Strategic collaboration determines the business opportunities you receive, the consulting contracts you win, new clients you get and word-of-mouth referrals you generate, and our businesses can’t survive without them.
Strategic collaborations. A whopping 94% of ALL new business opportunities are generated from these. They outperform all other forms of marketing. Yet, 80% of entrepreneurs don’t include them in their marketing plan.
Well, it’s time to stop being crazy. It’s time to get busy setting up relationships with people that are mutually beneficial. If you’re not sure how to set up a strategic collaboration, never fear, I have a seven-step process to share!
Step 1: Identify your reasons to collaborate
I’ve discovered a major cog in the effective collaborating wheel is the ability to think and act strategically. This all starts by answering the question, ‘Why are you collaborating?’ You need to understand what your key motivators are. Mine was to expose my brand to new markets. What does yours look like? Is it to:
- Find new clients?
- Increase operational efficiency?
- Increase your professional profile?
- Build brand awareness?
Whatever your reason, it will serve you better if you decide what it is and then determine how you will make it happen – strategically.
Step 2: Identify the industries and people you should collaborate with
Collaborations that produce long-term business-building results are not about meeting a lot of people; they’re about meeting the right people. For example, when I was seeking out collaborators, my top three industries included coaches (life, career & business), business training authorities, and marketing specialists.
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Cultivating mutually beneficial collaborations is critical to your professional survival, so be selective. Raise the bar and dig deeper to find the right person. Give careful consideration to the skills, experience, motivators, and compatibility. Figure out who matters most.
Step 3: Do your research
While I admit it’s a time-consuming activity, I can say with certainty that the success of my B2B collaborations came off the back of extensive research.
So don’t be tempted to miss this vital step.
Planning inspires confidence, and careful research is a great way to show you’ve taken the time to understand your prospects’ needs on a fundamental level.
I generally spend 10-15 minutes researching the person’s history, interests, potential problems, and communication style. This research can drastically increase your chances of getting a positive response and your preparation sets the scene for the rest of the framework.
Step 4: Plan your collaborative value
When you take the initiative you have to be able to sell the idea, so be honest about what will be involved and what each of you will gain by collaborating. As I set out to create my value proposition I consider it from three angles – the value must compliment:
- Your partner
- The customer
- Your own business
I also ensure the key message focuses on the ‘value’ it delivers to each party.
You also need to be sure that yours is a business that you would want to collaborate with. If you need rescuing or need a sales injection, then choose a stronger business to approach and be willing to be the junior partner. Set a clear agenda. What you want to achieve by collaborating with another business: what’s in it for you and, perhaps more importantly, what’s in it for them?
Step 5: Connecting
No matter what industry we’re in, we’re all in the people business. I only create successful collaborations when I really get to know my prospect intimately. I’ve found if I don’t nurture strong and positive personal relationships with collaborators, I don’t build trust, likeability, understanding, or a sense of a shared journey – all of which are critical elements to successful collaborations, and business success.
A natural tendency might be to immediately go and ask your prospect for what you want, however, there are three key steps to secure a face-to-face connection:
- The Warm Up: The key to this is to make your name look familiar to them before you connect. I start by engaging with them on social media.
- Response and Engagement: starts with stroking their ego. Who doesn’t like a compliment! There are a few ways you can do this:
- Mention them in association with respected brand name
- Tell them you shared their work with others
- Tell them how they influenced your business decisions
- Introduce them to a beneficial contact
- If the opportunity arises, refer them to a potential customer
- Introduce them to your peers and recommend them as a keynote speaker
3. Connect meaningfully first: When I initially connect, I restrain myself from asking for anything, and I always looked for ways to add value.
Step 6: Pitch and adapt
My first pitch was delivered to a distinguished, more experienced prospect and it almost went belly up. After some humbling feedback this is what I learnt:
- Start by focusing on the benefits your prospect is going to receive by collaborating with you. Even if the benefits are small, it is essential to remember that most of us are wired to think about ‘What’s in it for me?’
- Don’t spend as much time on the benefits your own business will receive.
- Listen and adapt your proposal as necessary.
- If the potential partner doesn’t seem keen on the idea, keep them talking. Ask them to discuss their own goals for their business and tailor your proposal to help them reach their businesses goals. This will help them to not dismiss you out of hand and will help cement your personal relationship.
- Determine how collaborating can offer solutions to the potential partner’s challenges. From there, you can sell them on the idea and start the foundation for collaborating.
Step 7: Collaborate
Once I’ve found a partner to collaborate with, we structure and sign a proposal, or agreement, with them. Depending on the scope of the agreement, the document can range from a relatively simple structure to an utterly complex one. While complex agreements do exist between larger corporations, we can enjoy a less formal agreement. All my agreements include:
- The parties involved in the agreement
- The services to be performed by each partner
- The terms of the agreement
- The duration of the agreement
- The signatures of both partners
You want to lay everything out in black and white, so there’s no question of who does what later.
The old adage ‘Two heads are better than one’ has been around for millennia and for good reason. Collaborating with other businesses is arguably an essential 21st century skill set I continue to master.
I’ve discovered collaborations open doors to new business opportunities, they leverage creativity and resources, and the experience with right and left-brain thinkers has helped me arrive at solutions in less time. It’s also building business momentum and proving to be one of the most cost effective ways to generate lots of high quality referrals and expose my brand to new markets.
The decision of which way to go with your business comes down to your needs and goals. If there’s an opportunity for your business to improve, chances are there’s a partner that can help you do it. Joining forces and collaborating has worked for major players and, with careful planning, it can work for your small business, too. It all comes down to taking the plunge and saying, ‘I do’ to collaborating.