During our March Quarterly Conversation, affiliates discussed the challenges moving from individual entrepreneur support organizations to a collaborative, community-based model. The affiliates that joined the conversation in March wanted to learn more about engaging with the resource partners in their network, so SourceLink® set aside time in April to continue the conversation and address unanswered questions. We also invited three affiliates to share how they approach resource partner engagement and share the tips and tricks they’ve discovered along the way.
Sharing best practices
Denisse Rodriguez from Colmena66 has found one of the best ways to foster relationships in your network is to hold resource partner meetups. By creating space for your network to meet together regularly, learn what other organizations are currently doing, and to collaboratively address challenges and opportunities, you build trust and more fully involve your partners in the work you’re doing.
Seeking feedback from your network and involving them in your initiatives encourage buy-in, and ultimately makes your partnerships more effective. Colmena66 invited their resource partners to weigh in on their Resource Rail™, an infographic that organizes and highlights the resources in a community that help entrepreneurs and small-business owners start and grow their businesses.
These meetups can also provide an opportunity to invite the media and put the focus on your resource partners, who are always looking for ways to bring visibility and awareness to the work they do.
According to Tiffany Nixon from NetWork Kansas, engagement should start at the local level. When NetWork Kansas launched an E-Community Partnership network to cultivate entrepreneurial environments across the state, they discovered the importance of involving a local point person who knows the community and the businesses and resources located there.
E-Communities partner with NetWork Kansas to assist local entrepreneurs with capital and connection to resources, and to foster entrepreneurship as a driver of economic development. The local point person works with a regional coach as part of the larger statewide network; this partnership helps connect entrepreneurs and small-business owners to the education, expertise and economic resources they need, but also helps NetWork Kansas identify new resource partners to add to the statewide network.
Identifying new resources isn’t the only challenge with keeping large resource networks engaged; it’s also difficult to keep your existing partners engaged and educated about the resources available in the network. Amy Kuhlers from IASourceLink stressed the importance of providing new and freshly updated content to capture their attention.
IASourceLink restructured much of their website content into specific, detailed, easy-to-navigate guides, and is working to turn each guide into downloadable PDFs. They’ve seen an increase in website engagement as a result: The new guides have become tools that resource partners can easily download and share with entrepreneurs in their communities.
Addressing affiliate questions
Alexces Bartley with MOSourceLink raised a question she initially brought up in the March Quarterly Conversation, asking the group to share how they involve their resource partners in identifying gaps in the network and developing collaborative solutions to address those gaps.
While much of the discussion centered around ongoing engagement of existing resource networks, the group also spent some time discussing effective ways to engage resource partners, cultivate relationships and leverage committed early adopters in the beginning stages of ecosystem development.
Justin Lair from Klamath IDEA shared how their organization is filling the gaps left in their small resource network with for-profit providers, which generated quite a bit of interest from other affiliates. The group suggested adding additional conversations to learn more about private sector engagement.
Additionally, SourceLink® has already planned another conversation to continue the March discussion on marketing your network. Check back here regularly to learn about these additional opportunities for affiliates to learn from one another.
Quarterly Conversations are an exclusive benefit for affiliate members that take place in March, June, September and December. Each quarter the agenda includes topics, speakers and discussions suggested by our community of network builders and is an opportunity to share best practices and collaborate with one another. For more information, contact Dara Macan at firstname.lastname@example.org.