Moving from Individual to Collaborative Business

I recently completed a series of posts about working in private (Otium) and public (Negotium).  This is different because it is a movement in how we understand business.  All business involves movement between private and public.  This post is about how we perceive business itself – is it for self-enrichment or enrichment of many?

Private and Public

It may be tempting, once you identify your business through discernment, to set out as a self-employed person to make your fortune.  Indeed, it may be essential.  Even if you can sustain outgoings exceeding income for a period, actually making a living is pressing.

This conspires to focus on self-interest at the expense of others; to miss the possibility that self-interest may be better served collaborating with others.

While discernment requires private contemplation (Otium), movement into public (Negotium) should naturally involve movement into collaboration with others.  It is not simply making an offer.  The sustainable approach is to enter into conversation with your market.

Your first step is to identify your market, which can be difficult.   Fortunately, you have competitors and they can show you the way.  Competitors offer similar products and services to yours.  Unless you offer something unique, you have competitors.   Your challenge is to find a market they are missing and enter into conversation with that market.

Your market and your competitors’ markets share the same problem.  You work together to increase awareness of the problem.  This is likely to increase the size of everyone’s target market.

Listening into Free Speech

Your next step is to enter conversation with your market.  You do this by meeting people who express interest in your offer, for a one-to-one.

The aim of this meeting is for both of you to hear what your prospect is saying.  This is really important for two reasons.

  1. The prospect needs to articulate their problem. Most people live with their problems and never share them.  They hardly know what the problem is themselves.  They hear you speak or see your offer and it triggers recognition of their problem.  Now they seek a space where they can hear what they are saying.    This is free speech, not in the political sense of permission to speak in public but in the personal sense of voicing the problem.
  2. Listen to what they say for two reasons. Their way of describing their problem helps you develop a solution that genuinely helps your market.  The more listening you do, the more likely it is you find solutions that have a better fit for your market.  The second reason is you may find this prospect has a better fit with one of your competitors.  Usually it is better to work with those who have a good fit and pass on those who do not.  This reduces the possibility of dissatisfied customers and enhances your profile in the business community.

I am because we are

We live in a Cartesian society.  You will remember the philosopher Descartes rationalised thinking through “I think therefore I am”.  This principle of modern philosophy is common ground for most thinkers today.

But what if it is not the entire story?  We experience formarion in language and culture by listening to others.  So, it is not a massive leap to see that we function at our best when we are intentionally part of some community.

The key to this movement is “listening” but telling (or selling) is modern business’s primary goal.  We need time in private to work on our offer of something different.  But when we move into the public sphere, our aim is to build community, if our business is to be intentional.

The point of intentional business is sustainability, building a community who help one another by doing business.  If we aim to make loads of money, we may succeed.  But what we succeed at is effectively reducing the money in circulation.

Together businesses can meet the needs of their markets.  In doing so, they create relationships that enable communities to flourish.  This needs to be the focus of the business-owner’s intention.  How do we create the spaces where businesses flourish and build community together?

This is the third post in a short sequence about intentional business development.  It’s all a part of Market Together.  Sign up below so you don’t miss a post and visit my new website by following the link.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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