Collaborate or die

AMWAY has always fascinated me - not so much the business as the people who attend the multi-level, direct selling company and manufacturer’s meetings and the almost evangelical reverence which the top-of-the-chain sellers are treated.

I have battled to understand how hardened small business owners are transformed from cynics into optimists as they cross over the threshold for one of the presentations. But I think I get it now.

Last week I was sitting in a meeting with a new member of our entrepreneur support initiative. We were discussing ways she could get her small business off the ground and sharing some ideas on contacts, and it occurred to me how much people simply want to reach out to a support base.

Entrepreneurship is often a lonely game and when things are going badly, you tend to curl up in your corner and take the pain on your own rather than reaching out for help.

It took me back to a presentation by trend analyst Dion Chang at the Gordon Institute of Business Science not so long ago. He was talking about the concept of communities or "tribes", and how people's professional and personal circles would become increasingly important in the next decade for small business owners.

The power of the tribe

The IT geeks will be far more aware of this idea of tribes. You look at something like the Silicon Cape initiative launched last year, and you begin to understand the power of a community of that nature. People talk, they find ways together for their software to work, they exchange ideas and contacts and, most importantly, feel a reassuring sense of belonging.

I reckon you could count the number of people who have benefited financially from being part of Silicon Cape on one hand - but I am also prepared to bet that the majority of the 2 717 members all feel empowered as entrepreneurs and collaborators through being members.

If you had asked me a few years back whether I saw much benefit in being a member of one of these communities or business networking groups, I would probably have scoffed at your suggestions. Yet it was at this time, when my business was going south, that I should have been out there getting advice and support from others which could have helped me avoid many of the mistakes I made.

So here is my parting shot: we snigger at the Amway people, we roll our eyes at the geeks as they talk about social networking and communities and we shake our heads at some of the wacky ideas which come out of the various MBA communities.

Yet every one of them can turn around and say they are a part of a tribe who has some interest in what they are doing and helps them to roll with the punches. Can you do the same thing?


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