Whether you're just starting out, looking to ramp up a new product line or growing your existing business, a strong network of strategic partners can be invaluable to your success.
"Growth is like the proverbial skinning of a cat—there are a million ways to do it," Bronson Taylor wrote on the KISSmetrics blog. Customer acquisition can feel overwhelming, daunting and confusing—even for experienced marketers and CEOs. You need a growth strategy that complements your core brand relationships and business development goals, and you can get that through partnering with the right people.
Seek collaborators with complementary skill sets, similar customers and shared values. These opportunities will make you a stronger force in your industry. It's a concept that consistently withstands the test of time, geography and entity size. For example, if you're running a copywriting agency, you can partner with a design firm to tackle a new client project. If you're building a software tool, you can pursue custom integration opportunities with established platforms to grow your own customer base.
Whatever you pursue, make sure to look beyond your own goals to make your partner stronger. Give as much as you possibly can.
"An organization seeking partners should identify assets that have value to partners and strengthen them," wrote Rosabeth Moss Kanter for Harvard Business Review. "Networks of the weak do not survive. The best alliances join strength to strength."
There are three types of partnerships that small-business owners can consider: integration, referral and service-based. One just might be the edge you need to take your company to the next level.
1. Integration Partnerships
Integration partnerships are valuable software platforms. Even if your app is a standalone tool, integrations can help drive new opportunities for user adoption and growth. Companies like Unbounce, InfusionSoft and Nimble feature app marketplaces with add-ons to their core platforms. The idea is simple—existing customers who use these popular services may have needs or use cases that are going unmet. Add-ons and product partnerships help bridge any gaps.
For example, CrazyEgg adds heatmapping functionality to Unbounce's pre-built landing page templates to help boost lead conversions. The two platforms fit together to deliver complementary services for a better user experience analysis and landing page development. Imagine that you're fitting together a technology-driven jigsaw puzzle for a streamlined big picture and end result. That's an integration partnership.
2. Referral Partnerships
As a small-business owner, you're likely part of an amazing network of talented providers, so why not formalize your referral network into an established business arrangement?
Client-driven companies rely heavily on word-of-mouth referrals. Brand strategists, for instance, may need to refer their clients to technical service providers. Similarly, bloggers may need additional forms of content creation, including videos and infographics.
It's not about paying commission or making money off of your business partners' services. It's about promoting good people and good work. You don't necessarily need to exchange revenue—take the pressure off affiliate-based selling and instead build a network of advocates and supporters. Referrals are an asset.
3. Service-Based Partnerships
Two service-based companies can partner to expand each’s offerings to a client. For example, if you're a lawyer, you may consider teaming up with a tax accountant to provide advice on new business formation. If you run a graphic design agency, you could team up with a larger marketing firm to handle client overflow. Position the collaboration as a new service to grow your organization, and seek out compatibility beyond the immediate term.
"In rapidly changing environments, compatibility in values, philosophy and goals is more important than specific features of an immediate business deal," Kanter wrote. "The basis for collaboration must be more enduring, and there must be a foundation for mutual trust to help weather inevitable changes or problems."
Grow, learn and evolve together. Rely on your shared values to be bigger than yourselves.
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