By Eric Groves

Connecting and collaborating with other local business owners unlocks a wealth of knowledge and business opportunities. So it did not come as a surprise to my co-founder and me when we interviewed local business owners about what they wished technology could do for them. Often the answer was simply, “Can it just introduce me to the business owner across the street?”

One of the key challenges of being a local business owner is the sense of isolation that results from a lack of time. You’re busy running your businesses during the day, and may not have the time for even a brief chat with the owner next door let alone one across town. Businesses that sell to other businesses are similarly challenged because it can be hard to connect with potential clients who are busy servicing their own customers.  But talking to other local owners is invaluable in many ways.

Here are seven reasons I’ve heard from business owners about why they want to connect with others:

  1. “Their parking lot is always full and I want to know what they’re doing to get such a steady stream of customers.”
  2. “There’s a lot of confusion out there about workman’s comp and I’d love to educate local owners without interrupting them while they’re busy with customers.”
  3. “I have a couple of ideas on ways we could work together that I would love to explore.”
  4. “They’re really active on Facebook and I want to know what kind of results they’re seeing.”
  5. “I’d like to talk to the other merchants in the shopping plaza about ways we could work together during the holidays—maybe plan an event or two to draw people in.”
  6. “I need to get a new sign for my business and I wanted to ask them how they got theirs approved by the town.”
  7. “I’m thinking about switching payment providers and would really love to hear who other merchants are using.”

You have knowledge that’s been added to over the years to make great decisions for your business.  But it’s limited to your own experiences.  When connecting and collaborating with other local businesses, you gain access to the collective knowledge of the group, enabling you to make more informed decisions and enhance success.

It all starts with making a few connections.  I’ve seen that, on average, successful local businesses have built strong connections with five to 10 others nearby.  Using technology to make those interactions easier can help you grow and strengthen those connections.  But don’t wait for it to happen on its own. The businesses that benefit most are those that are willing to reach out and help others first, recognizing that outreach will pay dividends for years to come.

Eric Groves is the co-founder and CEO of Alignable, the free social network for local businesses and organizations to connect and collaborate with others nearby. Eric has been a local marketing expert and enthusiast since 2001, authored The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing, and believes that local businesses are always stronger together.