Small businesses have many challenges in sales and marketing and often times struggle to build adequate pipelines for new business. Many spend hours out “networking” only to be disappointed that the leads they get are not qualified, and let’s face it, are just bad or not a fit. With all the things a small business owner or manager has to do, spending time on unfruitful networking is not a good use of time.

Working with small businesses in developing their marketing and implementing processes and strategies to get the right leads, we often have to think about new ways to build those pipelines — and one way is to leverage the good relationships already in place.

A friend and partner consultant, Norma Watenpaugh, Phoenix Consulting Group, and I were talking recently about this and as someone who focuses on helping her clients build collaborative relationships, I asked if she had some advice for small businesses who want to do better at building their collaborative relationships. She agreed to send me a post which I am sharing below.

Recently I was asked to participate in a speed mentoring event for a group of small business owners.  I was asked many times “can partnering help me in my business? How do I find the right partner?  How do I partner?”  The business press is full of the announcements of giants partnering with giants such as IBM and Apple, Toyota and Mercedes, BUT strategic alliances are not just for the big guys.  Small businesses and even solopreneurs can find great value in partnering. Referral partners can help keep the pipeline of business flowing. Complementary partners can bring additional skills and services to your customers, thus increasing your value as a trusted advisor.  Partners with similar skills can be allies when you just plain need more capacity as your business expands.  

But how do you find good partners?

My advice was to look at how your customer buys and what they buy.  Quite often we define the ‘what’ quite narrowly around the service or product that we provide. But that’s quite myopic. You may think you are providing financial advice, but the greater truth may be that your client is looking for financial security and your expertise is only a component of that. There are tax lawyers, accountants and estate planners who are part of that bigger picture.  

You may think that you are selling copy writing, but the client is looking for a complete demand generation campaign, the outcome of which is to generate the next quarter’s revenue for the company. From the broader perspective, potential partners become more obvious.  As a copywriter, you may want to partner with a strategic marketing consultant, a graphic designer, or an SEO specialist — all of whom are already providing services to your target client and are in a position to refer you.  But this is a two way street, leading to the how to partner question.

But my partner isn’t bringing me any business.

Well, are you bringing them business?  You have to give to get.  One of the tools I recommend to clients both large and small, is the team charter.  The team charter is a one page summary of the partnership and encourages some frank conversation about each partners’ expectations. Get a sample here. 

As a small business, myself, I practice what I preach.  I have a network of colleagues that I work with to provide specialized expertise, or in some cases, more capacity so I can take on larger engagements.  I also partner with alliance experts to deliver education and training in other geographies.  Simoons & Company, an independent consultancy that specializes in professional development education, coaching and mentoring has been a partner since 2008. They are based in Amsterdam, license training IP from my company and pay a royalty when a workshop is delivered using my course materials.  But we have also actively referred business to each other.  In a few cases I’ve had clients who wanted to take training in Europe or they wanted an e-learning format which I do not offer, so I refer Simoons.  Other times, Simoons has referred clients to me who wanted to do training in the U.S. The outcome is that we both gain by partnering and our customers do too!

So as you — small businesses — are thinking about your strategies for 2017, think about how or if the vendors, consultants, suppliers, and others you work with regularly could be a good strategic partner AND how could you support them back as a strategic partner.