NEXT LEVEL SHIFT: RECIPROCITY RULES
“If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
Effective networking is not just attending events where we rub shoulders and exchange business cards with those who might further our career pursuits. In fact, the vast majority of those business cards will wind up littered about the inside of your desk drawer, purse or glove compartment, until the phone numbers on them are no longer in service. And all you’ll be able to think is, “Damn. Out of business already?! …And this was a really nice business card.”
The fact is that one of the most practical, productive aspects of networking, often overlooked by the small business owner, is functioning as an actual member of a network: contributing to the development – and participating amongst members – of an active group of contemporaries. If we are not building and utilizing lists of potential collaborators with the same enthusiasm that we’re creating consumer e-mail lists, then we are depriving ourselves of our most valuable resource: people.
By developing relationships with like-minded professionals – sharing knowledge, skills and resources – we can simultaneously move all of our respective endeavors forward. Why not collaborate on a marketing plan with a qualified associate, in a compatible field, to minimize costs and heighten outreach? Why not exchange an evening’s lease of the event space you own, for a custom logo design by your graphic designer friend? Why not make yourself available to advise peers in areas where they lack expertise, but in which you excel? And why wouldn’t they make themselves available to you in the same regard?
Yes, it’s a dog eat dog world. However, that should only be of concern to those who keep the company of dogs. Let us concern ourselves amongst creatures of higher order, capable of fostering a culture of reciprocity. The rules that govern traditional capitalist ideologies are hardly applicable to the small business owner, least of all the Black small business owner. Of course, it is not uncommonly advised that, in the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals; or that The Art of War can be applied as effectively to business ethics as it can to warfare. However, such frames of thought reflect the methodologies of traditional American capitalism – practiced by those who would build fortunes on top of fortunes; from profits generated by (as the term suggests) capitalizing off the labor, exploitation, enslavement and genocide of others. Is this general approach to entrepreneurship, having already so significantly displaced the black community, one that we should consider appropriate to developing our own enterprises?
A community that spends over 1 trillion dollars a year shouldn’t rank among the highest in poverty and unemployment. To the contrary, it clearly has the capacity to be as self-sufficient and fruitful as any other. Managing our businesses in such ways that practically apply collaborative efforts and cooperative economics is a way of tapping into this capacity. Practicing rules of reciprocity amongst trusted associates, friends, and family members, is not only an invaluable asset to venture development; it is a healthy, rewarding system of social interaction that might just be contagious.
Old Paradigm: It’s a dog eat dog world.
New Paradigm: Walk in a mob and a dog knows better than to even approach you.