Business Development 101: Leveraging Partnerships For Mutual Benefit

Sneak Peek: Learn to forge strategic partnerships with other people and businesses to genuinely benefit both sides.


What does business development mean?

Business development encompasses the processes needed to implement growth within and in concert with other organizations. It is the foundation of business and commerce.

The question is – do you want incremental (slow and steady) or monumental growth (leaps and bounds)? Timing is everything, but if you’re ready to turn up the volume and feel confident in your ability to handle more business, it’s time to look at further developing your best business relationships and strategically courting new ones.

Sometimes our instincts encourage us to keep to ourselves—it can be a little scary to reach out to others, especially when it comes to asking them to do things for us.

But, creating strategic partnerships is a crucial part of business because it can create massive momentum and velocity. Leveraging partnerships can open doors that otherwise would have taken years of knocking just to see the door barely crack open. When you are introduced into someone’s world, their business relationships now become your network. You have the opportunity to double (or more) your network by developing one single relationship!

Cold vs. warm markets…

While many of us have companies and leaders in the industry we would LOVE to partner with, it’s simply not realistic. We’re not suggesting in any way to think small, but make sure your business development goals are within reach or you may be waiting for something to happen for a very long time. Just think about how many times Apple gets hit up each week!

To gain momentum fast, never start in a cold market where you have no relationships. Instead, think of who you already know and how a new or already existing business arrangement could be mutually beneficial.

For example: Let’s say you are a wedding planner. A very natural (and obvious) next step is to partner with your favorite florists and caterers. So you set up meetings and exchange information, agreeing to support and send referrals to one another.

But this is where most people stop. We want you to go beyond this initial step.

How can you ensure those referrals come to you? First, make sure you’re sending your clients on to them. But also consider further monetary rewards for doing so. Perhaps you offer to create full service packages for VIP clients and negotiate a 25% kick back from the florist and caterer. They didn’t have do anything to land the client – you already did that for them! You simply wrote them into the package.

See how this works?

Another example is guest blogging. You can approach key influencers in your industry who compliment your business (not compete with it). Offer to write them an exclusive Top 10 list or another piece of valuable content to post on their blog. Make sure you spend time working on your pitch and clearly articulate how it will be a great value to their readers.

How to approach prospective business partnerships…

Make it go both ways. Remember that while your business may still be in startup, you still have something valuable to offer others. The trick is to clearly identify your value to the world so you don’t always feel like you’re taking from others or riding on their coat tails.

It’s even more important to remember to LEAD with “what can I do for you?” rather than “what can you do for me?” This approach not only softens the approach of talking to another business or person, it truly opens the door by using the very disarming “how may I serve you?” attitude—without initial expectation of “returning favors.”

What we begin to learn when we reach out and create partnerships is we never should’ve been so insistent about staying to ourselves in the first place.

Start using business expansion strategy through low risk opportunities.

Business growth and expansion needs to be done with care, especially in the early stages of developing relationships. The reality is sometimes business partnerships don’t work out quite the way you had envisioned. To avoid a really bad breakup and potential legal situation, start with something very low risk to test the waters.

For example: Let’s say you’re a stylist and you have a client who is in need of a wardrobe for a photoshoot. Rather than take the client shopping at several stores, you decide to test out going to your favorite boutique a friend owns and rolling out the red carpet. When you and your client arrive, the boutique owner already has a special space dedicated just for the two of you to work with some clothing selections that haven’t even been offered to the public yet.

Your client is blown away by the care and consideration that have gone into creating the perfect image. She buys three outfits and doesn’t think twice about paying a higher boutique price because she has loved the experience. She leaves feeling confident, ready and excited for her photo shoot, and tells three friends of her experience in the next week, one of whom becomes an immediate client.

There were three winners in this scenario – your client, your boutique-owning friend and you!

If you can work in conjunction with your network to create mutually beneficial relationships that yield greater results than you could have done separately, you know it’s a homerun and potential for more greatness.

Business Development 101 Action Plan

Identify your business partners: who they are, how you can deliver them value and how to connect with them.

To-Do #1: Make a list of possible partners.

You’ll want to begin by listing out all possible partners. In fact, it’s even better to start with two lists:

  1. Partners I can help (by adding value).
  2. Partners who can help me.

Move forward first with partners that you find landing on both lists. In most cases, almost all will overlap but making two lists will be a good exercise in thinking through how to pitch mutual benefits to the potential partner when that time comes.

To-Do #2: Make a list of SPECIFIC ways you can benefit each business partner (don’t start with how THEY can benefit YOU).

Start with something very simple and tangible for each potential partner. How can you make life easier for someone else? What can you do better together than alone?

Some examples would include proposing:

  • Ways you could help improve a process.
  • Methods for saving time and/or money.
  • Technology that would simplify delivery of products or services.
  • Tips that would improve content.
  • Ways to spread the word more effectively, create more referrals and make more sales.

To-Do #3: Reach out.

When you get to this step, it’s important to remember to be creative. “Just a phone call” is something any potential partner can do. Think of a memorable way to drop by and/or mail something. You may be surprised at the impact a fairly simple but creative tactic can have.

Additionally, if you can get an intro from a mutual acquaintance or connect with your potential partner on LinkedIn first, these are guaranteed ways to warm up the connection just a bit for when you do reach out and ask how you can help them.

To-Do #4: Follow up.

In today’s digital world, it’s always nice to try to connect in person or over the phone. Hearing someone’s voice or seeing their face just adds a personal touch you can’t get via email, text message, Facebook, Twitter and other high-tech mediums.

Having said that, it’s also not always possible to follow up in this way. Do what you can, and get creative! As mentioned above, memorable direct mail packages never hurt anything: reiterate your value as much you can in as many different ways as possible.

To-Do #5: Be pleasantly persistent.

In this stage, don’t even worry too much about being annoying, as most of us instinctively would never let ourselves push that far anyhow. The worst things anyone could ever tell you would be “no” or “go away forever.” If you hear either of those phrases… hey, it’s their loss. 🙂

To-Do #6: Stay ever-open to creative ways to expand your network.

It’s best to never totally rule out any partnership until you’ve really thought it through. It takes a village to run a great business and to keep growing, so definitely always be on the lookout for strategic partnerships you could add to your network.