part of her business’ “mission” to support others.
“(There’s) nothing like being able to connect with someone who speaks your language and knows what you're going through, how to support you and can share experiences of their own that speak to you,” Beloti said.
Childress agreed. “It is also a great mental health aid,” he said. “Having someone who is walking your same journey and experiencing the same highs and lows is extremely helpful. Instead of you walking this road alone, you are together with a community.”
Social media, word of mouth, the dollar: Supporting small business peers happens in different ways
The word “support” can encompass a range of activities. “We support each other's events, products, and services,” Childress said.
For Nguyen, some of that support happens daily, most often in three forms.
“I like to uplift and amplify as much as I can on social media,” Nguyen said. “A share is simple and can go a long way for businesses.”
She also recommends other small businesses during a conversation when the opportunity arises and said that when she has meetings with media, she tries to bring new connections to her friends’ shops and restaurants in the New York City area.
Completing her holy grail of support, and “most importantly” Nguyen likes to support with her dollar.
D’Alessio takes similar steps, shopping local and using social media “to support and lift up my community of small business on a daily basis."
Collaborations are another way that entrepreneurs can work together to boost business, Beloti said, referencing the saying, “your net worth is your network.”
And sometimes, support simply means bolstering another entrepreneur’s network with members of your own.
“Most of us who have been in business for many years have built relationships with people in a wide range of fields and businesses,” Childress said. “That means if a fellow entrepreneur comes to me with a need, I can generally recommend someone who I know is good to help her/him."
There's room for plenty of small businesses to 'win'
While competition in business can be steep, generally speaking, there is plenty of space for small businesses to have success.
But it can be tough to attain that, and understanding how challenging it can be, Nguyen said, is part of why she loves being part of a small business community.
"It brings me great joy to see others going after their dreams and to be able to witness anyone's journey is an honor," Nguyen said. "I love to see good people doing good things win. We need to uplift, protect and celebrate our people unlocking possibilities for others."
D’Alessio added that it takes nothing away from your business to support another – doing so only adds value.
Beyond being room for all, "most conscious small business enterprises operate with values of collaboration, versus worrying about competition," Maxwell said.
And the relationships formed are more beneficial than traditional marketing, in some instances, according to Childress.
“It is one of the best tools for long-term growth for your company. A snazzy sales campaign gives you a short-term boost,” he said. “Building key relationships with other businesses, customers, and communities will build long-term growth.”
Small businesses harder hit by ‘storms’ wreaking havoc
Between 2020 and 2021, small businesses have faced several “storms” as Childress calls events that have put owners in tough positions including the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain havoc and more.
“We are experiencing incredibly difficult times with the exponential rate increases in shipping due to supply chain issues,” Nguyen said. “Some small businesses will choose to increase prices, and some will choose to eat the cost. Either way, I ask customers to keep this in mind as they're shopping this season, and please support small businesses because it's quite a hustle every day to keep things moving forward.”
And when weathering those challenges, larger companies are more likely to receive government assistance to stay afloat, according to Childress.
Small businesses don’t always receive the same kind of help.
“Large companies often get much more real government support. They get billion-dollar bailouts. When the government does actually create programs to help small businesses, much of the aid ends up in the hands of large, wealthy corporations,” he said, referencing the Paycheck Protection Program program.
Small business community is resilient
While the small business sector may not have as many resources as its larger counterparts, it is resilient for a number of reasons.
“What we lack in resources that larger businesses like box stores may have, we make up for in offering support to each other in so many other ways,” Nguyen said.
And D’Alessio believes that there will never be a replacement for small businesses. “Big-box stores exist for a reason and they are necessary, but they will never compare to the small business shopping experience.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Small businesses 'win' when they support one another