Partnerships build communities of trust
By JERRY BELLUNE
Are you finding ways to strengthen your relations with the business community in this recession? Partnering with business owners and recognizing their achievements will build bonds of trust.
Here are three strategies you can consider. We’ve field-tested them and they work. What’s more, other than your time and a bit of newsprint, they have zero budgets.
Your area’s annual Leadership Forum
Each January we assemble a panel of local business and government leaders to discuss the coming year. This was our 18th annual forum. On the panel this year was the founder and president of a successful local bank, the developer and CEO of a real estate sales company, a pharmacist who just happens to be our state senator, the chairman of the chamber of commerce who is legal counsel to one of our largest employers, the superintendent of our fast-growing local school district, a local business woman who is chairman of our county council and the mayor who is also the chamber president and a former businessman.
We have had as many as nine on the panel but it tends to create a time problem. They are given three questions in advance and asked to hold responses to three minutes each (450 words). The questions are the same every year but, of course, the answers change. They are:
• How can we best deal with the challenges of the coming 12 months?
• How can we take full advantages of the opportunities the year will bring?
• How can business and government leaders work together to improve our economy?
Despite our restrictions, some of them tend to be a bit verbose and that has to be controlled gracefully. We have multiple sponsors for this event. The town donates its conference center and video taping capability. Five chamber member restaurants cater it as a marketing opportunity to prospective customers.
Two local package stores supply wine. Coke and Budweiser supply other beverages. A quick printer handles the programs and display signs for the sponsors. I facilitate the program and write the publicity for newspapers and broadcasters in our area.
This year 200 people turned out for the event. The sponsors were all thrilled. The cost to us: Newsprint and my time. Our reporters take photos and notes for stories we publish after the event. This goes into a special "Trends in Business" tabloid that attracts business and industry ad support. The town rebroadcasts it on their cable channel for weeks afterward.
I put about 20 hours into it each year and it pays off in goodwill and respect for our newspaper. And that’s not to overlook the advertising dollars the tabloid generates.
Top Small Businesses of the Year
This is an annual competition to recognize small business owners. Here’s what we do:
1. Contact the five chambers of commerce and four other newspapers in our area.
2. Invite them to nominate small business owners to recognize their success and community contributions.
3. Distribute nomination forms in print and online that spelled out the standards:
• Must be locally owned, operated and headquartered in our county.
• Must have 25 or fewer full-time employees including the owners.
• Must have no more than $5 million in annual gross income.
Nominations are received from all over the county. A panel of three business executives whose companies are not eligible chose the winners. The winners are then interviewed and recognized at a public ceremony at the town conference center. Each is introduced by me with a very brief outline of their history and achievements. Each of them has an opportunity to tell what they thought was responsible for their success. Their success strategies vary including:
• Close attention to customer service, family atmosphere and loyal employees.
• Community leadership and service including annual golf tournaments for children’s charities.
• Careful planning, watching the bottom line and their faith in God.
It was inspiring to hear people who are not professional speakers speak from their hearts. We produce a special section telling their stories with congratulatory ads.
Costs and profits seminars
Our local chamber of commerce offers a monthly "Business at Lunch". The chamber president asked me to facilitate two – one on cutting costs, the other on increasing profits. We did the first one last month – "Cutting Costs Without Cutting Your Throat". Fifteen small business owners participated and paid $10 each for their own lunch. It was a highly interactive hour in these four sequences:
• 15 minutes of identifying their pain – what keeps them awake at night.
• 15 minutes on what they are doing about it. This was highly-productive as they came up with some cost controls I’d never thought about.
• 15 minutes on seven strategies we’ve used in our business to control costs. These included employee incentives to cut costs as outlined in my book, "Terminate Your Profit Killers."
• 15 minutes of questions and answers and final comments.
This month we’re doing "Building Your Profits Each and Every Day." It will use a similar format with strategies from my book, "Accelerate Your Profit Builders." For more on both these books including more than 160 strategies you can use, go to www.JerryBellune.com.
I use a flip chart to capture their pains, their cost-cutting solutions and their questions and answers. This enables me to write a newspaper article listing all the cost controls we come up with. If you would like a copy of the article, email me at email@example.com.
Now, other chambers have asked me to do similar programs for their members. None of this stuff is rocket science. It costs little more than your time. It pays off in great exposure. The people we are trying to help are small business owners who keep our newspaper in business.
Jerry Bellune and his family operate their own book and newspaper publishing companies. For details about his weekly Advertising and Marketing Letter, e-mail him at Jerry@JerryBellune.com.
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