I started in the print industry 10 years ago, full of energy and enthusiasm. I was soon hired by Golden Pacific Systems, but it didn't take me long to discover that I would die of boredom if I didn't do something to liven up my job. And I wanted to make some money. No, I wanted to be rich.
With my superior expertise (Rob Eyler was one of my instructors), I figured I could ride into town and save my company from the evil boredom and apathy that was terrorizing me. I would be Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter" or Alan Ladd in "Shane." I was John Wayne, and I would shoot Liberty Valance. I dreamed of being a hero.
There was only one problem: I really didn't know how to save Golden Pacific, or even myself. Fortunately, however, I knew that I knew that I didn't know what I was doing. (You may want to read that sentence again. It really does make sense.) Then I had an epiphany. I was no hero. I would have to make connections with lots of people and build relationships to develop said relationships. I decided I would be known as (drum roll please) The Connector. OK, I made the last part up. I didn't really create a heroic title. But the cape design possibilities were endless.
I knew that I had to make meaningful introductions. I needed to strengthen my public speaking skills, develop an effective 30-second infomercial and learn how to interact with many different personality types. To do this, I joined a local Business Networking International (BNI) group.
The chapter I joined had about 30 members — each with a different profession. We met weekly to create infomercials, build relationships and give referrals. The premise of the organization was good: Be the best at what you do and give and get referrals from your peers. I learned a lot. I was making connections and beginning to collaborate with some very nice, caring, helpful professionals. I still have connections with those professionals today. Some are my heroes.
But a concern was surfacing. I wasn't connecting with people in the print industry. BNI only allowed one person per profession in each chapter: one CPA, one dentist, one business consultant and one print broker. BNI's reasoning for professional exclusivity was to promote growth and collaboration outside your chosen field. With my diminishing bank account, I quickly realized that I needed to collaborate with people in my field as well.
What have I learned? To build partnerships to accomplish maximum results. This involves being transparent and working closely with someone that could be considered a competitor. I take the time to establish trust with someone so I can share as much information as possible. This allows us to problem solve and devise the best solutions for prospects and clients. It also helps move the prospect's focus from price to productivity and product engineering.
In my 10 post-hero years, I have developed a pragmatic strategy from my numerous successful partnerships:
- Set goals. I try to identify firms that can help me achieve key goals and/or give me a competitive advantage. There may be a local printer that has a new press that I can outsource jobs to. Perhaps there's a broker I can partner with to provide add-on services like SEO, AP development or content marketing.
- Focus on outcomes. It is important to know that I can deliver and that I am prepared to deliver. It is important to know what I expect from my potential partner. I set metrics so I can track my effectiveness. I set a revenue target and timeline, too. Both parties are in it to make money, so if it’s not generating additional revenue, I re-evaluate and refocus.
- Be committed. I establish clear time commitments so I know how much time I am dedicating to my alliance each month. I track my time to ensure I am holding up my end of the deal. I like to do 90- and 120-day check-ins to see if more or less time should be dedicated to the partnership. It's about outcomes. If allotting more time is going to result in additional revenue, increased efficiency, gained market share or increased net value, then I adjust internal resources to dedicate the additional time needed.
- Collaborate: I schedule time to meet in-person or talk remotely. If not scheduled, meetings will easily be forgotten and pushed to the side. Partnerships are a key part of my new business strategy. I use alliances to generate leads, so I spend time with my partners reviewing my prospect list and determining how we can best work together.
- Practice open communication. I try to understand how my partner likes to communicate. Do they prefer text messages, weekly Skype calls or monthly in-person meetings? I establish communication expectations so both parties know how and what is going to be accomplished. It's key to ensure there’s no misaligned expectations between the parties. I’m big on transparency. I want to share as many details as possible, including costs and markups. Being transparent with my partners has helped me close large new accounts.
I'm no longer in my BNI chapter. I decided to move onto other organizations that allow me to collaborate and focus on helping like-minded people in the same or crossed-related industries.
Do I believe strategic partnerships have had a beneficial impact on my business? You bet. A partnership I formed with a print supplier in 2015 helped me to close eight new deals. This supplier is key to my daily business operation. They are involved in the strategy, pricing and technology integration of all my new deals.
Seek out your competitors. Find like-minded partners within your industry. "Go ahead. Make my day."