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How to find peers and support for your small business

New Zealand is a nation full of small businesses. In fact, of the 400,000 small businesses operating across the country, 70% are owned and operated by just one person.

Not surprisingly then, research from Business Mentors New Zealand has found 80% of business owners have felt a sense of isolation.

However, there are many opportunities for owners of all stripes to link up with like-minded peers to trade tips and small business advice – from chambers of commerce to meet-ups and online forums.

Join small business Facebook groups

Sam Frost, who runs his own digital marketing consultancy, keeps in touch with the business community by being a member of the Facebook group Business Networking NZ, which consists of about 1,000 members.

“As I work largely by myself and from home, it can be an isolating experience,” Frost says.

“Having peers – even if they’re just digital ones – gives me an opportunity to voice frustrations, ask for help, and have my voice heard by other business owners who may be going through similar challenges.”

Frost says since joining Business Networking NZ, he has received small business advice and developed knowledge outside his usual expertise, which has made him a more-rounded business owner.

“It’s all too easy to be insular and ‘stick to your knitting’, but being a member of this group makes it easier and more accessible to develop knowledge in other areas of business,” Frost says. “It’s also refreshing to see many different perspectives on a topic.”

Beyond that, it has also led to more business, he says. When he provides input on his area of expertise, people see and follow up with him.

“Business Networking NZ has been an excellent resource for getting more members to my own digital marketing for business owners group, but I’m careful to not push this aggressively. The referrals come through adding value to Business Networking NZ,” Frost says.

“It’s somewhere I can go to ask questions and share my advice, and where my voice feels valued.”

Attend meet-ups

Wendy Calder, Owner of Auckland-based Calder Interiors, has been attending The Business Owners Forum meet-ups for the last nine years and says she “couldn’t speak more highly” of the group.

“There hasn’t been a single meet-up that I haven’t been interested in, or that hasn’t upskilled my knowledge,” says Calder, whose manufacturing business has been running for 23 years now.

Through forum speakers and attendees alike, Calder has learned valuable lessons on issues ranging from cash flow to staffing, employment law and legislative changes.

“They provide you with the tools and information you need to be able to plan your next year to five years, or to work through different scenarios,” she says. “We’re now in a much better position financially.”

Calder adds that the community is incredibly supportive and honest. “It’s really good for just laying your cards on the table,” she says.

“No one is there spinning a yarn because they want your business – you know that when you talk to people, you’re going to get the absolute truth and the information you need.”

The meetings – held every couple of months – have boosted Calder’s confidence and reduced feelings of isolation.

“Often a business owner will bring up a situation that someone else has gone through, and you’ll think ‘Oh my god, I’m not the only person who has had this problem’,” she says.

“It’s given me confidence that – even in the hardest times – there is an answer out there for everything.”

Almost 100 NZ-based small business groups are listed on Meetup.com, while Facebook has legions on offer for those who prefer an online approach. Other leading small business networking groups include The Networking Group and New Zealand Leaders.

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