Partnerships among small businesses are both fun and profitable. Partnering with a business that provides complementary non-competing goods and services is a winning strategy for both finding new customers and boosting the value of your current offerings.
First of all, I don't mean forming a permanent business partnership where you tie your wagons together and run a single business together.
And I'm not talking about affiliate marketing, where you build a business by trotting before your list every product or service you can affiliate with to grab your percentage of a sale. Affiliate marketing always reminds me of livestock auctions at the county fair; the cattle all start to look the same and the auctioneer's voice gives the whole thing away: "going going gone to the highest bidder." Week after week, that's rough on your list!
Rather, I'm talking about a temporary or occasional offering of a product or service you genuinely support and want to share. It's a partnership that benefits your customers by opening doors they may have not seen without your introduction. There's a big difference.
A recent local example: one evening a fabric shop holds an open house with a scrapbooking store just two doors down. The yarn shop (a whopping 150 yards across the parking lot) also got into the party, along with the wine shop and the cooking supply store on the other side.
Ultimately all of these stores in the same shopping center (with a shared parking lot between them – how convenient!) stay open late and incorporate their products into each other’s shops to pique the neighboring customers’ interests. It’s an evening of art, wine, crafting, sewing, and culinary delights that introduce each store’s customers to a banquet of complementary and enjoyable “other” finer things.
The shop-owners – all small mom and pop outfits — already know that their customers are engaged in a fun hobby that spices up their lives; that's the common ingredient among them all.
This partnership event is fun for their customers while challenging shop owners to toss something into their mix to woo new faces into their stores… In a festive atmosphere: foodies enjoy quilted aprons, scrapbookers taste wine, and knitters sample tea.
That’s a live example of complementary partnership marketing. Now onto the Internet…
When you seize the chance to introduce a fellow small business to your customers, how do you go about it?
Before anything else, make sure you know what and who you are referring. If you have personally verified the products or services, so much the better. If you are helping out a friend and colleague, at least make sure she is someone YOU would do business with.
Ok, then, so you can vouch for this business and the business matches (but doesn’t compete with) yours. You’re ready to get the word out.
It’s time to email those customers you believe would be interested. Doing so means you’re going out on a bit of a limb; how do you know who wants it?
Here’s where you can back up a little bit and take a look at the ground you’ve already laid with your customers.
If you’ve set up your website for a specific type of person — someone who loves wine or is passionate about knitting, for example — you probably have very specific subscribers on your email list. Maybe you've already asked if they would like to receive messages about cupcoming events or products. This segment of your list will most liklely want to join in the fun.
Besides the segments within your list who have self-identified as wanting to receive complementary information, should you contact everyone?
If you've consistently shared your best insights and info with your list, and you only want to share complementary products or serivces occasionally, then by all means let your entire list know your intentions in your company newsletter.
Integrity with your subscribers is the main thing. Hopefully you have maintained a clean list by removing folks who unsubscribe or bounce. This practice lays the groundwork for a dedicated and receptive audience when you offer something a bit out of the norm. After all, you’ve proven to be a reliable voice in your field, so your reader trusts you.
It's time to get started emailing your list about your new "partner." Here's how to let your subscribers know you've got something a little bit different to share.
1. State right up front that you would like to introduce your reader to X.
2. Within a sentence or two explain why your customer will benefit from this information.
3. Base your reasoning on your customer’s past behavior. Ie. “because you attended a wine tasting event we hosted last month, we thought you’d like to hear about this cooking class on food and wine pairings hosted by X right in our neighborhood.”
4. Make sure an unsubscribe button is lurking in some obvious place in your email, so that if your reader is put off by your message, he has (as he always had) a chance to simply remove himself from your list. Only you know how likely that would be. Again, if you have a reputation for respecting your customer’s time and patronage (you don’t send these types of emails every week) then your readers will probably have every expectation of your good faith; and give you theirs in return.
6. Include a link to your partner’s website or ask your customer to visit a page where he can opt in to receive more information about X.
7. In the body of your email, go into some detail about why you are recommending they check out X. Tell them your relationship with X or how X supports your product, service, or lifestyle of your customer. Tell your customer what’s in it for them.
8. If your customer responds to X’s offer, make sure you keep track of that response for your own email list segmentation. Anything you can learn about your customer – even if she doesn’t directly buy from you – should inform the way you market to her in the future. By following up with your friend X, and learning how successful this campaign was, you automatically further segment your own list. “Jo from Austin” also becomes “Jo from Austin, who purchased tea from X.” Make sure your email service provider has an easy way to segment your list into as many subgroups as you want – without getting penalized for a larger list!
9. Include a picture of your partner/friend/ associate. A visual image is a powerful way of relaying the spirit of your partnership. Your readers will appreciate seeing you enjoying this other product or actually standing together with the business owner you are endorsing.
10. The nice thing about partnering with a complementary business is that you will have the opportunity in the future to partner with their list. Life just works out that way. And besides, it’s just good karma to tell your customers about other great small businesses. It’ll come back to you.
Got a small biz short or long term partnership idea? MyTeamConnects can show you how easy it is to do this sort of complementary email marketing to your list. Call 855-279-0553 and we’ll tell you more.