Collaboration is the Future for Small Business Owners

Marlene Marco
Marlene MarcoThere is no doubt this past year has been a challenge for businesses of all sizes. Business models with a physical presence had to make huge shifts as the online economy became the only economy. And that online world opened a global economy through new software and new approaches. But in that global world how do you continue to build community?

Expanding globally and thinking locally is a wise focus. Collaboration is the future for small business owners. It became key with creative ideas like cohosting events and workshops with complementary partners. Businesses are also thriving offering collaborative services with complementary partners for video marketing, website development, and web design, for example. Affiliate or referral programs also work well in this area of complementary services. Creativity is really needed when you look to collaborate with a business that is not in close alignment with your brand.

A collaboration effort in Durham Region this past year brought together two very different business services, but with two entrepreneurs with similar passion and heart. The result was continued service to a large, faithful client base, the successful implementation of a new online marketing platform, and the revitalization of a community business service in an entirely new approach.

Sue Sutcliffe holding sign that says collaborationSue Sutcliffe has been online almost since the “world-wide-web” became available. Her history in the Durham Region business community extends back to teaching and developing online products since 1995 as a social media and website expert. Since 2019 she was developing and testing a new virtual conference platform to bring a unique approach to virtual meetings and trade shows.

Marlene Marco, a longtime acquaintance, excelled in the arena of networking. Her monthly meetings with Heart of Networking Events, and her fashion consulting experience, taught the skills of presentation, appearance, developing relationships, and making clear offers. The online world was an uncomfortable necessity in her limited use.

The power of developing relationships is as strong a lesson here as the value of collaboration. Although Marlene and Sue had not done a lot of business together, the instant recollection of respect for one another in the abrupt closure of in-person events in the spring of 2020 prompted a phone call neither is sure who made first. Sue recalls thinking of the recent disappointment Marlene had faced when a brand she represented closed, the leadership she provides to other women, and the value of her in-person networking events now threatened. Marlene was admittedly panicked when she had four days to reformulate the delivery of a sold-out event for International Women’s Day in March 2020. With little knowledge of the technical and online world, she knew Sue was the answer.

In a few short days, Marlene Marco’s Heart of Networking Event had transitioned online to the World Event Center platform.

The solid community trusted Marlene’s leadership and was willing to try a new approach to networking, some members with a sixteen-year history, and nine under Marlene’s direct guidance. Her vulnerability and bravery resonated with this heart-centred group, and Heart of Networking has not missed a beat since. Meetings are hosted online monthly, and one year later, the annual International Women’s Day event was planned and executed online – this time with a little more advanced planning.

Sue pushed ahead in developing a proprietary online meeting space that offered a stage, tables or booths, and the opportunity for private conversation, just like an in-person event. She wanted to launch the then new World Event Center platform and service her community, and saw the opportunity to jump in and perfect it with Heart of Networking. She recalls losing participants on ipads at the first event, and the challenges that come with a tech start-up. She joined the Heart of Networking Group after the initial conference and attended monthly meetings. She expanded her network and leveraged her membership as a tool to showcase the World Event Center to prospective clients by inviting guests to experience the online meeting platform. Throughout 2020 the World Event Center has added staff and has hosted over a thousand events ranging from trade shows and job fairs to annual general meetings and educational events. Sue had to move some of her other coaching and website work to the background while she focuses on the need for clients in the online meeting space.

Sue had also purchased the brand for the local Durham Home and Small Business Association (DHSBA). She had volunteered with this dynamic volunteer service organization for eleven years, servicing home and small businesses, and was sad to see it fold. It had offered a networking space in the past, but Sue was inspired to create something fresh. Recognizing Marlene as a host who commands the room with grace, a new vision for the DHSBA – and a new name, was born. Sue and Marlene discussed several drafts-models until November 2020 the first Ask the Expert Trade Show was hosted under the Durham Home and Small Business Answers (DHSBA) brand. The harmony of Sue’s technical expertise to set up the platform, guide new users, and handle background technical needs with Marlene’s hosting and entrepreneur connections was a perfect blend.

This collaborative effort solidified the foundations of two extraordinary businesses in the Durham Region community and created a new business model that now books sold-out vendor spots each month. Marlene continues to MC the monthly events but has stepped back in her business development role. DHSBA: Your Virtual Trade Show is poised to grow to serve an online need now and in the future.

This success story shows that creativity and service to others are where the magic happens. When your approach combines client service, community, and shared value you create collaborations that work. For the small business owner or solopreneur, you have limited access to people, time, and knowledge. Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of business collaborations, or new joint ventures to add another stream of income to your portfolio. Collaboration is the future for small business owners locally and globally.

Collaboration is the Future for Small Business Owners. ~ Marlene Marco and Sue Sutcliffe Share on X


When seeking new collaborations these experts offer these thoughts:

  • Be open to learning new things
  • Build relationships
  • Networking is the best and least expensive form of marketing
  • Focus on service and community
  • Address client need as the driver
  • Creativity should be at the forefront of every conversation
  • Consider alignment from a variety of angles
  • Assess the integrity of your potential partner
  • Businesses and consumers are aware of a global economy
  • Think global, focus local
The diverse experience Sue Sutcliffe has gained as one of Canada’s digital marketing pioneers, will help your business or brand dominate the digital.
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