As we recognize the growing impact of micro businesses and their essential role in rural economies, West Slope Startup Week has dedicated a special session to micro business owners, spearheaded by two passionate leaders in the community: Celeste Herron, WSSW Program Lead, and Jessi Burg, a dynamic micro business owner hailing from Delta. Let’s dive into the Art of the Strategic Alliance. Read on, and join the conversation in real-time by attending the Service Provider Industry Lunch: Thriving Through Strategic Alliances at West Slope Startup Week 2023. 

Across small towns and remote regions, a new generation of entrepreneurs is rising, building flexible new business models that catalyze innovation, fuel job creation, and drive regional prosperity, all while reimagining traditional ways of doing business and creating success on their own terms.

Service provider, solopreneur, consultant, and freelancer—known by many names, you are a micro business owner.

Micro businesses have 1–9 employees, make up 75% of all private employers, and generate over $1 trillion annually. On average, a micro business owner creates at least two additional jobs beyond their own.

The complex interdependent nature of these microservice providers sustains rural communities across the United States. Unlike typical startups striving for rapid growth and exit strategies, in many ways, a micro business is the “anti-startup,” structured for slow and steady growth, rarely intending to sell the business for profit. Serving various community needs, from basic essentials and professional services to creative industries, microservice providers are the backbone of rural economies. They create a sense of belonging, support local traditions, and lay the foundation for stable and sustainable economic growth in small rural communities across the country. 

In this guide, you will read practical strategies for leveraging the power of partnerships. By cultivating connections, sharing resources, and co-creating offerings, micro businesses can drive shared success. United by common values and vision for their communities, service provider/ micro business owners in rural Colorado have the heart, creativity, and ingenuity to build a brighter future together. 

Read on to discover collaborative approaches that shift isolation into innovation, transform competition into cooperation, and reconnect service providers running small companies into an interdependent community working together to build a  thriving rural Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem.


The Power of Strategic Partnerships


Partnerships between service providers, micro business owners, local organizations, and rural entrepreneurs hold enormous potential for spurring innovation and shared prosperity. When grounded in common goals and values, these connections cultivate the fertile soil for new ideas to take root and flourish across rural communities. Practical strategies help translate this collaborative vision into reality.

While healthy competition certainly has its place in driving excellence, cooperation can yield even greater rewards. Partnerships provide opportunities that no single business could create alone by combining complementary expertise, resources, and capacities. Strategic alliances can give you opportunities for new skills, technologies, markets, and capital through joint activities like co-marketing campaigns, referral networks, and profit-sharing. Collaboration fuels innovation and shared prosperity in ways that isolation simply can’t. Progress emerges from synthesis, not silos. Think abundantly.


The Interdependent Rural Economy


Unlike conventional startups chasing rapid growth, rural micro businesses focus on organic, steady growth while rooting themselves locally. The interdependent web of micro businesses weaves a support network that sustains communities through economic stability and nurturing belonging. An awareness of this interdependence can guide your business strategies.

Collaborating with other micro business owners maximizes limited assets. What capabilities one business lacks, another can provide through partnership. Knowledge transfer is amplified when insights are shared widely for collective benefit instead of hoarded as proprietary. Joint marketing and cross-promotion expand reach for all partners at lower costs than solo initiatives. Local businesses cooperating on initiatives, events, and projects can achieve exponentially more together than any of them could alone.

Dominique Robbins from Art Matters Productions, a recording studio and music production company in Rocky Ford, CO, teamed up with Cristi Painter of Sand Cherry Coffee. Together, they organized an open mic night in Ordway, Colorado, a prairie town with a population of 1066. This event caters to a regional community of approximately 3,500 residents, providing a welcoming venue for music artists in the area.


Cultivating Local Networks and Referrals


Being a rural entrepreneur can be challenging, but having the ability to generate revenue from multiple streams and having a diverse range of clients can provide a valuable level of stability. This approach can mitigate the risks associated with relying on a single source of income. By diversifying your revenue streams and client base, you can create a more sustainable business model and greater stability with more consistent cash flow. Actively partner with complementary service providers and suppliers for referrals. Promote trusted partners as readily as you promote yourself.

Nicole and Harry Hansen, owners of Riveting Experience Jewelry in Salida, CO, are collaborating with Good Business Colorado and local Chambers of Commerce for a Chaffee County Business Meetup. At this hands-on event, local and regional business owners made new friends and connections while using their hands to form and manipulate metal into beautiful and wearable pieces of art.


Building Trust and Keeping It


Trust is the bedrock that strong partnerships are built on. Invest time upfront to establish trust with potential partners. Be transparent about your needs, limitations, and hopes for the collaboration. Admit what you don’t know yet or that you could use help. This vulnerability builds trust, showing you aren’t afraid to be real. Consistently follow through on commitments and promises. Reliability, integrity, and accountability gradually build trust over time. Address any conflicts directly, calmly, and empathetically when they inevitably arise. Working through challenges together with good intent deepens bonds of trust. Share credit openly and celebrate your partners’ wins as your own. This creates lasting trust and goodwill. Remain trustworthy even when it’s difficult, and you feel pulled to act in your own self-interest. Once broken, trust is nearly impossible to fully rebuild, so safeguard it as a precious treasure.


Cultivating Influence and Credibility Locally


As a micro business owner, the visibility and social proximity of small towns can work in your favor when building influence and credibility. A few leveraged strategies help craft an authoritative brand reputation:

  • Offer unique brand experiences that reflect the culture and values of your community. 
  • Communicate your mission, values, and community impact openly through messaging and actions that demonstrate your commitment to strengthening the whole. Visibly collaborate with other local businesses on events, co-marketing, and civic initiatives. 
  • Host workshops, classes, and events demonstrating your expertise while also gathering your tribe of ideal customers and partners. Position and establish yourself as an approachable authority and expert.
  • Deliver exceptional client service every time. When options are limited in rural areas, word-of-mouth makes or breaks reputations. Consistently exceed expectations and provide meaningful value beyond the transaction.
  • Establish credibility by mastering your craft over time. Share your hard-won expertise through stories, case studies, and solutions that help community members solve struggles. Let excellence speak for itself.


Crafting Partnerships


Once a foundation of trust is in place, you can start crafting partnerships that yield mutual benefits. Identify shared interests, values, and community needs as areas where your aligned vision extends beyond the transaction. Meet consistently to nurture the relationship beyond one-off projects. Listen closely to understand all perspectives before proposing solutions. Develop partnerships across multiple providers to offer full-spectrum, turnkey solutions for shared clients. By integrating diverse expertise, you create an unbeatable value proposition.

Grand Junction brand strategist Kristine Carey partnered with the local Business Incubator Center to host an engaging webinar guiding retailers on sharpening their brand identity and crafting compelling content.


Co-Creating Offerings and Referrals


Once you have established partnerships, be creative in co-creating offerings and referrals. Collaborate with your partners to brainstorm offerings that provide added value for your shared clients. For example, a web designer and copywriter could work together to provide comprehensive branding packages. Actively refer clients to partners whose strengths complement your own. This broadens your collective reach while providing ideal, comprehensive solutions for customers. Promote partners’ businesses readily, knowing their successes strengthen the local economy you all share. View it as an interconnected ecosystem.


Sharing Risks and Rewards Equitably


When structuring partnerships, ensure all parties share the risks and rewards equitably—split investment costs and resources on joint projects to minimize individual risk. Aligned incentives encourage participation. Develop profit-sharing agreements or barter services to maximize equitable rewards for each partner’s contributions. Create incentive structures where both businesses benefit collectively as one partner succeeds. In the right partnerships, your success fuels your partner’s success and vice versa in an upward spiral. Think abundantly. There is enough for all to thrive.


Operating as Allies


Taking a partnership approach internally strengthens external strategic alliances. Adapt your company’s processes and staff roles to fully support collaborations. Empower employees to make decisions that benefit partnerships. Resolve any conflicts quickly and directly through open communication. Maintain trust even during difficult conversations by leading with empathy, curiosity, and shared purpose.

More than “just a service provider,” your agility, specialized expertise, networks, and instinct for collaboration and building strategic partnerships are invaluable in a rural entrepreneurial ecosystem where relationships drive business and trust is the engine behind the sale.

Leveraging a collaborative mindset strengthens rural communities and economies. Valuing connections equally with transactions can unlock innovation and prosperity. You have the creativity and heart to build great collaborations that help rural communities thrive.

You are invited to attend a Service Provider Industry Lunch at West Slope Startup Week in Durango, Colorado on Wednesday, August 23rd from 11:45am – 12:45pm at EsoTerra Ciderworks.

A community conversation on Thriving Through Strategic Alliances will be hosted by two experienced entrepreneurs passionate about business partnerships and rural prosperity – Jessi Burg and Celeste Herron.

Jessi teaches small business owners how to grow sustainably and equitably, through her company, Outgrow Your Garage, and believes in the power of small businesses to transform communities, create better job opportunities, and a more equitable economy.  Celeste is a strategist and multidisciplinary designer who helps startups, small businesses, and service agencies rapidly and scale their product and service offerings and an evangelist for rural economic development through growing a startup community.

We’ll explore questions for curiosity and conversation, like:

How do you establish and maintain trust with clients and partners in close-knit rural communities? 


What strategic collaborations would you enjoy creating with other micro business owners or service providers in our region that would be good for you and increase our collective impact?

Register to attend the Service Provider Industry Lunch: Thriving Through Strategic Alliances at West Slope Startup Week 2023!

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