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In It Together

Entrepreneurs may be their worst enemies. Along with their persistence , self-confidence and determination to succeed, entrepreneurs have a strong desire to be self -reliant that's why they establish their businesses in the first place. " New business can be reluctant to work with others ," says David Jackson , general manager and executive director of the London Community Small business Centre. " They want to succeeds on their own .' But working together with other businesses is one of the keys to achieving growth in a small companies whose resources and time are stretched to the limit. Increasingly, these small companies consist of a sole proprietor. According to Statistics Canada, 90 per cent of the growth in self-employment this decade has come from entrepreneurs who work alone.
Self employed Canadians now account for 18 per cent of all workers, 50 per cent more than 20 years ago. " the vast majority of start- up entrepreneurs come from a specialized field," says Jackson. " He or she might be a great marketing person but lacks skills in operations or finance., There is a need to strike alliances with people with complementary skills," he says. Co-venturing may be part of the solution, says a University of Western Ontario professor.

" You need to ask yourself, 'what are the resources that I have in my business to successful ? " How can I complement these resources by co-venturing with someone ? Is that a viable strategy for my business?" says John Eggers, associate professor of entrepreneur ay UWO's Richard Ivey School or Business. Small - business would rely on others while it was still in the planning stages. His London - based company, information on hold , designs , produces and install phone messaging systems for businesses to relay to customers when they are put " on hold ." " I always intended to contract out in installation of the messaging systems, " says Payne. " It's a natural extension of what we're doing new. It's so important for small businesses to work together because you can become so much more effective. There is no way I could implement my business plan entirely on my own. It's nice to be able to spread the load with people I can trust ." Working on joint projects such as Payne's messaging system requires commitment and flexibility from each of the businesses involved. " When you're contracting parts of your business out, time-management can be a challenge," says Payne. once customers purchase a messaging system package he adds, they generally want it installed right away. Because each business associated with Information On- Hold operates independently, inevitably there is some schedule juggling to be done . " but we all work well together says Payne "it's a very symbiotic relationship." Solid relationships with complementary businesses form the cornerstone of local business person Nancy Bangbol's successful interior decorating company , Christopher Bradley Interior Decorating Brokers. Initially , business was built on the concept of a "pocket planner," a pursed sized wallet containing floor plan, paint chips and carpet, fabric and wallpaper samples for homeowners to consult when they venture out to purchase all the elements of their new room. What has catapulted her business forward , however , has been the inclusion of a directory. Clients appreciate Bangsboll's list of personally screened trades people and retailers. " I want to make sure the client has a good experience. This directory is as much about the personality of the people listed in it as it is about good they are at what they do," says Nancy " There is no fee for being listed in the directory and none of us receive commission for referrals. The payment is the relationship we have. One doesn't succeed in isolation from the rest. I send work their way because I believe they're the right people for my clients, and I get business back from them because they trust me as much as I trust them .' Although each member of the group operates independently and there are no exclusivity clauses, the referrals that bounce back and forth increase each business's client base at a faster rate than they could achieve on their own the success of this approach has led Nancy and her colleagues to a new venture in collaboration. Last week Christopher Bradley Interior Decorating Broker , in partnership with Schueneman's ( a furniture manufacturer and upholsterer) and R. Linton Kitchen Designer opened the doors to the Hyde Park Design Centre, A client showroom in Hyde Park. Local contractor Arne Madsen also is involved. The Design Centre, will provide existing clients with a convenient location to meet with the people they have hired to decorate or renovate their homes.
" Clients will come will come by appointment to discuss their project ," explains Nancy " Everything from artificial greenery , flooring , window coverings, , custom furniture selection and design , to fabric samples and paint chips will be on hand, but it is reserved for our clients. It's not intended to be a retail showroom."

The three tenants share the major costs associated with the showroom while a number of businesses from Christopher Bradley's directory pay a fee to display samples of their products and services.
"To my knowledge, this concept does not exist anywhere else in London," says Nancy " Small businesses need to work together ." she adds. It doesn't make sense to do it any other way. When you find people who work the way you do and treat their clients the way you do, how can you possibly fail?" The venture is a good example of using alliances to share resources and as way of lowering costs in a non-competing manner, says Eggers.
"Typically, this is the most successful way alliances are formed . In my experience , it's unusual to see people in directly competing business banding together . One of the ground rules seems to be that participants are ether in different businesses or at least operating in different markets."
there are always exceptions to a rule. Three local restaurateurs, considered to be in direct compaction with each other band together to stage a series of culinary events.
Bryan Lavery of Murano, Alessandro Malnati of Home Restaurant and Fernanada Cerone of Mangia Mania not only planned and ran the themed events as a team, they worked side by side as they created the dishes in each others kitchens.
" We all specialize in Italian cosine and we wanted to bring that to the forefront of the local dinning scene," says Lavery. " As small businesses, we are trying to increase our visibility and promote ourselves as cuisine oriented restaurants in the heritage of Italian cooking."
Lavery, Malnati and Cerone are trying to kick start a resurgence of community spirit that used to exist among local restaurateurs.
" There used to be a tremendous camaraderie within the restaurant community in London," Says Lavery." That has dissipated in the past seven or eight years because a lot of major players have left the business."
The group hoped to attract other restaurants to participate in their events, but people have been skeptical. Interest has begun , however now that the Italian inspired chefs have completed five successful joint events, the most resent being an upscale picnic at a farm during the peak of the harvest season. Co-operating with the competition has been a positive experience.
"These events have generated quite a bit of publicity which has helped the profile of the restaurants ," says Lavery " working together has defiantly strengthened the bond between restaurants. We have become quite supportive of one another."
The restaurants have seen an increase in their clientele as a result of the crossover of customers from one restaurant to another as they attended each of the events.
"We all gained all gained business from this," says Cerone ." It was also very to work with our competitors and learn from each other."
The challenge for most entrepreneurs, says Eggers, is to continue to network and look for opportunities to strike alliances once a businesses successful.
"Once you' re successful, the greed factor comes into play," says Eggers. " You think you could be making more money if you weren't in a business relationship with someone else. Once a company starts turning a profit, they pull in their reins. That is a mistake as it actually hurts their growth.
"It comes down to mindset - are you growing a business or just creating a job for yourself?"

Reprinted from London Free Press; November 1999

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Fanshawe Park Road & Hyde Park Road. (South-West Corner)

 

 
 
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