Small biz tip: Build your business through strategic partnerships

This small biz tip is explored, along with other helpful advice in my new book, Plan It! Do It! Love It!

strategicpartnersAs every small business owner can attest, wearing all the hats can be exhausting! Most entrepreneurs have a natural ability to multi-task, because this skill is essential to our success. Yet, there always seems to be more to do than we can effectively accomplish on our own.

Finding and forming strategic partnerships is the single best way to extend your reach and accomplish more as a small business owner.

A strategic partnership or strategic alliance is a long term relationship with another business owner who shares your target client and target market and with whom you can partner for mutual benefit; the alliance has sustainable benefit that makes sense for both parties. This is a relationship that will immediately expand the network of potential clients for both business owners. It is a relationship that should reduce your marketing costs, as well as reduce the time you each spend networking and promoting yourself or your business. Finally, the strategic alliance you form should ignite the next stage of business growth. But where does one find a good strategic partner?

Start with knowing who makes a good partner.

Effective strategic partnerships are not based upon personal chemistry or common interests and values, though these are important factors to consider. There is, however, one critically important factor that is absolutely essential in an effective strategic partnership: both parties must serve the same client. What service or product does your business provide, and to whom? Who else provides a service or product to the same client? For example, if your target client is a small business in the construction industry, think about other businesses who serve the same client. These are your potential strategic partners.

Look in all the likely places.

Most often, you will meet your potential strategic partners through referrals from people (clients or vendors, perhaps) who have worked with them and can vouch for their work ethic, creditability, service delivery and reliability. Another way to connect with potential strategic partners is to show up in the places they are likely to be, such as networking events, trade organization events, or online referral sites. As a rule, the more you trust the referral source the shorter your period of “vetting” will be.

Synergy breeds success.

Selecting strategic partners is a process of matching more than just a target client. It is imperative you also have a match in values, beliefs, personality and commitment with those of another.

You may already know business owners with whom you share a connection or likely referral network. In other words, you share some of the same kinds of clients, which provide an obvious and mutual benefit for your working together.  But even more important than those obvious connections, is the question of synergy.  Sharing the same client is one thing, but do you share the same ethical values and commitment to best practices?  Do you share the same standard of conduct? Do you share common goals? How do you match in personality?

Credibility trumps credentials every time.

For a strategic partnership to be truly effective long term, each partner should have a solid understanding of the others goals and objectives — and be able to wholeheartedly support them. The best and most effective strategic partnerships merge the personal credibility of each partner with the goals of each company and the resources to make things happen.

Don’t settle for less than you are willing to offer.

As entrepreneurs, most of us are intensely passionate about our businesses. We hold a vision of where we want to go, and we don’t want to compromise our values to get there. Therefore, we must approach the process of selecting a strategic partner with cautious optimism. Not everyone will be a fit, in fact, the majority of people whom you meet will not become a strategic partner, even if you share the same client. The best strategic partnerships take time to develop. Choose wisely. Think of it as a business mate for life.

Start – Familiarize – Commit – Plan – Measure

As in any successful personal or professional partnership, the need for mutual commitment toward continued improvement never ends. Once you find the right partner, the real work has just begun. Here are a few steps to keep in mind as you enter into a strategic partnership relationship.

  1. Take time to get to know each other well before you decide to recommend the other.
  2. Work together for a while before you decide to endorse the work of the other.
  3. Formalize your commitment to each other. Be clear on your expectations of the other and be sure they are clear on yours. Share your goals for working together.
  4. Be in regular communication. Offer feedback. Share ideas.
  5. Plan together. Once you are certain of your desire to have a long term relationship and you are comfortable that you can endorse the work of the other then begin to plan together. Annual planning is a minimum.
  6. Measure results and make adjustments. 

Don’t go it alone.  

You are the expert in your field and there is not anyone better to make the key decisions involving your company.  Likewise, when finding and forming strategic partnerships, it pays to employ the expert guidance of someone who specializes in the formation of such alliances.  This is where an experienced business or executive coach comes in. They will save you time, money and reduce the stress of mistakes you may make by missing key components in deciding on who to partner with and how.

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