One of my favourite sayings in business and in life is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, bring your team.” Success in small business is all about partnerships; with your suppliers, with your customers and with your employees. For a partnership to be sustainable, it needs to be win-win; that is, you are looking out for the interests of your partners as much as they are looking out for yours.
One of my favourite types of partnerships is what may be termed, ‘strategic alliances’. Keep in mind that all of your ‘ideal customers’ are already customers of somebody else’s business. What you need to do is to identify these businesses, understand what some of their challenges are and then create a value proposition to open a discussion. Hint: think about the types of businesses that you could easily refer your clients to. You need to be willing to give substantial value to someone else first to develop a relationship before they will contemplate returning in kind. It’s always best to open these sort of discussions as a potential customer of their business first, before becoming a salesperson and asking for referrals.
As a business coach I discovered long ago that many of my ideal business coaching clients would ask their (tier-3) accountants for business advice. Tier-3 accountants normally have between 2-20 employees. The challenge for these accountants is they often don’t have the time to discuss or develop business strategy for their clients. The second challenge is that what they really want is to engage new SME clients in the 5-10M revenue range.
To open a conversation with this type of accountant I found was easy if you used the MAGIC words, “As a business coach I work with many business clients and often I need to recommend they change accountants to someone who can offer a better level of service and advice. Would you be open to us meeting, so I can learn more about your accounting practice?” That’s the kind of offer most accountants have great difficulty saying no to. An example of the value proposition I would develop would involve helping the accountants to educate their clients using workshops and coaching on how to grow their businesses, because at the end of the day it’s much easier to take a 5M turnover client and help them to grow to 10M, rather than to win a 10M client off someone else.
This creates a triple win situation….
- The accountant wins by strengthening their client relationships, hosting some ‘lunch-n-learn’ business education sessions, or for their high-potential clients, offering a complimentary business growth and planning session with me.
- The accountant’s clients win with the unexpected value they received, which leads them to delivering great testimonials and referring their contacts to the accountant.
- I win through being introduced as ‘the business growth expert’ to my perfect target market, leading to new coaching and training clients for myself.
The rules of engagement. Simple really. “Givers gain, takers lose.” Aim to always add value to your partnerships and look out for their best interests. Find ways to edify your partners to their clients and make them look good. Regular meetings to keep your partners in the loop is critical to provide information and accountability. Also, find unexpected ways to reward your partners for looking out for you.
A good strategic alliance can easily be more effective than having spending $20K per year on advertising. Why? Because each lead you get from a strategic alliance partner is a referral and a referral is worth at least three leads from any other source. Trust is already built, they don’t quibble about price as they come ‘pre-sold’ on your services. Better still, they typically become good referrers themselves.
How many partners do you need? My suggestion is 2-3 good ones will give you more work than you can handle. I’ve developed partnerships for hundreds of businesses and many of them are still operating to this day, creating sustainable value for all the parties involved.