How to create a Collaborative Business Group

This is one of a 13-part series exploring Cooperation and Collaborative Business Models.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African Proverb



Everyone wins when businesses connect and collaborate

In our work with municipal governments and businesses, we are constantly encountering challenges with businesses that feel isolated, both from each other and from their municipal government. We also see challenges with governments wanting, but not knowing how to support their business community. This has led us at Roman 3 Solutions to explore collaborative models that could be implemented to tackle challenges such as communication, engagement, retention,, and growth. One strategy that we often raise is the need to explore how a formal or informal collaborative business group can provide essential communication channels for governments to engage with their business community.

Steps to building a business group

To create a Collaborative Business Group (CBG), the first thing you need to do is identify the local champions in the business community you are looking to engage with. Who has their finger on the pulse of the needs of the business owners? From there, you need to gauge the interest in a collaborative effort of some kind. Who would be willing to give some of their valuable time to support the greater good of their local area? Who understands the value of collaboration and local cooperation? Without people willing to lead from the grassroots, there is no chance of a collaborative group happening. You can’t have a group like this lead from the outside, or by government, they need to be locally led and driven.

Once you have interest and advocates, you need to understand what are the pain points and challenges that the business community is experiencing that could be solved by a collaborative effort. Is there a lack of communication within the business community? Is there a need for advocacy with the government? Could the local area benefit from properly coordinated events? Are there problems with signage, curb appeal, or new business supports? Could the local community benefit from a unified identity or marketing strategy? The needs of the businesses are critical to the next step, i.e., the type of business group you are looking to create.

If we take a quick jump back to a previous article about Quality Networks, one of the Collaborative Enterprise Models we discussed was the Support Coalition. A Support Coalition is a legal entity created by a collection of members to unify the membership and to develop resources to support that membership. The Collaborative Business Group is a type of Support Coalition.

There are different types of Collaborative Business Groups (CBG) models, mainly organized by their revenue type. There is the Volunteer or Grant/Donation Based Revenue type, the Membership Based Revenue type, and the Tax Based Revenue type.


Types of Collaborative Business Groups (CBG)


Volunteer or Grant/Donation Based Revenue type
Business or Merchant Associations MODEL
  • Community-based (usually in a downtown area)
  • Broad appeal within the commercial or downtown core
  • Membership led
  • Can be a Legal Organization or an Informal Group
  • Typically, not funded or funded through grants/donations
  • Often not staffed, managed and run by volunteers


Membership Based Revenue type
Chamber of Commerce (sometimes known as Board of Trade) MODEL
  • Regionally based
  • Broad industry appeal
  • Membership driven
  • A legal organization, typically formed under a Boards of Trade Act
  • Often funded through membership fees and/or membership service, and have volunteer committees
  • Often staffed with an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant


Trade Associations MODEL
  • Typically, not location based
  • Often industry specific
  • Membership driven
  • A legal organization, often formed under a Societies Act
  • Often funded through membership fees and/or membership service, and have volunteer committees
    (can also have tax revenue benefits)
  • Often staffed with an Executive Director, Communication/Member Specialist and Administrative Assistant


Co-op (Social Enterprise) MODEL
  • Values and public interest based
  • Owned by members, with expectations to be revenue generating
  • A legal Corporation, typically registered as a type of Common Interest Corporation (CIC) or under a Co-operative Associations Act
  • Start-up funding by members, with a focus on creating independent revenue to support members (such as a paid service or licensed product)
  • At the early stages, typically managed by staff and administration that are lent from the members organizations, then hiring CEO once financially stable


Tax Based Revenue type
Business Improvement District (BID) or Development Corporations (DC) or Business Enhancement Commission (BEC) MODEL
  • Community-Based (typically within a single municipality)
  • Broad appeal within the commercial or downtown core
  • Membership led
  • A legal organization, often registered under a Companies Act
  • Funded through a deferred tax agreement, or levy, with the Municipality
  • Often staffed by an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant


Resource Shelter Partnership (RSP) MODEL
  • A committee created within an existing organization who can provide stability and support
  • Appealing because of it’s sustainability
  • Volunteer lead with support from Shelter Organization
  • The committee is not a registered entity, but a subgroup of the Shelter Organization
  • The funding agreement with Shelter Organization to host the Business Group and manage finances for administrative fee
  • The committee is often volunteer-run, but Shelter Organization can assign staff time to the committee


Once the objectives and structure of the CBG has been identified, the formation and registration process is the next step. The specifics of registration is heavily dependent on the structure chosen and may include a significant amount of legal, financial, and administrative steps to get the CBG set up and running. From there, the two critical next steps are to create a detailed and robust membership engagement/communication strategy and a sustainability plan. The membership engagement/communication strategy is a crucial, and very often forgotten process to make sure you keep your finger on the pulse of the community you were created to serve. The sustainability plan is needed to ensure that you are using your finite resources as wisely as possible. This includes your finances, your volunteers, your partnerships, your combined expertise, and your value proposition to your membership.

The Takeaway

Great things come from businesses working together and one of the best tools to make that happen, especially for small businesses, is the formation of a Collaborative Business Group.  Creating a CBG isn’t complicated, however, it does require dedication of time and resources. To create a successful and sustainable group you will need to:

  • Identify your champions within the business community
  • Identify what the CBG will focus on
  • Determine structure based on needs and objectives of the group
  • Formation and/or registration for the group
  • Develop your engagement strategy with members; how will you stay relevant?

Again, it’s not complicated but it does require dedication of time and resources, but as we all know, anything that is worth doing is worth doing right.


Roman 3 is a solution and consulting firm that specializes in inspiring progressive action, creating a culture of innovation, and assisting organizations in implementing transformative change. We help you build capacity, collaborate, be progressive, and grow to your full potential. For more information on our services and support check us out at