Growing business partnerships can be one of the fastest and most effective ways to grow your business, expand your network, and establish a good reputation. When I first started Bennis Public Relations back in 2011, I realized early on that though I was a sole-proprietor, I couldn’t do this alone. I didn’t desire to have employees to manage or cut into my profits, so I knew I needed to scale my business by other means. Thanks to a strong network of fellow entrepreneurs I knew, they helped open my eyes to the value of teaming up on projects, sharing leads, and making referrals.
Over the last nine years, I’ve forged too many partnerships to count. In some instances these are people who I bring onto projects with me to better serve my clients with their expanded skill set that differs from my own. In other instances, these individuals and businesses hire me to serve their clients in various capacities that they either cannot or don’t have the bandwidth to do. And the real gold in business partnerships is the exchange of leads and referrals. Not a week goes by where I don’t get an email or phone call from someone who was either referred to me by a past client or business partner, or someone from within my network calling to pass a lead on to me. It’s sometimes too much to keep up with! But then, I always find time.
What I want to share with you is what I’ve discovered to be the most essential aspects for growing business partnerships. And by business partnerships, I don’t mean anything formal or contractual. I simply mean fellow businesses and freelancers who can expand your network and strengthen the services you are able to provide. Here’s that they are!
Know Your Strengths
First, you need to be realistic about what you do best. The answer will never be “everything” and even if you narrow this down to skills essential for your industry, you will still have a few, certain skills that rise to the top. Once you know what you do best, and what you enjoy doing most, you can narrow your work to these top skills. For those other skills and services, look to strategically expand your network with individuals who do those well. Believe me, my clients would not want me handling their graphic design or website coding. Fortunately, I have a solid network of individuals who are exceptional at such tasks.
And Your Weaknesses
It can be uncomfortable admitting your weaknesses, especially to a client when you inform them that you want to bring someone else on the job to handle an aspect of the project. But it will earn you a lot of respect and trust. Be honest about what you simply don’t do well, or what you don’t enjoy doing. As you grow your network with individuals who fill this need, you will have a sense of relief knowing you can hand off projects to them. while still serving your clients well.
View Competition as Opportunity
In my early years of entrepreneurship, I was intimidated by other consultants, freelancers, and firms who appeared to offer similar services to what I do. Fortunately, I’ve since learned that competition often turns into opportunity. I now strategically get to know other people who provide public relations and communications services. And when we are able to connect, often we both realize that our services are actually quite unique, or we serve entirely different markets. This turns into the opportunity to collaborate or pass projects on to one another that might not be a good fit for us personally. Meeting with my “competition” has turned into some of the most fruitful business relationships I have today.
Have Clear Terms and Expectations
When you do start sharing leads or collaborating on projects, it’s important for all parties to be on the same page about terms and expectations. Only a small fraction of my business relationships expect a commission off of the leads they send to me. And I much prefer partnerships that instead function off of good will expectations that leads will be shared freely and mutually, and over time it will all end up fairly even. At the end of the day, I’m happy to have my clients taken care of, whether that means I’m best suited to serve them or I need to pass the business on to someone else.
Be Available and Responsive
This one is important. The best way to grow business partnerships is to prove to others that you can be trusted with the work they send over to you. This means being available to take on the work and being responsive both to them and the clients they send to you. I operate under same-day communications where my network knows I will at least acknowledge their email or phone call during any business day (that my out of office is not on). Even if I don’t have an answer for them, they will know when they can expect one from me. And I expect my business partnerships to also be available and responsive, within reason. Which leads me to…
Weed Out the ‘Misfits’
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This is how I operate with my network of vendors and business partners. Everyone gets one pass for poor-service. But after that, I will not be inclined to send clients to businesses or partner with them if either myself or my clients got burned in the past. This could be unreasonable pricing, poor-quality of work, unresponsiveness, delay in payment – you get the picture. It’s important to weed out partnerships that aren’t a good fit, so you then know which ones are and can focus more on nurturing them.
Do Good Work
And finally, it’s time to look introspectively. If you were to partner with yourself on a project, would you be satisfied with your responsiveness, quality of work, pricing, and professionalism? Hopefully the answer is a resounding yes. Otherwise, you have some work to do! There will be times with any number of factors can cause an “oops” moment. Be sure to be quick and honest about the mishap, offer apologies to all parties affected, and determine how you will prevent it from happening again.
Your work is your reputation, both professionally and personally. You should work to your own highest standard with everything you do. And if you find certain things are preventing this (i.e. lack of time, distractions, not enjoying your work) – then it’s time to change something!
Are you being intentional about forging business partnerships? Share your successes or your struggles by leaving a comment below.