Build Your Business by Building Relationships with Other Companies
by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer
Building business relationships with other small business owners is an effective way to solve problems, leverage economies of scale and increase sales. Even if youre located in the same shopping center or town, if you offer different but related products or services, you wont be hindering each others business. In fact, you will likely find the opposite.
The results of great business relationships with other businesses can be as simple as posting a sign for a neighboring store in your window or as large as a co-sponsored community event. The key is that each business has something to offer the other, and does so willingly in the name of mutually beneficial success.
Where to Meet
Theres never been a better time to make new connections. Between online and in-person activities, there are many ways to meet others and do business, such as:
Start with Two Questions
Regardless of where you meet another business owner, Larry Nelson, vice president of workshops for the SCORE Dallas Chapter 22, recommends answering two questions before you make first contact:
Think carefully about what you have to offer the other business, how you can help them address a need or achieve a goal, and what, specifically, you want or need them to help you accomplish. If you have a good answer for both questions, then you should proceed with introducing yourself, he says.
Sometimes, what you need is ideas and answers. In these cases, your approach is strategic, but social. Most companies have similar problems too much inventory, too-high receivables, high employee turnover, low morale, not enough working capital and many others, Nelson says. Networking with other businesses allows you to find out how they are dealing with these problems. By sharing your issues with others you'll find many options to choose from, and then you adapt what you hear to meet the needs of your own organization. These connections can also introduce you to consultants and coaches to offer additional insights and expertise.
Other times, you need products and services. In these cases, your approach is transactional. Put your sales hat on, says Nelson. This is a sales call, so ask for what you want. Be quick, to the point and respect the time of the person you're talking to. If there is follow-up to do, define who's going to do what, when is it to be done and who's responsible for getting back to the other person within what timeframe.
The Right Mix
Use a mix of online and in-person activities to build business-to-business relationships, Groves suggests. All small business owners are incredibly busy, so finding different ways to get to know each other and leverage each others business is smart. Once youve established a connection, some ways to work together to build business relationships include:
One last tip: When you make good connections, dont forget that gratitude goes a long way. Formalize a thank-you system for folks who give you viable leads or referrals, Branson says. Send a hand-written note, a gift card or a local treat, and return the favor!