As a small business owner, you do it all. Accounting, sales, finance, shipping, inventory, and, of course, marketing. The number one priority for most small businesses is, unsurprisingly, growth, and the key to strong growth is strong marketing.
The challenge, however, is many small businesses have finite resources: limited budgets and limited time to create and manage marketing programs. Even with the most innovative planning and execution, a savvy marketer can only stretch a dollar so far.
For many small businesses, partnerships with other firms can dramatically expand the scope and impact of their marketing efforts. What does a marketing partnership with another small business look like?
- Shared target audience or market. It’s essential to find a partner that aligns well with your business. That typically begins with a shared buyer profile. The fit doesn’t need to be exact, but you want to be attempting to reach the same audience whether that’s the profile, geography, or another factor.
- Complementary — or at least non-competitive — offerings. This may seem obvious, but in most cases you want to work with businesses whose products and services are complementary and not competitors to your own offerings. There are some situations where competitive businesses join forces to achieve greater reach and scale, but, in most cases, you want to seek out a partner in an adjacent category.
- Simple to complex campaigns. The scale of your collaboration can be as simple as a jointly funded and produced direct mailing or as complex as a multi-channel marketing campaign. There is some wisdom around the idea of starting small and expanding the partnership over time. Begin with something modest and build on that success over time.
- Amazing offers. Strong offers or promotions are core to successful campaigns. Even the most well designed campaign can deliver mediocre results without strong offers. Make sure both partners include compelling offers that are similar in scale and proportion. Both partners need to provide something potential customers will be excited about.
If your partner program includes the elements listed above, there are still a few critical details to address.
- Set expectations and agree on metrics. It’s important that both parties in a partnership are on the same page when it comes to the definition of success and how success will be measured. Transparency is important in these situations so both parties can monitor overall program performance. Partnerships only work well when both parties experience success. It may not be exactly equal, but both partners should feel good about their return on investment.
- Define budget, roles, and responsibilities. Like any good partnership, there should be clear roles and responsibilities associated with the project. Defining which partner is handling which elements of the program — for example, the budget or overall project management — is essential.
Beyond the obvious, there are other benefits that can come from working with another small business.
- Leverage partners, providers, and expertise. There is likely to be some overlap of relationships and skills with any partner, but you will also be exposed to new supporting vendors, ideas, and resources. Even as an intangible, this can be extremely valuable.
- Build co-brand awareness. If your program goes well, there is the potential that your two brands together could become one. This joint awareness can benefit both businesses but generally only comes after an extended duration of partner programs.
- Learn to partner. Over time your business may experiment with a multitude of partnerships and develop the skills to more easily seek out and work with new firms. Learning the nuances and benefits of partnering can be an important business discipline.
Working with other small businesses can be a huge force multiplier for your business, allowing you to increase your impact, enrich your brand, and create new business and customer relationships.