How Networking Can Take Your Small Business to the Next Level

When I was chosen to be in Goldman Sachs's first Philadelphia cohort of their 10,000 Small Businesses Program I was cynical about the peer learning component. I figured this was just something to which I had to pay lip service. Sure, I can collaborate with the best of them; I can be a team player, but frankly, I was just interested in building my business. What I really needed was the secret sauce: the formula to take my company from the leader in its niche to a replicable business model which I could franchise. You probably already know the punch line: What I learned was that the secret sauce is the peer learning.

While a few of us were pretty adept at networking--and guess what--those were the people who owned the companies that seemed to be doing really well--most of us were slogging through our day to day tasks. We were doing our skill sets really well, but we were not making time to make connections. Like so many small business owners, we were hoeing our own rows, some of us down in trenches so deep that we could not see who was laboring next to us.

Of course, during class time, we started giving ideas and advice. We proofed each other's growth plans and had calls outside of class; but at some point during the program, it went beyond that. One of my peers connected me to a client of his who had launched a franchise, I became a beta tester for a web site in my industry, I referred, called for bids, and was referred to others by about a third of my classmates. One of our professors emailed me a game changing bidding opportunity.

Last week I visited Stenton, the historic home of James Logan, Secretary to Pennsylvania founder William Penn. Logan accompanied Penn to North America in 1699, and remained in Philadelphia running the colony for Penn who returned to England.

Logan built a fortune which supported his family for no less than seven generations. But if he were just a businessman, we would not know him today. Logan was a collaborator and an innovator. He was a founder of The Library Company and the University of Pennsylvania, invited Indian tribes to camp in his yard to learn from them and foster good relations, experimented with botany and wrote treatises on his findings. He mentored Benjamin Franklin and Philadelphia botanist John Bartram. Stenton's curator said, "Without Logan, Franklin and Bartram would not have been able to do what they did." Logan built, arguably, the most intellectually and financially robust colony in the provinces. He provided the strong shoulders for Franklin and Bartram to stand upon. Logan was a connector who would have made Malcolm Gladwell proud. His willingness to share his wisdom and knowledge laid the foundations of the great city of Philadelphia.

Logan Circle is the heart of the city, placed there by Wlliam Penn between the four parks as the hub of all city traffic. After visiting Logan's home, I was driving on Logan Circle to my next appointment. It is fitting that this is where I had my "Ah Ha!" moment. We entrepreneurs tend to work in our linear rows, but what if we continued to send out small links to other rows--to create a spider web of interlocking networks in which we all merge and interact--just like Logan Circle.

So, because I need to visualize and to break things down to bite size bits which can be managed during the work day, I have created my own Logan Circle in my everyday tasks. Each day, I reach out to someone on behalf of my business. It is not a direct sales request; it is creating a connection, a general sending out of who I am and where I want to be. The goal is to get others thinking about me and my company. The outreach can be personal or professional, because, like most entrepreneurs, I am my business and my business is me. The second task is to make a connection for someone else. I try to connect two people that might benefit in some way from one another or I send a colleague something of note that might matter to him/her, an article, an idea, a name. I call my efforts Logan Circle, because even though the trajectory is linear from my office out to others, the overall vision is a circle--a circle that is named for the heart of our great city. I imagine how my Logan Circle will look in a year: all those arrows reaching out from my business, circling, merging, and creating a fine web of interrelatedness. As more and more small business owners do this being agents for change for all that is good in commerce. I imagine the overlays of connective fibers that will build a whole cloth of commerce and caring that is stronger than the sum of us working independently.

Philadelphia is a city that is often shadowed by its illustrious past. With our beleaguered educational system and other 21st century urban woes, there is a sense that we are not living up to our forefathers. My experience with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program has proven that we can -- by supporting each other, networking, and sharing ideas. I look forward to meeting the 21st century Franklins and Bartrams who will stand on our shoulders. As Logan proved, innovation and entrepreneurship are collaborative endeavors, and we are stronger than the sum of our parts. It is time to create Logan Circles across America.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.