Running a business isn't for the faint of heart. It's risky. It's difficult. And it can be downright scary. Of course, it can also be exhilarating, and when you succeed, you get all the glory. But there are times when you need a partner, even if it's just on limited terms. Business collaboration has a number of benefits, and a strategic partner can breathe life into your company when you need it most.
But it's not like you can just walk on down to the strategic partner shop and pick one up for yourself. You have to find one. Fortunately, I have some experience-based insight into where to begin.
Before we dive in, though, I have a few thoughts about starting up healthy collaborative relationships. First, it's important that you have some idea of what you want to achieve by entering into a strategic partnership, even if it's relatively informal. Do you want to expand your geographical reach? Do you want to develop a new product? Are you looking for inspiration or financial investment?
Think things through before you go running up the balance on your business credit cards or ending up in a cash flow crisis. Having an initial concept of what you want to accomplish can help you find the right collaborators.
Now that you have that in mind, here are three places you can find strategic partners.
1. Trade Shows and Conferences
Basically, any event that's focused on your industry can be a great place to explore your options for a business collaboration and strategic partner.
Of course, you can't simply walk into a convention or trade show and pick someone at random. You want to find someone who shares your values, someone who can supply what you need and perhaps even contribute strengths that compensate for your shortcomings.
Your customers value you and your products. They get you. The strategic partner you're searching for might be in your store right this very minute.
Before I attend events, I take a look at the speakers and topics if they're available ahead of time. I plan to attend the kinds of events that might appeal to my ideal strategic partner. I scope out competitors' booths at trade shows. I watch potential partners while they're interacting with customers and peers. Big events give you an opportunity to hang back and observe before you move in for a formal introduction.
2. Community Gatherings
Some of my most productive business collaborations have been with strategic partners I discovered outside my industry.
Several factors made these partnerships so successful:
- First, we shared a deep commitment to making our shared community a wonderful place to live and work.
- Second, there wasn't a scrap of competition. Whether your strategic partner is an investor or simply a collaborator, the outcome can be a win for both participants.
- Third, getting outside of my industry opened my eyes to different ways of approaching problems. Artists and accountants are likely to think about business, opportunities, and solutions differently.
Combining different perspectives from your community can yield great innovation.
3. Your Own Front Door
A good friend of mine told me how wary he was the first time he was approached by a customer who had a great idea for growing his business. It felt strangely risky to contemplate going into business—even in a limited way—with someone he counted on for revenue.
My friend talked it over with me and tried like hell to poke holes in the customer's suggestion, but we realized that the customer really understood his brand and had put a lot of thought into the idea. My friend's new strategic partner had come not just from another industry, but from another country and culture from our own. His experiences in his home country revealed opportunities that we never would have thought of.
He agreed to take his client on as a limited partner for an established trial period, and after a couple of years, my friend ended up selling his partner the entire company for a solid profit.
Your customers value you and your products. They get you. The strategic partner you're searching for might be in your store right this very minute. Take a look around.
Business collaboration can unlock many doors. It can help you generate cash flow and let you pay off your small business loans. Finding the right strategic partner—the person who will help you grow your business organically and sustainably—is key.
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