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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.

Warning: Small Business Owners-Before You Advertise, Read This Simple Checklist

If you’re writing advertisements for your business follow these 23 principles to ensure you get maximum return for your advertising dollar.

These 23 advertising ‘rules’ are based on direct response advertising principles from books like ‘Tested Advertising Methods’ by John Caples and ‘Scientific Advertising’ by Claude Hopkins.

1. Have you clearly researched and defined your ideal target market?

2. Have you written your advertisement directed solely to your ‘ideal target market’?

3. Is the marketing piece being placed/sent/posted where your ideal target market will easily see it?

4. Have you calculated how many sales you need to make to make a profit on this advertisement?

5. Have you considered any other ways that you can reach your target market that may be more cost effective for you?

6. Have you made an offer that’s easy for your reader to understand, and irrisistable for them to refuse?

7. Does your headline ‘sing out’ your ‘ideal target market’ so that they know, that your advertisement is written especially for them?

8. Does your headline ‘grab’ your ideal target market’s attention and excite them?

9. Does your headline offer or describe to your target market a major benefit that’s important to them?

10. Have you written your advertisement so that your headline is approximately 5 sizes larger than the body copy font size?

11. Does the body copy of your advertisement naturally continue on from what the headline suggests/says?

12. Through out the body copy, have you continued on with the benefits suggested in your headline, and described more benefits to your target market of using/owning your product/service?

13. Have you focused your writing on what your product/service will do for your target market, rather than just mentioning how good your business is?

14. Have you used ‘sub-headings’ above some paragraphs to allow ‘skim readers’ to get the main thrust of your advertisement, just by reading the sub-headings?

15. If you have included a picture of a person, is the person (or people) positioned so that their shoulders are facing into the body of the advertisement?

16. Have you included a picture that shows the reader what the benefit(s) of buying and using your product/service will be?

17. Have you taken the ‘buying risk’ away from your ideal target market by letting people know that they are safe to buy from you by either including a guarantee and/or using testimonials?

18. Have you used specifics like 5, 7 and 11 in your copy, rather than using generalizations like large, limited or top quality?

19. Have specifically asked your ideal target market to call, buy, or in some way take action to contact you in a hurry?

20. Have you included your contact details on your advertisement so it’s clear and easy for readers to contact you, or take action effortlessly?

21. Have you communicated with your staff so that they know when, why and how the advertisement is being published?

22. Have you trained your staff so that they know how to handle incoming calls, e-mails and shoppers when they contact/visit your business?

23. Have you communicated with your staff on how they are to record the results of the advertisement so you can track whether it’s profitable or not?

The above 23 points are pretty comprehensive, and will help you make your advertisements comply with sound direct response advertising principles.

By following them, you can ensure you’ll be closer to creating profitable advertisements for your small business growth.

Small Business Achievement – Thinking Through Pre-Action Not Reaction

You want to be one step ahead. Small business leaders often need to work incredibly hard to maintain everything. Reaction to events is commonplace, but it is pre-action that is truly the way to grow your small business. Pre-action is a great strategy to grow your small business.

Anybody can react to a situation. The truly exceptional people will take positive, preemptive action: pre-action. You want to take action before your competitors. Rather than reacting to market conditions, you want to predict marketing conditions. By taking the correct action before your competition does, you will create a competitive advantage for yourself.

How can you do this? Educate yourself about your industry. Stay knowledgeable about trends. You can do this by doing research yourself, hiring a researcher, or directly asking your clients. Let me provide you an example of how I did this for the creation of my Aspirations book.

I directed my book designer by providing them a general theme for the creation of sample book covers. I really liked one more than the others, but I am market focused. I wanted to create a book cover that people would like. A reactive person would have published a book with a specific book cover, and if it did not work, they would have tried another cover.

I created a simple website and slides of the various samples that I had. I emailed my client and potential clients and had them participate in an online survey. I showed the slide to my business college students and had them comment as well. People appreciated the opportunity to participate in the creation of a book. With their comments I was able to make a pre-action oriented decision.

By substituting pre-action steps for reactive, you are creating a powerful strategy to grow your small business.