Tips for Starting an Alliance

Jeff Milchen is co-founder of the Boulder Independent Business Alliance (BIBA) and the new American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), established to be a clearinghouse for independent business associations and to help launch new ones. Here are his tips for aspiring organizers.

1. Don't try to sell the invisible. Get a starter kit from AMIBA with numerous concrete examples of accomplishments and FAQs about early IBAs' successes and failures.

2. Master the issues and learn the full extent of the threats chain encroachment poses to community identity, good jobs and the environment. Stacy Mitchell's The Home Town Advantage and Michael Shuman's Going Local are two excellent resources that set the stage. A recommended resource list is part of AMIBA's packet.

3. Hit the pavement before your community is threatened by a new mega-mall or big box store. Stop by a few businesses affected by the proliferation of chains. Coffee shops, grocery stores, and bookstores are excellent candidates because of their vulnerability, and for their outreach potential. Ask to meet with the owner or manager. Describe how an IBA can help support their business and leave a few samples of material from BIBA with them (and maybe this article).

4. Get a small group together representing a variety of concerned and active community and business members. Present some ideas (using examples) of how an IBA can benefit the attendees as well as the community as a whole--then listen attentively.

5. Unless you are endowed with substantial start-up funding, offering in-kind memberships for basic needs will go a long way toward getting you off to a strong start on a limited budget. Some of the key services to line up early on are: graphic artist, offset printer, copy shop, bank, Internet service provider/Webmaster, an accountant, and local independent media.

6. With the first few shops on board, establish a membership dues scale appropriate for your area. Set up a (locally-owned) bank account, hire a staff person, and you're on your way.

7. Set up a solid database (custom template availablefrom AMIBA), accounting system, and business plan. Energy and ideas must accompany these fundamentals.

8. Generate media coverage for your campaign. Business owners will take your effort more seriously if you've been covered in the media. Op-eds and letters to the editor can be as valuable as reported coverage generated by your press releases because they foster community discussion.

Copyright © American Independent Business Alliance

In late 2001, AMIBA plans to launch a Web site with more extensive information and support for prospective IBAs, offer a comprehensive package of tools for organizers, and provide on-site workshops and consulting. For details contact AMIBA at: or P.O. Box 532 Boulder, CO 80306.

The Boulder Independent Business Alliance, now in its fourth year of operation, expects to begin selling copies of its business plan this fall. For more information, visit the BIBA Web site or contact BIBA director Xian Izquierdo at

See Our Other Alliance Resources

Directory of Organizations Promoting Independent Businesses

Independent Business Alliances: Reports From The Field