Building Stronger Networks – Guide for small businesses 

Why are networks good for small businesses? 

A thriving small business network is vital to your community. By working together, you can bring more customers to the area, encourage them to stay for longer and guarantee they will want to come back.  

Networks can: 

  • help you to develop channels of communication that you can rely on in a crisis  
  • make it easier for your local council to consult with your community for their views on a broad range of issues 
  • give small businesses a united voice, which helps the Victorian Small Business Commission advocate on your behalf , and
  • help you to explore creative ways for raising awareness of your precinct and business. 

Getting started 

Your local council will know if there are small business networks in your area already. If there aren’t any, it may be a good time to consider starting one.  

Connect, create and grow 

There are many ways you can make connections with other small business traders to form a trader network group. Read on for some tips on how to formalise the group. 

Step 1: Connect 

You can use a social media platform like Facebook to create a private group and start connecting with nearby businesses. Other options are contacting local businesses by visiting them in person or distributing a flyer. 

Step 2: Create 

 We have included advice and helpful tips below on how to formalise the trader assoictaion group. 

Step 3: Grow 

Keep your local council in the loop about what is important to your network. They may be able to help you to communicate with small businesses across the region. 

Tips for creating and growing your network 

Leaders from successful business networks share their tips and advice on how to formalise your group and set clear roles for volunteers. 

Governance 

Dana Hughes, President of the Southern Business Women’s Network, says it’s important to have good governance behind you for times when things aren’t so smooth. She says it’s a good idea to have this in a manual documenting the formal procedures of your network. This manual can be edited as needed and provides a good foundation for how your network will operate. 

Justice Connect has useful resources for groups looking to start a not-for-profit organisationJustice Connect website (hyperlink here justiceconnect.org.au).  

The Small Business Mentoring Service has worked with many business associations to form and establish their governance processes using workshops and training. You can find out more about how they can help you at the Small Business Mentoring Service. 

“Setting up the right structure and rules from day one is critical to an association’s ultimate survival.” 

David Gregory | CEO | Small Business Mentoring Service 

Roles 

When deciding how you want to run the network, it’s useful to have roles so everyone knows who is responsible for what and to minimise confusion. Dana makes the following points about volunteer roles: 

  • Have clear role descriptions so people know what they are stepping into 
  • Have the roles as fixed term so people won’t feel stuck in a role and others are more likely to put their hand up 
  • Share the load and make everyone feel valued 

“My biggest tip is ‘don’t be afraid to get involved’. Everyone has different areas of expertise that can support a great association. Whether it is social media savvy, graphic design for posters, walking the streets to deliver trader packs, attending monthly meetings or being a collection / drop off point for any of the competitions (that we run). The Yarraville Traders Association is all about community and everyone that is involved volunteers their time and works hard for the benefit of everyone in the Yarraville Business Community.” 

Dean Spencer | Secretary | Yarraville Traders Association 

David Gregory, CEO of the Small Business Mentoring Service, says it’s also important to consider the changeover of roles as part of the necessary growth of a network: 

“Evolution of an association is also critical. It can be very hard to evolve a management group unless the rules are in place to allow that to happen. This includes limitation of tenure and processes to address such things as disruptive behaviour or bringing the association into disrepute. While by nature members of an association share a common passion, it is always good to plan for any potential challenges up front.”  

David Gregory | CEO |Small Business Mentoring Service 

Membership fee structure 

By having a small annual membership fee you can make sure you have funding for local marketing or events. The Footscray Traders Association uses a tiered structure to make sure it’s affordable for all businesses.  

David Gregory emphasises the importance of having a governance structure in place if your network is receiving money. This is because there may be tax implications for the fees, and there needs to be a process in place to deal with funds if the network folds. 

Fee structure for the Footscray Traders Association 

  • Red member: $60 p/a 
  • White member: $120 p/a 
  • Blue member: $500 p/a 

All members are provided with a Footscray Traders logo, which can be used on their own promotional material and a Footscray Traders display sticker. 

All members are listed on the footscraytraders.com.au website with a brief description of their business and an image or logo as supplied or available. 

White and blue members additionally receive a more detailed trader or business profile, which appears on a ‘feature profiles’ page on the footscraytraders.com.au website and is posted to the Footscray Traders Facebook page and other social media channels. 

Blue members additionally have the option to have their business logo placed in the Footscray Traders website footer together with supporting partners. 

Publicity 

You can create a public face for your network using social media, a website or local signage. This channel can then be used to promote any events that you decide to run in your area such as Christmas shopping hours or Easter egg hunts. 

Communication 

Dana says it’s important to talk to your members to find out what they want and where possible, to give it to them. Meetings may also provide an opportunity for businesses in your community to share information about issues or things that are upcoming and may cause an issue. 

Advocacy 

If there are issues that your network is concerned about, you can advocacy@vsbc.vic.gov.au. We may be able to advocate on your behalf. We encourage you to contact your local council, as they may also be able to assist.  

Dana Hughes | President | Southern Business Women’s Network 

“Associations bring respect and legitimacy to a group or region. As a result there are sometimes opportunities for the association to seek local funding support, run awards, advocate on local issues and be more than just the voice for the membership … Associations are community, not just borne of them.” 

David Gregory |CEO | Small Business Mentoring Service 

“I believe that industry associated memberships are an integral part of a successful small business. They help businesses grow and stay on top of their game.” 

Sue Abbott | President | Committee for Moe 

More information

You can download the Building Stronger Networks fact sheet.

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