Small Business
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Finding Your Flock

Five tips to benefit from the shared knowledge, resources and strategies of your peers.

Just as Little League players try to imitate big-name baseball stars such as the Yankees' Derek Jeter, it's tempting for small businesses to want to emulate successful large companies, such as Apple, Nike or Disney. But looking to huge corporations for inspiration is often less useful than leveraging information from like-minded, like-sized businesses. Here are some ideas to help you learn from your peers:

Find Specialty Sources
Subscribe to publications with a small-business focus. Although publications such as Forbes or Fortune provide a smattering of small-business advice, the majority of the content is geared toward large corporations. While reading about multi-billion-dollar companies can be helpful, it may be more worthwhile to subscribe to publications that focus on the unique challenges of a business your size. Inc., Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business and Bloomberg BusinessWeek Small Business are just a few well-regarded sources.

Expand Your Social Network
Entrepreneur Connect, Make-it-Fly, The Alternative Board and Focus are networking sites that allow you to converse online with other small-business owners and share solutions.

Meet-and-Greet Face-to-Face
Your local Chamber of Commerce may organize mixers, seminars and recreational outings where you can meet other small-business owners. Don't be afraid to engage business owners who are in industries unrelated to your own. The challenges facing an auto body shop, retail store or veterinary office may not be as different from each other as you think. Everyone struggles with issues related to growth, employee hiring and managing cash flow.

Take Advantage of Vendors
Events sponsored by technology vendors can be a great way to meet other small-business owners. Although most people show up with the purpose of diving into technology tools, attendees will discuss other topics as well during the plethora of social and networking opportunities. Some vendors such as Cisco and Intuit have events specifically for small businesses. Many events are free; you pay only for travel expenses.

Networking for the Win
While listening to a webinar or podcast from the comfort of your home or office can seem like an attractive, more affordable alternative to traveling to events, many attendees report that the networking they do is actually more valuable to them than the event or conference itself. Sign up for "dine-arounds" and other networking events to get the most from the conference.


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