There's strength in numbers—even if you're on the small side in the business world, you may be able to deploy the leverage of a much larger organization by pooling resources with other small businesses.
Although the life of a business owner can seemingly revolve around competition, cooperating with other firms by pooling resources can open the door to bulk discounts on materials and supplies; access to otherwise unaffordable tools and equipment; and help from professionals whose experience and skills match those of the talent at global enterprises.
"Businesses absolutely can and do pool and share resources," says Gene Homicki, CEO of myTurn, a Berkeley, California-based company that makes a software platform for sharing tools and other assets. "Tools and equipment are often only used for certain times of the day, month or even year and are gathering dust the rest of the time."
Why not share them?
By pooling resources, businesses can limit or avoid capital expenditures on expensive and occasionally essential equipment ranging from trucks and copiers to 3-D printers, VR headsets and disaster backup systems. For businesses that own shareable assets, pooling can help spread out costs for storage and maintenance.
Commercial rental firms can also supply occasionally used equipment, but sharing lets businesses save up to 70 percent compared to rental fees, Homicki says. And, by charging their own rental fees on equipment they own, resource poolers can generate income from assets that would otherwise be idle and depreciating.
—Gene Homicki, CEO, myTurn
"Access to better and more equipment can also allow small businesses to better compete with larger organizations that have comparatively infinite resources at their disposal," Homicki adds.
Another benefit is that pooling resources follows sustainable business practices. Being seen as environmentally preferable can help improve a company's image with customers and communities. It can also help make it a more effective competitor, while conserving natural resources.
Sources for Shared Resources
Businesses can find resource-sharing equipment pools through industry associations, trade groups and local business organizations. Cities and universities are also setting up business resource-sharing programs, Homicki says.
One of the most common forms of resource-sharing can be found in co-working spaces that have sprung up in many communities. Shelley Delayne, founder of Orange Coworking in Austin, Texas, says when her tenants (many of whom are small-business owners) pay monthly fees to rent space, they also get access to a resource pool including shared break rooms, coffeemakers, printers and wireless networks.
"For businesses of those sizes, it makes all the sense in the world to focus on their business and pay a monthly membership fee and let somebody else worry about the infrastructure," Delayne says.
Delayne also notes that when businesses share space and equipment, they tend to pool knowledge as well. A business owner with a question about what kind of sales automation software to use or the best invoicing practices can often find the answer by asking someone he or she is sharing space with.
“Instead of spending a week trying to figure something out, you have people you can turn to who can tell you in five minutes," Delayne says. "The value of that time saving is enormous."
Bundling for Benefit
Another way to share resources is to use business services that bundle together small firms' requirements for materials, suppliers and services in order to gain volume discounts.
One example of this is Easyship, a Hong Kong-based company that negotiates discounts with more than 100 global transportation companies. It then offers small shippers the opportunity to save money like larger-volume shippers.
The cost savings helps small sellers tap global markets without spending more for shipping than high-volume competitors, says Easyship co-founder Tommaso Tamburnotti.
"Before, it was a chicken-and-egg problem," Tamburnotti says. "You can't get a discount so you can't grow. We're breaking that cycle."
Other ways to share resources include hiring part-time accountants, bookkeepers, financial officers, marketing executives and other professionals. Fractional employment of highly skilled professionals is essentially the same as sharing them with other firms, and can be more cost-effective than hiring a full-time employee when only part-time help is needed.
Pooling resources is not without its risk. For one, businesses could hurt themselves if they share with direct competitors. For another, a business may not have access to a resource when it's needed. (There are tools out there that help firms keep track of equipment and other assets and make sure they are available at the right time and to the right organizations.)
Pooling resources is a practice that businesses have been doing for a long time informally and by using vendors such as part-time employment agencies and equipment rental businesses. But as access to sophisticated technology, global markets and ever-more-efficient operations become essential for competition, resource pooling may become both more available and better organized.
"More and more resource sharing is definitely the way of the future," say Homicki. "Small businesses will need to share resources so they can stay competitive with larger businesses."
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