If you’ve ever gotten a ride from Uber or Lyft, rented a vacation home through Airbnb, or shared your home Wi-Fi through Fon, then you’ve been a consumer in the sharing economy. In a recent FastCompany article, author Rachel Botsman defined a sharing economy as “an economic system based on sharing underused assets or services, for free or for a fee, directly from individuals.” The key phrase in her definition is the notion that we’re sharing underused assets or services — resources that would otherwise have been idle and therefore would not have delivered their real value.
As a small business owner, I have watched the rising popularity of the sharing economy and found it amusing that people think of it as something “new” and “hip” and “innovative.” The reality is that we who run small businesses have been applying the principles of the sharing economy since we first hung up our shingles. Whenever we exchanged or bartered goods or services with someone rather than paying with or getting paid through cash, we were using sharing economy principles, even if we didn’t know what to call it.
In the five years that I’ve run my own small business, I’ve had to learn about applying sharing economy principles the normal way – through trial and (sometimes painful) error. But these experiences have taught me quite a few valuable lessons, some of which may sound familiar to you from your own experiences.
Below are four things you can do today to take part in the sharing economy, and benefit your business in the process:
- Create a local and regional following by collaborating with local influencers. The more people hear about you and your products and services from third parties, the more likely it is that they’ll remember you the next time they need something that you provide. For example, when I ran a salon, I collaborated with pageant title-holders, local news anchors, local socialites, local authors, various business industries, fashion, food and style bloggers.
- Leverage connections in the local market to cross-brand your business. No matter what niche your business is in, there will always be another business in an adjacent or related industry that you can connect with. Find those businesses and start cross-branding and marketing collaboratively. For example, my salon collaborated on a business social event on the importance of beauty and style. We partnered with resource speakers on leadership skills along with well-known DC Stylist Stara Pezeshkian to give our attendees practical tips for improving their overall personal executive presence.
- Participate in local and regional events. Be a visible and valuable contributor so others start to see you as someone who helps make special events a success, all while learning more about what your business offers. People will remember you as someone who enables positive results and they will want to work with you further. My salon co-hosted an annual fashion and beauty show with our local county government during their annual festival that drew in thousands to the area, which gave us exposure along with the other brands that we partnered with.
- Volunteer with your professional community or association. If your line of business has a professional association or a professional community, be a part of it. But also consider other communities that you might find interesting. If you run a fashion boutique, you may also have an interest in cooking. Join a cooking club or connect with other local chef and bakers, and you’ll soon find like-minded small business owners who may become your next key collaborators, co-marketers or co-founders.
As any small business owner knows, great ideas are worthless without proper execution. Collaborating isn’t an easy process, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either. It requires a collaborative mindset. If achieved, the possibilities are endless. By coming together and uniting local businesses, we become a more visible united brand in our community.