By Ari Rabban
Have you ever walked over to the neighbor’s house and ask to borrow a cup of sugar? Me neither. It’s an antiquated idea harkening back to 1950s suburbia, but close relationships within the community were once a necessity of life.
Of course, in the business world, the need for community connection still holds true.
Whether you are opening a bakery or starting a tech company, building relationships within your own ZIP code can be vital — both for your success and for the community itself. A Civic Economics study showed that buying locally resulted in 68 percent of every dollar ultimately being generated for the local economy, compared with 43 percent when people spent money at chains. Still more studies reveal that consumers tend to reward companies that invest in their own communities’ development.
Business leaders who actively engage and communicate with community leaders earn much more than dollar bills. They receive introductions to legal, accounting, real estate, human resources and other services, expanding their circle of influence and helping to create a more vibrant community. As that reciprocity increases, so does your business’s reputation and success.
Thriving community, thriving business
Even outside the monetary or PR benefits, community outreach is quite simply an enriching experience and one that I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy firsthand.
As soon as my company, Phone.com, was up and running, we jumped right in and immersed ourselves in Newark, New Jersey’s tech community: We went to events, networked, volunteered, mentored, and sponsored as much as we could within our budget limitations. Over time, we were invited to more events to speak or exhibit, which led to all sorts of new business channels.
We were even given the opportunity to help the city’s infrastructure with cloud-based PBX phone service for multiple city offices while reducing the total cost for phone service ownership. The partnership made sense but would have been unthinkable if my team hadn’t been a part of our community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem from the start.
Reaching your community where they live
To connect with those in your geographic area, you must build meaningful, collaborative relationships. Such relationships form a bedrock of trust that can positively affect the community in far-reaching ways. Begin your company’s immersion project through pragmatic actions:
1. Plug into local boards and chambers: Not everyone starts off as a third-generation business owner in a small town where the whole community knows them and will automatically buy from them. To build visibility for your organization, join your regional or state trade association or local Chamber of Commerce.
Don’t worry about rising up in the ranks — just prove that you’re there to lend a hand. This opens the path to new business, as well as introductions to future customers, partners and business channels.
2. Engage industry journalists and community leaders: Many new business leaders try to get their names out by spending every marketing dollar they have. Instead, do your reading. Find all the local reporters, bloggers and pundits covering your industry. Create a list of these players, and follow up with them.
Not only will you get to know your community, but you will also make essential inroads with these journalists and community leaders. As you become more appreciated and liked, you will increase your network and inevitably help grow your company.
3. Join business networking groups — or create your own: Private “clubs” — like local chapters of Business Network International — are a great jumping-off point. As a member, you will contribute your knowledge to others, and in return you will get the right tips you need. Exchanging ideas and contacts can result in immediate business, building the foundation for further success down the road.
You will always need your community, even if it’s only for plumbing help, catering services or the occasional cup of sugar. So be visible, and get involved. You may not see returns right away, but have patience — after all, good deeds fuel amazing outcomes.
Image credit: Pexels
Ari Rabban is the CEO of Phone.com and a veteran of the IP communications industry. Phone.com’s virtual phone service builds on the digital VoIP industry experience of its founders to deliver a complete suite of enterprise-grade unified communication services at an SMB price. Ari was named among the Top 20 Most Influential People in VoIP 2012 and currently serves on several boards, including the New Jersey Tech Council. You can follow him on Twitter @arabban.