Generating referrals is the key to securing your business’s long-term success, and it can feel like a pretty massive undertaking. One way to lighten the load and help you to create a more sustainable stream of referrals is to build partnerships.
Why go it alone when you could instead join forces with other business owners and make the referral process easier for both of you?
Types of Partnerships
When you’re thinking about establishing partnerships for your business, there are a few different types of relationships to consider.
- Strategic partners. These are businesses or individuals who provide a good or service that is directly tied to your business’s product offering. If you’re a graphic designer, you want to have a trustworthy copywriter who you can suggest to your clients.
- Content partners. A network of publishers, bloggers, and those in need of content for their own sites can help you to spread your business’s name, mission, and unique point of view to a whole new audience of people.
- Co-marketing partners. These are business owners whose business models have some sort of synergy with your own company. If you’re a plumber, this person might be an electrician or contractor. If you own a wine shop, this might be the owner of the cheese store down the street. As a fellow business owner who’s not in direct competition with you, but does business with a subset of the population who might also have an interest in and need for your business’s offerings, these relationships offer easy cross-promotion opportunities.
Bonus points if you can create partnerships that are unexpected like the ones I outline here; unique partnerships can generate even more marketing buzz!
There are a variety of reasons to consider each type of partnership, and there’s a different value-add that comes from each one. That’s why it’s important to focus on building up a comprehensive network of partners, with different partners from each type of group.
Become a Trustworthy Guide for Your Customers
No matter what business you’re in, there are a lot of other businesses out there that do what you do. While a key part of standing out from the crowd is making sure you have a clearly defined value proposition, another thing that will keep customers coming back again and again is that they see you as more than just a provider of a good or service—they see you as a trustworthy partner and advisor.
One way to become a trusted partner is to tap into your network of fellow business owners who you yourself know and trust. When you’re able to suggest other service providers to your customers, it makes you seem like someone who’s in the know and who truly has your customers’ best interests at heart.
Let’s say, for example, that you own a rare used bookstore. A customer comes in and buys a first edition of a work by their favorite author, but then they want to be sure they’re going to be able to care for their new, beloved purchase. You should be able to provide them with a list of trusted partners—a bookbinder who can help restore the original leather cover, a vendor of special boxes for book storage, or an appraiser who can help set the sale price for another rare book in their collection.
These partners need to be people that you know and trust; you’ll do more harm than good if you suggest another business who does not do right by your customer. But if you do have a strong network of other worthy businesses who can provide a service that’s of real value to your existing customers, then you establish yourself as a trusted source of knowledge in your industry, and the next time your customer is looking for advice or to do business, they’ll be coming back to you.
Move Up the Hourglass
There is a lot of work that goes into winning over new business, particularly if you’re starting from scratch. For someone to decide to go with your company, there are four steps in the marketing hourglass before a new customer even makes their first purchase. And there is a tremendous amount of effort and money that can go into those first four steps.
For someone to come to know and like your business, there are marketing and advertising dollars to be spent. To establish trust, you need testimonials. For the trial phase, you need to create products or services that you’re willing to give away for free in hopes that it converts your prospect into an actual customer.
Establishing partnerships, however, allows you to leap over the heavy lifting associated with these steps. You don’t need to spend excessive amounts of money on advertising and marketing to prospects when you have a solid partnership network who will refer their customers to your business.
A prospect who has been referred to you by a business owner they already know, like, and trust, will have an inherent level of trust in your business. This allows you to jump ahead and move right to the try and buy portion of the hourglass.
Double Your Network Overnight
As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one, and that’s particularly true when building up referrals. You’ve worked hard to create repeat customers, and new customer acquisition is a costly endeavor. You know that other small business owners have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into creating their own roster of return clients. Why not come together with a fellow entrepreneur to double your network overnight?
When you establish a strategic or co-marketing partnership, suddenly you have access to another business owner’s entire rolodex. There’s no competitiveness there, because you offer products that are related but different, and so you’re willing and able to share your existing network with this other business owner.
Additionally, you can consider creating new marketing campaigns that are a joint effort. While you double your reach, you can also halve your costs by splitting advertising fees with your new partner. Running joint promotions for your business can allow you to catch the eye of your established customer base, their established customer base, plus those who are new prospects for both of you.
Referrals are the lifeblood of any business. Why go it alone on this important road to generating referrals when you could join forces with another like-minded business owner? Together, you can help each other to create a sustainable referral engine that will continue to benefit you both in the long term.
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