Strategic Alliances are not just for the Big Guys

My clientele is typically large companies, but this past month I was asked to participate in a speed mentoring event for a group of independent consultants.  I was asked many times “can partnering help me in my business? How do I find the right partner?  How do I partner?  While the business press is full of the announcements of giants partnering with giants such as IBM and Apple, Toyota and Mercedes,  strategic alliances are not just for the big guys.  Small business and even independents can find great value in partners. Referral partners can help keep the pipeline of business flowing. Complementary partners can bring additional skills and services to your clients, 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.  These benefits are available whether you are IBM or Jane Smith, card carrying marketing consultant.

How to find 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 copy writer, you may want to partner with a strategic marketing consultant, a graphics designer, an SEO specialist all of whom are 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.

Many times I hear the complaint that my partner isn’t bringing me 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. You can find sample in our Tool Box.

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. Simoons & Company is based in Amsterdam, licenses training IP from my company and pays a royalty when a workshop is delivered using the 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 that wanted to do training in the US.