Our expert guide to networking with purpose and building business partnerships that matter. Read on for more networking insights.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2019 issue of Startups Magazine.
In an increasingly digital world, the value of face to face interaction can often be overlooked in favour of Slack, Whatsapp, and other tools dedicated to providing the feeling of human interaction. Simply put, we're all very busy these days — none more so than young startups and entrepreneurs, who need to simultaneously grow their brand while maintaining and securing the day-to-day running of the company. Regardless of whether your business is B2B, B2C, or even B2B2C, the key to good business development is about the management and development of good, lasting, relationships and solid, meaningful partnerships.
There are a few key elements to consider when building business partnerships. Where do you start? Which event will be most beneficial to find partners? How can you find time to develop partnerships for long term growth when the short term needs of a business are so demanding? Fortunately for you, Buzzbar’s resident Business Development guru Ralph has given us some tips to bear in mind.
Networking is a tough old game, undoubtedly. There are times when you’re just not ready to charm your way through a room, and times when you have to push through with a smile regardless. It can be exhausting and feel unnecessary and a waste of time when placed next to email and other communication tools that offer quicker (and more comprehensive) results. But, for startup businesses in particular, a morning breakfast event or late-night networking meetup really can be make-or-break for finding the key to unlocking your business development potential.
It may sound obvious, but a good partnership is based on the ability to consistently provide value to clients on both sides. So before you do anything else, you need to identify the goal of the partnership — what you hope to achieve and, perhaps more importantly, what your partner hopes to achieve.
By placing your potential business partner’s needs on an equal plane (if not higher) than your own, you can open up possibilities for collaboration that might otherwise have been left closed. Without a clear goal for both yourself and your potential partner to work toward, the relationship may well lead to a one-off success, but might not be as fruitful in the long run.
It’s also important to consider how and where your vision, mission, and core values might align. This helps to find common ground to build from, but can also act as a creative jumping-off point for those who might appear at first to be misaligned (or not in the same industry) as yourself. Similarly, find out where your audiences align and don’t align — jointly targeting an audience that’s a little unorthodox is a good opportunity to add value to your partnership.
Rather paradoxically, one of the key elements in successfully networking with purpose is to seek out potential partners without an agenda in mind.
Searching with an open mind can often lead to a far more rewarding partnership than attempting to fix a problem by bringing an underdeveloped benefit in; something that is all too often the case and becomes glaringly obvious to your consumer when it does happen. Rather than fixing problems, seek to find things in your company (and, crucially, in their company) that could be done better, and seek to change them.
I’ve always found a good way of finding partners, and building a good network in general, comes down to exploring your passions and indulging in things you enjoy doing outside of your day-to-day.
Turn your passions into partners and you’ll find that paths less travelled begin to open up, bringing to light more obscure USPs for you and your company.
Going to events that have the potential to be inspiring or align with your interests is also a good rule of thumb when building business partnerships. You can’t network successfully if you aren’t going to events.
Of course, they won’t all be rewarding — 70% might not be of any use to you whatsoever, 20% might lead to conversations that turn into rabbit holes, and the leftover 10% might provide a lead for a future partnership or business opportunity. Long odds, but that’s fine; the ends justify the means here.
Once a conversation turns into an opportunity, consider what makes you different and celebrate those differences through your partnership. Good relationships of any kind, business included, are built on mutual trust, respect, and promotion of the other party. You ultimately want to motivate your audience to connect and share, so that both parties' engagement increases and leads start flowing freely.
Referrals can also play a large part in providing/opening up avenues and opportunities for partnerships. There is a lot of potential to be found in the seemingly more traditional way of networking your way to partnerships through LinkedIn, asking friends for introductions, and joining groups where you might find like-minded partners-in-waiting.
As mentioned above, one of the most reliable and consistent ways to secure partners is to remain open to opportunities that might arise daily. On average, you might find that one or two partnership prospects open up in a working day.
We’ve always found that there’s a certain element of ‘gut-trusting’ that comes with securing partnerships - it’s important to recognise what kind of ‘vibe’ you get from a conversation. You’ll soon begin to notice if they're also interested in pursuing further conversations around partnership opportunities. It’s also a good gauge of whether a relationship will be fruitful or not. As we said earlier, it's important to place your partner’s needs on an equal or sometimes higher priority than your own, but this should be reserved only for when these benefits are likely to balance out, preferably in your favour.
There is, of course, a limit to how quickly and how reliably this ‘gut feeling’ comes about, and often a partnership opportunity will fizzle out before any productive actions can be taken. As long as you remain open to new opportunities, this is something that must be accepted as part of the process and will happen less and less frequently the more you practice partnership hunting.
It’s harder than you might think. Whilst there is no set formula for successfully networking with purpose, there are a few ways in which you can maximise your potential for productive conversations. Although it may sound obvious, body language really is that important - triangulate your feet toward the other person and be very conscious of how crossed arms or a glance toward the free bar can - and will - be perceived.
When engaged in conversation, guide it by keeping a rough formula in mind: Question. Question. Relate to company knowledge. This way, you should find that you can uncover potential areas for collaboration – if they are interested in working with you then they should, in some way, be doing this. However, beware the person who does not ask follow-up questions about what you do. Most often, this indicates that the partnership will be unequal and end in a dreaded ‘rabbit hole’.
Perhaps most importantly of all, don’t think too much (even about the above suggestions!), and treat them as you would an interesting acquaintance. Partners should be treated as partners, and, if done correctly, the conversation will flow naturally. On the off chance it doesn’t, I’ve always found that holding a ‘prop’ that you can use to escape (bottle of beer, a glass of water – whatever available), offers an excellent way out of the conversation should you see it not going anywhere!
There are three main ‘types’ of partnership.
One-offs: These are typically General Partnerships (GPs) with a fixed, short term or time/date-specific run.
Long term: Limited, or Limited Liability Partnerships (LP/LLPs) with fixed terms and agreements.
Event: Similar to one-offs, these partnerships are a more personal and relaxed form of partnership.
So you’ve managed to secure a strong and stable partnership. Great! … Now comes the hard part...
If you want to enjoy consistent benefits from your partnership, you need to evaluate and manage it using the following list of criteria, ideally in a chronological manner:
There is, of course, vastly more to say about partnerships and you will no doubt find your way of managing and dealing with these as and when they occur. Hopefully, this will help guide you when you do.
For more digital and marketing tips, tricks, takeaways and advice, take a look at the Buzzbar blog. For marketing help - including partnerships advice - of a different type, get in touch and book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our specialists.