Business Alliances – Strategy For Small Business Growth

Business alliances are often overlooked or not given much consideration by small businesses, yet they can be vital in helping a company grow and prosper. All too often, small businesses think alliances are just for big businesses; as a result, they neither explore nor pursue them. However, they can be just as beneficial for small businesses as they are for large corporations. If a small business is serious about gaining access to new markets, capitalizing on technology, growing profits using shared resources, they should consider a business alliance.

It’s no secret, businesses that share resources can create greater efficiencies and become more profitable. Business alliances can increase synergies and mitigate potential risk, while allowing companies to work together toward common goals as they maintain their individuality. There are several types of business alliances, each with its unique attributes.

Now is the time to assess what your business brings to the table. What assets, either tangible or intangible, does your business possess that when leveraged with another company can unlock greater potential for each business?

Alliance opportunities can be developed with suppliers, customers, investors, complementary businesses and friendly competitors. Some alliances are natural matches, while others require some creative thinking. I’ve listed the different types of alliances below, along with a description and example of each. When reading through them, think about how your business can create the benefits of a win-win proposition with another company.

JOINT VENTURE

A joint venture is a contractual arrangement whereby a separate entity is created to carry on a trade or business on its own, separate from the core business of the participating companies. Businesses often come together to share knowledge, markets, funds and profits. In some cases, a large company can decide to form a joint venture with a smaller business in order to quickly acquire critical intellectual property, technology, or resources otherwise hard to obtain. Companies with identical products and services can also join forces to penetrate markets they wouldn’t or couldn’t consider without investing a tremendous amount of resources. Separation is often inevitable because JVs generally have a limited life and purpose.

Example: You’ve developed a product but have a limited distribution base. Another company has the distribution system in place with a sizable market and wants to expand its company’s product offerings. You form a joint venture with the other company to jointly promote the product. It’s a win-win because you don’t have to fund the costs of reaching the potential customers and the other company expands its value and product offering to its current distribution base without having to fund the research and development costs of a new product. A contract would be signed detailing the aspects of the agreement.

STRATEGIC ALLIANCE

A strategic alliance is generally an arrangement whereby a separate entity is not created. Participants engage in joint activities but do not create an entity that would carry on trade or business on its own. The strategic alliance partners may provide resources such as products, distribution channels, manufacturing capabilities, capital equipment, knowledge, expertise, or intellectual property. Each party in the alliance maintains autonomy.

Example: A business management consultant wants to expand his services. He currently offers coaching, marketing, financial and operational consulting. He has noticed an increase demand for HR and diversity consulting from his clientele. He currently has no desire to hire additional personnel with the degrees and certifications required to offer these services. He seeks a strategic alliance with a HR and diversity consulting firm. The new firm agrees to work with his firm when opportunities arise for their services and a percentage of the revenue generated from the services provided will be returned to his firm.

PARTNERSHIP

A partnership is a legal agreement between two parties wherein both the parties agree to share profits and losses of a common business with no anticipated end date.

Example: A company whose primary function is to sell ads and produce unique coupon circulars to promote a variety of small businesses to the residential community had a substantial printing bill monthly. The company sought a partnership with a small printing company. The printing company had the expertise but limited printing volume. It required purchasing equipment that the printer didn’t have but saw a need for. A contract was signed establishing the new company; cost of the equipment was split between the two entities. The coupon circular producer sent all its business to the new venture at a substantial discount. The profits from the new venture were divided among the coupon circular company and the printing company. Each kept their original businesses separate from the new business.

MARKETING ALLIANCE

A marketing alliance is an agreement involving two or more companies to share cost and resources to promote each of the companies within the group. The target markets of the companies within the alliance usually share similar characteristics. The alliance can be a formal or an informal agreement.

Example: A group of locally owned and operated restaurants band together to form a marketing alliance. The alliance, similar to groups throughout the nation, promotes the uniqueness of their cuisines in an effort to stand out against the national chains. The group pools their resources to run ads and produce a direct mail guide to promote their menus, while offering discounts. They pay an upfront fee and then contribute several hundred dollars in gift certificates every quarter. Those certificates are sold online at a discount to help fund their marketing efforts. Donating gift certificates help keep the cost down for the participating restaurateurs.

COLLABORATION

A collaboration is when two or more businesses come together to share resources to create greater efficiencies such as the sharing of employees, equipment, shipping cost, rent, products and etc. Collaborations are generally for specific time periods and resources.

Example: As a small business you may have a difficult time throwing a first class holiday party for your employees. You want to show them just how much they are appreciated but the economy is tight and company funds are even tighter. Pooling your resources to have a party with a complementary company, saves money for both companies and could potentially pay off in new business opportunities and networking.

Managing the Alliances

Each company should bring a balance set of strengths to the alliance but there are other considerations as well. You must manage the alliance to ensure it contributes to the success of each company. Listed below are few of the things you should consider to produce a successful alliance:

1. Alliances should be made with the decision maker. You must have the support and commitment from the business owner and not just a manager.

2. Communication is a key ingredient. Clearly communicate the goals and objectives of the alliance in the beginning.

3. Develop the metrics the alliance will be measured against. Determine how the performance of each of the companies will be measured.

4. Allocate proper resources to the alliance. Don’t get half way through the project before you determine the proper resources were not allocated to the venture.

5. Ensure that all participating employees are committed to the success of the alliance. You need buy-in from everyone involved, not just a few select people.

6. Detail the responsibilities of each of the participating companies. Be explicit in what the expectations are for each of the companies in the alliance.

7. Just like all things, nothing is perfect. Be prepared to make changes if something is not working.

8. Stay committed and focused on the benefits of the alliance rather than the inconveniences the alliance may cause.

Each party must benefit from the alliance for it to be successful. Otherwise, like a marriage, the relationship will go from honeymoon to divorce court quickly and all parties will suffer.

Effective Search Engine Optimization Strategies For the Small Business Owner

Consider This:

  • Internet Advertising Reaches $5.5 Billion in First Quarter
  • There are now 1.5 BILLION people online (210 million on Facebook alone)
  • Your customers have changed the way the shop and buy. Have you changed your strategy?

For small business owners the Internet has proved to be extremely beneficial. Unlike traditional forms of broadcast marketing the Internet provides several advantages that help small businesses reach more potential customers. Often referred to as “non-interruptive,” or “inbound” marketing, internet marketing does not require interrupting your potential customers to get you message across. Quite the opposite actually, search engine marketing is reaching out to those already looking for you!

While traditional advertising requires organizations to spend thousands of dollars on branding and promotional activities, online advertising and effective search engine optimization (SEO) yield better results and can be achieved with a much smaller investment. Moreover, results achieved online offer more lasting benefits than conventional promotions and your return is measurable.

More than 83% of people searching for goods and services begin their search online. Therefore, if a small business can attract just a fraction of these potential customers to its website and convert then into buyers it will increase its revenues significantly.

Internet marketing, which includes SEO and SEM, requires formulating and implementing effective strategies to draw more targeted traffic that can eventually be converted into customers. Although every business must optimize their websites in the search engines, for an e-commerce website it is an ‘absolute must’. An e-commerce site is a website specifically built for the purpose of transacting business online.

Small business enterprises engaged in e-commerce face fierce competition today. To stay ahead of the competition they need to be visible to their audience and quickly draw the attention of prospective customers.

Ranking higher in the search engines is the first major task, followed by a successful branding/PR campaign. Internet marketing is a direct response medium. Branding is important, but improving your site popularity and getting more visitors to your landing pages is much more crucial in the beginning.

For a small business owner to achieve her highest and best return on investment, it is crucial to first formulate a strategy before starting an internet marketing campaign.

Only after a well thought out strategy and budget are in place should you then move forward with your SEO and SEM marketing plan. Never has it been more important to “measure twice, cut once”.

“Internet Marketing Is Your Future. If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” –General Eric Shineski, former Chief of Staff, US Army

 
5 Steps to Online Marketing Success:

1. Know your Audience. This is the most important task since your entire internet marketing campaign is directed towards your niche audience. If you fail to know your audience you will target the wrong people and subsequently lose business. Keeping your ear to the ground and doing a little research will help you find the right strategy and make good decisions from the outset.

2. Set a Goal. Unless you have a well-defined goal, you won’t have any direction. As Tony Robbins writes, “it is no use climbing to the top of the ladder only to find out your ladder is leaning against the wrong house.”

Once you have your goals clear and know your desired outcome you can choose the optimal amount of resources and channel your efforts in the right direction. The budget for small business marketing can be estimated once the goal is set.

Goal Setting Questions to Answer before you begin:

1. How many visitors do I need to get to my site to reach my financial goals? How many am I getting now? * What is a good “Click Through Rate” for my industry? * Are my website pages, products and services properly optimized on my site before I begin an off site campaign? * What should I consider a successful return on investment? * What percentage of my online marketing plan will be “organic,” or natural and what percentage will be paid search (i.e. Google AdWords PPC)? This is an extremely important question to consider as it will determine the specific internet marketing initiatives you will take. See number 3.

2. Select the right SEO techniques. There are several SEO techniques that will prove helpful for your internet marketing efforts. A mix of various techniques is necessary to have a balanced SEO campaign. Basic SEO will include a balanced combination of Niche Directory Submissions, Social Media Marketing, On Page optimization through effective Meta title and description tags, great SEO content, a working internal link structure and a site map to name just a few.

Other important techniques include link building campaigns and excellent Press Release and article marketing strategies.

3. Very important, don’t forget to monitor your competition! Google your keyword search terms and see who ranks highest for your competition. Then, review their sites in detail to see what you can learn.  What are they doing that you are not?  How is their site different from yours? What keywords do you notice are being used the most?

Figure out what’s working for them and where can you make changes to your strategy to achieve similar results. Hint: Use Alexa and other traffic/competitive measurement tools to check up on your competition.

4. Measure the Results. Without measuring the results and properly analyzing how your website is performing you won’t know if your marketing efforts are bringing positive results.

However, keep in mind it can sometimes take 3 to 6 months to get tangible results from an organic online advertising and marketing campaign. Measuring the results periodically will help you identify if anything is wrong in your strategy or if you need to intensify your campaign.

Keep what works, change what doesn’t. Simple

5. Make proper adjustments. After measuring your results to determine what’s working and what’s not you will need to make adjustments. Again, internet marketing is a direct response medium and A/B testing is crucial for success.

Make changes to improve your results. This will be an ongoing process, not a one time deal. Google, Yahoo and even the smaller search engines continually change their search algorithms. So, what worked one month may not work as well the next month. Simple testing and making minor adjustments when needed will keep you ahead of the curve.

Now, more than ever you need to have an effective Internet Marketing campaign in place. Traditional advertising continues to lose market share while online marketing continues to grow at a staggering pace.

21st Century Marketing: The Rules Have Changed. Selling to people who actually want to hear from you is more effective than interrupting strangers who don’t.”
 
Seth Godin, International NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen marketing books.  

If you’re not making excellent use of your online opportunities, I can assure you that your competition is or soon will be. Stay on top of your game by following the ideas outlined in this article lead your company to new heights this year.

Before You Launch Your Small Business, Read This

People start small businesses for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps, they have a passion for something and wish to share that passion with the world. Maybe, they are stuck in a job they feel will lead them nowhere, and they have a great desire to escape it. Many people want to be their own boss- to set their own hours and do their own thing. Others see a need for a particular item or service and decide that they are the perfect person to fill the vacuum. Oftentimes, people just desire a change in life and figure that a career switch and a small business launch is just the thing to fulfill that wish.

Whatever the reason that you might be considering undertaking such a venture, you would be wise to first take some time to plan out the launch of your small business. Nothing would forecast failure to your project more than a lack of proper planning and preparation. Take the time now, and you will not regret it later!

First, explore the small business resources available in your area to gain some invaluable help in putting together a business plan, applying for loans, and other essential tasks. Your local chamber of commerce, library, and bank are all good places to start with. Each of the above would most certainly offer some sort of small business help in the form of literature and classes or seminars. They would also potentially have people experienced in small business growth who would be willing to mentor you through the process.

Then take time to search out any competition you will have. Depending on the type of business you wish to start, that competition may be limited to local stores and companies. However, your competition may also be found elsewhere. The internet has opened up whole new worlds for businesses that were formerly limited to a certain mile radius of customers. Find out who your competitors are, and if possible, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Investigate their costs. Do your research as to how much it will cost you in supplies and overhead to provide those goods and services. Figure out what your profit margin will be, making sure to find a way that you will be able to make a good profit.

Be certain that you understand as much as possible the market you are trying to launch your small business in. Take time to ascertain the problems that will most certainly arise and prepare beforehand, strategies to deal with them. Get advice from others who have gone before you – learn from their mistakes. Figure out a way that you can bring something new to the table – be unique in the goods or services you will be offering. Give your customers a reason to choose YOU over your competition.

Proper planning and preparation will do more for the success of a small business launch than anything else so take the time beforehand for it and you will always be glad you did!