The Challenge - Start A Part-time Business Co-op

by umc
14 replies
Alright, this place is getting boring so I'm going to put something out there that might start a helpful conversation to me.

I would love to be the go to guy for local businesses. I love small business and have my own self-employed gig. I'd like to build a community of small businesses that could get together and do joint venture promotions and support one another. Cooperative marketing pieces like the 9x12 cards could be part of it. Maybe a directory of members and some sort of discount card featuring their deals, or more of a VIP card that is more limited that participating businesses can give to their best customers. I could reach out to those that provide services like advertising, web design, etc. and promote them to my members at some sort of discount.

I would love to do something like this on the side. I'm not doing this to somehow get business for my business, but I am looking for an outlet for my interest in helping small businesses and I could make some extra income from it.

What would you offer to your business members?
How much would you charge for membership?
How would you obtain members if you have limited time? Would you hire? For what?

I like the creative license allowed in such a co-op. You can take it in any direction you like. It is yours and you have businesses looking to you to help them better themselves and each other.

What would you do or suggest? I don't necessarily want to provide the sevices as much as being the guy that gets everybody together.
#business #challenge #coop #parttime #start
  • Profile picture of the author fandbworld
    Could just join or start a BNI group. Does pretty much exactly what you are saying, with some limitations.

    I am in one at the moment. Been in it for about 7 months and generated around 10,000 give or take from it. So nothing too huge but is nice for just meeting once a week. Made a lot of great connections too. I noticed people who are in business to residential do a lot better. Like landscapers, plumbers, realtors etc... But can definitely still be successful with web stuff.

    Or like you said, could try to start your own type of networking group. I know a local one that did this and they charge 500 a year to be part of it. They only have around 15 members though and don't seem to be that successful. All depends on the type of people you get in the group too. My BNI has 40 members and have passed one million in referrals between each other within 2 years I believe.
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  • Profile picture of the author umc
    Thanks for the reply, but I don't have any desire to join BNI whatsoever.

    I thought this might be an interesting discussion of how the marketers here would get small businesses together to work with them in building something bigger than just a marketing campaign for this one business or that other business, but I was wrong. I saw it as a way to stir up some measure of creativity here. Maybe there doesn't need to be a networking group that physically meets like in BNI. Could it all be done online in some way? Could you tie a bunch of businesses together on something like a VIP card and utilize that in some way? Maybe go after a particular niche and create a network of lead gen sites that relayed all leads to a big job board of sorts where your members could then bid on the leads? Somehow rope together several services into one big package under a membership umbrella? Meh, nevermind, I tried to get something tactical and creative going here. Back to your regularly scheduled posts where users get their sig links out there or people pontificate the various psychological aspects of selling.
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  • Profile picture of the author AmericanMuscleTA
    I love your idea about a VIP card, or membership to be in the business co-op, especially using the 9x12 system.

    Heck, you could already have exclusive businesses on each card, but to get them to pay a membership fee on top of it is gold!! But, what other benefits could you include?? Monthly marketing workshops, newsletters, etc.?
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  • Profile picture of the author umc
    Hi David,

    There are people out there that utilize such discount cards already that attach them to a directory of businesses that offer discounts to those who have the cards. Some charge the end user for the cards, even asking the businesses to sell them and split the profits so that the businesses are paid for promoting the card. Me, I think that a free card is much easier to get out there. Not a big believer in having the businesses peddle the card.

    Basically the idea would be to start a local business organization and to get local businesses to pay to be members. The organization would effectively be a marketing co-op, centered around joint opportunities such as a discount card, 9x12 mailer, etc. The ideas are endless, but finding the right ones and the right price to charge for membership is the difficult part, along with finding the right way to contact the business owners to join the group.

    I'm currently tossing around the idea of charging $99 annually for membership. In exchange the business owner gets a basic directory listing that can be accessed by VIP cardholders where they can offer a special deal. The business gets a certain number of cards that they can hand out to their best customers (I can't afford to print a ton of cards at that membership price, but that also makes this more exclusive). As more businesses join and pass out cards on their end to their best customers, we build a group of good customers that now have access to many businesses and their deals through the card. Of course, they have to sign in with their email to access the deals on the site, therefore helping to build a list. As new businesses come on, a newsletter could be sent out to the VIP members announcing the new businesses that have become members. As the group of businesses grows, more services could be offered, like the 9x12 card. Other sponsorship opportunities could be offered locally, and maybe through a forum or Facebook group or something the business owners could get to know one another a bit. I could even contact those that offer commercial services like accounting, web design, printing, etc. and have them become members to offer services to the businesses in the group.

    I think that there are many ways to work such a co-op. I'm just a guy that's strapped for time due to my own offline service business. I had someone doing some calling to get emails from local businesses to build me a list, and that was working fine. However, I was emailing the businesses and wasn't able to give away memberships at first. I think that businesses want to see results, and right now I'm asking them to be a part of something that has no customer base. So the trick is likely to start bringing some attention to the group even before it exists. I had everything laid out one way and have made some adjustments to the concept. For instance, I had the directory openly visible, but that showed the business owners that I had nobody on board, and nobody wants to be first, sometimes even for free.

    Anyway, those are some ideas. I bought into a course that gave me the card idea, and I had the rest prior to that. Actually, I can't claim to have gotten many new ideas from the course I took, but I digress. I thought I'd come here and see what some more seasoned marketers thought.
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    • Profile picture of the author umc
      Another spin on this could be to develop a group of businesses that offer deals through other local businesses. When I first started my mobile auto detailing business back in the day, I went around to local employers (visited lots of the large industrial parks and office complexes) and offered them a group rate discount if they'd promote me internally. We got a lot of business that way. The employees loved the discounts. The employers liked having something like that to offer to their employees. One of the largest employers in my area has an internal website full of deals for their employees. That gave me the idea to maybe start my own such site one day. Get lots of businesses that want to offer discounts to local employers and the local business saves money on advertising because they and others are sharing a platform distributed through large local businesses.
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  • Profile picture of the author AmericanMuscleTA
    Hmmm...

    What if you started off just selling the ad space and then... and then after a month or so, you offer the VIP or membership?

    I'd rather try to sell a membership to the 9x12 and offer a newsletter, discounts on ad space, maybe even add in the VIP cards, though... the VIP cards sounds complicated. I've never done them, so not sure if that's true or not.

    I wonder how well it would be to sell all of this upfront. Again... maybe start off just selling the ad space then working their way up the ladder.
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  • Profile picture of the author BUFFALOBT
    I personally don't think enough business owners will want to pay anything to belong to a group, BUT I have given thought to organizing a leads swap program for any of my advertisers who might be interested in participating.

    It would be a service I offer at no charge, as a way to thank my advertisers, and offer something of value.

    You could actually offer this for free on the front end to anyone who advertises in your 9x12, etc.

    Good luck!
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  • Profile picture of the author umc
    Thanks Martin. You don't know me but I've seen you around in either Jason Bell's group or Jake's on Facebook. Thanks for the input.

    Thanks to Buffalo as well.

    I'm looking at possibly trying something in a cooperative way that I actually used years ago to build my detailing business that I had for many years. I offered group rates through local employers for our detailing services and went out to large local employers to get them on board. Doing so gave the employers an extra benefit for free to offer to their employees. The employees got a discount on my services. I got quick access to lots of potential customers and an audience that spread the word for me inside the walls of those companies. I'm thinking of developing it as a local platform and doing it with offers from many local businesses and with more employers. I know that some large corporations have their own internal sites with such offers, as we were on one or two for our services. However, most don't. My goal for 2015 is to give it a run.
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    • Profile picture of the author Freebiequeen1999
      It can be very hard to get business owners to commit, to agree, and even to "sit down and pay attention" LOL

      One problem I do see is that which I spoke of before regarding a similar sort of "discount" card - businesses change owners, go out of business, change their mind, and that can lead to confusion and ultimately you get customers complaining and the businesses complain "he stopped with the BOGO why should I offer it?"

      Not to mention small biz can be featured on yelp, local sites, groupon, coupon book sites, etc. It can be overwhelming.

      While I can see the advantage of showcasing those who advertise on your (9x12/coupon book/whatever) on a website, I do think getting biz to pay for a "listing" is something whose time has come and gone JMO
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      • Profile picture of the author unglued
        umc,

        I think you're on the right track, and there's already good feedback in this thread, but I'd more overtly stress exclusivity as the USP for your endeavor if it were my baby. Make it tastefully but clearly invitation only.

        While I'm not an affiliate for it, there's a recent WSO about mastermind groups that I think will adequately address most of your concerns and is still ridiculously affordable.

        Good luck, and please keep us posted about your progress.

        unglued
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  • Profile picture of the author DaniMc
    I helped launch the exact concept back in the late 90's. It went well. Here is a summary of how we succeeded.

    - We set it up so there would be no competitors in the group. Once a business category had a member, no others were eligible unless that one left.

    - We approached a few local golf country clubs to see about hosting lunch and our meetings for us. We found one who would do it for $7 per person including the room. They just put out a decent lunch buffet and tables in their meeting room. This was not the nicest high-end country club. It doesn't need to be.

    - We started calling some of the local business leaders and asking if they would like to be on the board. These were people who run larger businesses - a lot of the people who would later join were attracted by the names of the board members. These board members ran businesses that other people would want a business relationship with. Restaurant, car dealer, chiropractor, dentist, full-service car wash, gym - that sort of thing.

    - We designated official board positions, President, Vice Pres, Treasurer, event coordinator, membership director etc - and invited people to these positions based on what they would like to do. For example, the car dealer is probably not interested in being a membership director, but a local Realtor or CPA sure would.

    - We started reaching out to local businesses and asked each of the board members to invite at least 5 business connections to the first meeting. We put together a little flyer (I ran a print shop at the time) and put the logos and names of the board members on it. Free advertising for all. They loved the idea.

    - We charged $12 for the monthly lunch - so we made $5 profit per head. That gave us some initial funds. The first meeting we had 10 people I think. We let the board introduce themselves and their business, and created a list for future intros. Each meeting we let 5-10 (don't remember) people get up and give a 1 minute commercial during lunchtime.

    - Once we got to 30-40 members, we added a $30 annual membership fee. The initial members were good for that year.

    - If someone brought a new member who joined, their next monthly meeting lunch was free. Even at a free $7 lunch, this was a powerful incentive.

    - We introduced a coupon directory where members could trade services and discounts to the other members. This was great for everyone!

    At the end of the first year, I think we had almost 100 members and in any given month, 40-50 would attend the lunch. We made great friends, got good business from it, and it was an all around success. With the extra money, we started doing charity golf tournaments, inviting good local speakers for a quick talk after lunch, and doing all sorts of other events to raise public awareness. Adding other forms of marketing for the group would be easy.

    I moved away from there in 99, but wouldn't be surprised if the group is still going.
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    • Profile picture of the author unglued
      umc,

      PM sent, my friend. Dunno if my post count will allow delivery, but it may since it's a reply.

      Again, much luck with this.

      Thanks,

      unglued
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