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Why helping people makes your own business better

Helping people is a superpower. You know why? Because it seems selfless, but studies show that you’ll get just as much out of it as the people you’re helping. Maybe more.

In the United States, we love the myth of the self-made business owner. Someone who was born with nothing, worked hard, yadda yadda yadda, success. They’re not interested in helping people, because they never got help. You can see it everywhere. In news articles about corporate founders. Or blockbuster movies where the main character saves the world, more or less singlehandedly.

But of course, this is ridiculous. Nobody succeeds alone. For one thing, society itself helps people—paved roads, mail service, grocery stores. Business owners benefit from classes that improve their skills, manufacturers who produce their products, and customers who take a chance on something new.

In psychology, they call this interdependence. Where codependence is an unhealthy reliance on another person, and independence is the desire to do things alone, interdependence is the middle ground. It means having a healthy reliance on someone or something else in a way that’s mutually beneficial. An equal partnership, like a (good) marriage is interdependent, because both people feel their needs are being met by themselves and the other person. Your relationship with a pet is interdependent, because you feed and care for them and they give you unconditional love and comfort.

Let’s talk about what this means when it comes to your business.

Abundance vs. Scarcity

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You can choose to see the world two ways. In one way, the world is filled with abundance, and there’s plenty of everything to go around. We can all be happy and thriving in our own little lanes. In the other way, the world runs on scarcity. It’s a cut-throat place where every person’s success means there’s a little less of the pie for the rest of us. And that means we have to fight to gain and keep what we think we deserve.  

The Case for Abundance and Helping Yourself

You know that phenomenon where the minute you learn about something, you see it everywhere? So, if you’re pregnant, suddenly the world is filled with pregnant women. Or if you’re shopping for a convertible car, you start seeing convertible cars all over the road. 

Why does that happen? Because our brains are constantly filtering the world around us. There’s just too much going on for our brains to process every little detail of every little thing. 

The good news is that you can train your brain to see the world differently by tweaking your filter. And that means you can train it to see abundance. 

People looking for opportunities will find them. And people looking for challenges or reasons not to do something will find that, too.

Getting your brain to focus on abundance is a whole different blog post. But one resource I’ve really enjoyed is the High 5 Habit by Mel Robbins. She goes into a lot of detail about the mental game behind success, whatever that looks like for you. 

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Why Helping People Makes You Better, Too

Shine Theory is a philosophy put forth by Ann Freeman and Aminatou Sow, best friends and co-hosts of the now-ended Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Here’s how they describe it: 

Shine Theory is an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return. It is a conscious decision to bring your full self to your friendships, and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” The answer is almost always yes.

Shine Theory hinges on a foundation of abundance. When there’s plenty to go around, we can both win. And when you win, because we’re friends and because I want you to succeed, just knowing you makes me more likely to succeed, too. Why? Because I can learn from you, ask for help, or make connections through you that might assist me in my own dreams. 

In other words, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Your success benefits more than just you. 

Okay, but how does helping people apply to my business?

You may be thinking, Look, that’s adorable but total woo-woo, feel-good nonsense. I have to hustle to build my business! I don’t want to share my success—I’ve worked my ass off for it.

But let’s look at it another way. 

Over the years, Instagram has morphed from a place where people share photos of their dinner (lol) to a content powerhouse. Not only can you connect with friends and family there, but all kinds of businesses have flooded in as well. 

Which means there’s already someone on Instagram with a business that looks just like yours. Does that mean there’s a smaller chance you’ll succeed, since there’s more competition? 

It might. If you see the world that way. 

Another Point of View

Let’s say your business is selling prints of your art for people to hang on the wall. Thanks to the many other artists who sell through Instagram, people now expect that they can find art from inside the app. If they’ve already bought a print from an artist they found on Instagram, they’re more likely than the average person to repeat that behavior. 

And that means that the more artists who sell their prints on Instagram, the bigger the potential market, the bigger the pool of customers, and the bigger the chance that someone now goes to Instagram the next time they want something to hang on their wall. 

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Helping People and Building Relationships

So when other small businesses thrive, there’s greater demand for all kinds of other small businesses. Cool. 

But more directly, collaborating with your existing friends and acquaintances, and building relationships with other business owners helps in another way. 

You have a lot of knowledge—more than you even realize. And so does everyone else you know. 

You might know a lot about retail operations from your time working as a store manager. Someone else might know a lot about search engine optimization (SEO). Which means if you needed help showing up in search rankings online, and they needed help optimizing inventory for their online shop, you can both help each other reach a goal. For free. 

Or you might need a logo for your business, and not have a lot of money. Reaching out to a designer to ask for a favor or a discount is a lot easier if you have something to offer in return. And people like other people who want to see them thrive. So you might ask if you could work out a deal where you pay them a reduced rate to design a logo. And in exchange you help them set up an email list so they can send out a newsletter to their customers.

And in the future, if you’re ever helping people who new logos, now you have someone to recommend. 

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People Want to Help You, Too

When I started telling people I was building a business, I was delighted to realize how many of my friends wanted to help. Talented friends with a wide range of skills were saying, “I love this for you! Let me know if I can do anything to help you get where you want to go.” 

I joined an entrepreneur’s circle filled with amazing women. We meet twice a month, and everyone is so encouraging of everyone else. Now I’ve met with a personal coach, an email marketing expert, and a veteran small business owner who can help me understand quarterly taxes—and they benefit from my marketing knowledge in return. Plus, because we all support each other, we’re also tapped in to their extended networks of support. If I need a business lawyer, they’re the first place I’ll go to ask for recommendations. 

And when any of these women from the entrepreneur circle succeed in their ventures, now they’re better positioned to help us all reach our goals. 

Helping people helps yourself.

How to Collaborate and Compete at the Same Time

Otherwise Known As, Helping People for Pro Athletes (and You, Too)

In 2017, Shalene Flanagan won the New York City Marathon. She was the first American woman to win in 40 years, and she did it in only 2 hours, 26 minutes. And she did it at 36 years old. How? From the New York Times

Flanagan’s bigger accomplishment lies in nurturing and promoting the rising talent around her, a rare quality in the cutthroat world of elite sports. Every single one of her training partners — 11 women in total — has made it to the Olympics while training with her, an extraordinary feat. Call it the Shalane Effect: You serve as a rocket booster for the careers of the women who work alongside you, while catapulting forward yourself.

She won because she surrounded herself with other extraordinary women. The kind of women who gave her a run for her money, pushed her to be better and faster than she ever thought possible. Competing against each other AND supporting each other made them all better runners. 

And in return, all those women became even more extraordinary, too. Every single one of her training partners went to the Olympics! Shalene built a support system that didn’t just help herself; her team helps each other. They compete with one another. They coach one another. They remind one another to believe in themselves. 

We usually see competitive women, particularly athletically excellent women, only in one of two ways: either competing to defeat one another, or all about team over self. But that’s a flawed, limiting paradigm. The Shalane Effect dismantles it: She is extraordinarily competitive, but not petty; team-oriented, but not deferential. Elevating other women is actually an act of self-interest: It’s not so lonely at the top if you bring others along.

So, it was no coincidence that, with the support system she spent years building for herself, it was Flanagan who finally prevailed.

In business, there are plenty of opportunities to go around. So how will you build your community of like minded people to help everyone win? How will you shine bright and help the people around you shine, too? 

What will you build today?

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Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year? 


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