7 Steps to Leverage Your Local Ecosystem for Growth
Text Request and I love playing the long game—the infinite game, as Simon Sinek might call it. We put systems and processes in place to help us innovate and grow sustainably over time, regardless of short term rewards or what our competition is doing. Leveraging our local innovative ecosystem, Chattanooga, TN, is one of these games.
We care about Chattanooga anyway. Building a healthy company in Chattanooga is written in our mission statement, and we want to help our business community grow. But the best business initiatives are tied to both causes and profits.
For us, building local cred and partnerships leads to better recruiting, brand building, and more sales while taking care of the pool we swim in. That means, even for an international software company like Text Request, implementing a strategy around community involvement pays dividends. Here’s what we recommend.
The people you want to give you attention deal with a dozen phonies a day. They can tell when someone wants to help them, and when someone wants to use them. Your approach should be to contribute without hope of immediate rewards, because it fits your values.
Who’s going to align with your organization’s values, and be a key piece to the attention or results you want?
Chattanooga is known as “Gig City,” because it was the first to have city-wide gig-speed internet. We need this infrastructure to build our software company. Our values (and needs) align with the city’s, so it makes sense to work with key players pushing this resource.
Text Request also deeply cares about helping businesses grow and improve, so organizations like our Chamber of Commerce, a startup accelerator and community builder called CO.LAB, the Chattanooga Tech Council, and the INCubator (business development center) stand out as local gatekeepers we want to work with.
Local news organizations are also great to put on your key players roster, and I’m thankful we’ve built quality relationships with many of our area media pros.
Be a friend.
People want to work with their friends, so how do you build a professional friendship?
Our approach has been to be helpful. Be someone they can count on. We asked how we could help over and over and over, and eventually an opportunity would come up where they could take us up on the offer.
We made introductions, we volunteered, we were quick to respond, we reached out to congratulate or share in a celebration with them. We were friends. We are friends.
Pay attention to the opportunities in front of you.
The Chamber launched Chattanooga Climbs, a five-year economic development effort, and I read about it online. Their goals of helping entrepreneurs prosper and bringing more capital to town align with our goals, so I emailed a staffer I’d met at events and asked how I could help. They brought me into a meeting with their team, and we started building a relationship.
Text Request and I stood out because I asked how we could contribute.
The people you want to be “in” with are just people. They aren’t superhuman, or too good to touch. But they are busy, so find ways to fit yourself into their schedules. Go to their networking events. Ask for advice. Refer someone to them. Volunteer for their committees. It’s amazing what can happen when you’re present.
Throw your own party!
Everyone wants to celebrate, so do something exciting and invite key players in to celebrate with you. We hit a revenue milestone, so we told everyone. We opened a new office wing, so we hosted a ribbon cutting. We started a podcast as an excuse to talk to people we wanted more time with.
Do good work.
None of this matters unless you’re actually building a great company. Innovative ecosystems bring in people and resources to keep the cycle of growth going. They aren’t doing you a favor.
Revenue growth is cool, an interesting story that fits into a larger trend is even better, but you need to build quality products and services that your community can leverage, and you need to prove it’s worth their paying attention.
We brought on big name accounts, grew rapidly year over year, and earned coverage in non-local outlets. These are things you should probably be doing anyway, and they set the stage for any conversation you’re going to have with key players.
Ask for what you want.
Employees who ask for a raise are more likely to get one. Salespeople who ask for the sale close more deals. When you’ve built relationships and clout using the steps above, you’re in a great place to ask for that partnership, or sale, or coverage. Even if the answer’s “no,” they’ll hear you out, and that’s progress.
What do you get from all this?
Each organization’s situation is unique, but this work tends to be a groundswell—you do a lot for a little early on, and over time you get more and bigger results with less effort. That’s certainly what we’ve seen.
We’ve gone from fighting to get an email response to people reaching out to us to apply for their awards, from key people asking, “Why do we need that?” to those same people asking, “How do we start working with you?”
We’ll see even more opportunities and progress as we keep going. The exciting part? You can do the same by following these steps.