From small businesses, one of the most frequent questions I get asked about is how to partner with larger businesses and brands. So, to de-mystify this process, we have asked the CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to share their best tips for effectively partnering with larger businesses and brands. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. Make it Short and Sweet!
I've found that when most people try to land brand partnerships, they send long, drawn-out emails and media kits. These don't work very well. What does work? A one page summary of why you want to work with them and proof that you can send them business. If you have any information that can prove to them you can send traffic that converts, make sure they see it.
2. Value to Whom?
When considering any partnership, the question that should be front and foremost is who is this partnership valuable to & what problem does it solve?
If it only benefits you & only solves your problem, it will never happen.
Partnerships are built on mutual gain. It is about the sum being more valuable than the parts & understanding what you can do to help a larger brand more effectively communicate their value than they could without you.
Now that you have figured that out, communicate!
3. The Financial ROI Pitch
Learn the financial metrics about the large business in terms of how they generate revenue and what percent of revenues they spend on sales, marketing, R&D, Customer Support, etc. For companies that are public, you can learn a lot from their investor presentations that they provide on their investor relations page. Then, financially demonstrate how the cost of your product will increase revenue or decrease expenses to create a financial ROI. This shows the company you know their business.
4. SBA Mentor-Protégé Program
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is an overlooked asset to entrepreneurs. The Mentor-Protégé program is a business development arrangement whereby a large company acts as a coach and provides the protégé with various types of business assistance. In many cases, the mentors and protégés form a joint venture relationship to pursue one or more Government contracts.
5. Become the Media Others Need
When I managed social media for Fairtrade America, we produced Twitter parties called #FairtradeChat. While many brands struggled for engagement, our numbers were growing due largely to the popularity of this chat. We were able to leverage this tool to partner with larger, socially-aware organizations like Unicef. Because we offered these groups a chance to easily share their message (in this case, ending trafficking), we became the media outlet. In turn, our following and engagement grew.
6. What They Want and More
When pitching to partner with large businesses or brands, go the extra mile and give them what they want and more (as long as you can provide it and it's not a burden to you). They will be delighted to work with you, as you will have demonstrated the good will to give them something extra up front. As I was partnering once with a prominent New York organization, I decided to create a New York local team so that we could ensure everyone was familiar with NY. It worked and I won a 3-year contract!
7. In the Know Before You Go
Before partnering with a big brand, it is imperative to be prepared. KNOW what you want out of the partnership (other than the big bucks!) and what your expertise is in. When you can approach a big brand with a specific request in mind that matches your expertise, you are uniquely positioned to assure it aligns with their goals. Then, the conversation and relationship can begin with clarity. Continue working on the relationship with persistence and clarity, showing how you provide a solution.
8. Get On (& Stay On) Their Radar
Be the one that comes to mind when larger orgs have a need you can fill. Let folks know you're looking to network (including staff). Recently, our accountant told us about a grant available to small businesses that hire a number of local workers. We applied & won. The mayor heard and visited our facility. This lead to press that we shared socially, which lead to people learning our blankets are US-made. By getting on the city's radar & being easy to work with, we formed a beneficial partnership.
9. Corporations are People Too
Business relationships matter, even when you’re trying to break into a larger company. To stand out, be creative in your approach. One friend of mine finally got a lunch appointment with a busy executive after shipping him a box of peanut butter, jelly and bread. She then landed a multi-year contract.
10. Climb Aboard But Avoid Sinking
It's been said if your partner is not working as hard as you are, you don't have a partnership--you have a sinking ship. Before you climb on board, make your proposal to a potential partner alluring (for example, cite how many followers/existing customers you already have, cite awards you've received, present links to favorable press or quote a major industry figure who endorses you). If they extend a partnership, be certain to specify in writing the obligations each of you will fulfill.
Thanks to: Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D..
11. Learn to Play Golf
Decide on which company you would like to associate with. Then, find out which golf course the Directors play golf at and go and play golf there, making sure that you meet and start chatting with the Directors. Friendship is the answer to getting your small business noticed.
12. What Can You Do to Help Them
If you are a little fish and you want to partner with a big fish, you must be very strategic. You need to fill some white space that you can help them! It’s a “what can you do for them, not what they can do for you”. How can you help them accomplish what they don't already do? If you help them in the short term, they will help you in the long term.
Christopher Carter of Approyo
13. Be Creative in Your Pitch
The big brands have seen all the popular ideas. Unless you're a massive brand yourself, your reach isn't what separates you from the pack. To land effective partnerships with larger brands, you need to come up with creative strategies they've never heard of before in the hopes it sparks their interest. Brainstorm ideas with other businesses in your niche and see if you can come up with combination deals where the brand can get much greater reach working through one point of contact (you!).
14. Always Give More Than You Take
In order to land major partnerships, you must demonstrate that you can help the other person. You do this by helping them in the beginning, before you ask for anything. You can do this by performing a simple task for them, giving them something valuable or solving some problem in their lives. This will get you on their radar. From there, it's all about over-delivering.
15. Meetings: Life's Poker Matches
We built a partnership with our local Whole Foods as their first mental health partner in Austin, TX. We met with them & it was just like a poker match. I had to assess my "opponents", I had to understand their value system, their needs, & so on. In our case, the decision maker turned out to be a bright doctor who was focused uniquely on finding substance & didn't care for the marketing fodder. So, I augmented my initial "pitch" to appeal to the doctor's personality & we got the contract!
William Schroeder, LPC, NCC of Just Mind
16. Take the Plunge First
If you're trying to work with a company that's significantly larger than you, send them some business first. Selling your no-name-to-them business is far easier when you can include a section that reads something like, "You've probably noticed the high-converting traffic we've sent over the past two weeks." Solicitation emails promise the moon, so working from a position of performed-action to start makes you immediately relevant, regardless of the stage of your company's development.
17. Identify Something They Missed
Small companies have well-known advantages, such as creativity, passion and fresh ideas. Large companies have well-known weaknesses such as bureaucracy, and old systems and technology that needs updating.
If you can find something that you can offer to improve their business, that's an easy intro. It's even worth making a deal to work cheaply or for free if you're convinced that it'll lead to trust and ongoing contracts.
Think: What's the one thing that is broken or could be improved?
18. Know Who You're Pitching to!
Understanding company dynamics is a big part of landing any partnership, and bigger businesses and brands are no exception. In fact, larger companies, especially those with brand-specific focuses, often have large budgets spread across multiple teams, who often work in isolation of each other. Knowing who you're reaching out to and what their team specifically does and can control is a huge help. There's no point in pitching an idea to someone who isn't in the position to accept.
19. David & Goliath - Art of Niche
My business partnership advice is:
“Be unique and know your niche and do not be afraid to send out a sparkler email to a contact at the larger one you want to partner with that gives a teaser about how your small enterprise can help their bigger one.”
I have partnered with organizations bigger than me a few times and found that by framing your capabilities in light of how they can help the larger firm be nimble and flexible (or appear to be) is a sure way to connect and help each other.
20. What's In It 4 Your Partner?
Ask yourself how the partnership will benefit *them* and phrase your query to focus on those aspects. I wrote a letter for an unknown self-published author in her 80s offering three ways she could help a famous director who was doing a movie about an experience she'd lived through. They actually reshot a scene based on her advice. As a profitability consultant for green/social entrepreneurship businesses--and author of Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, I do this frequently for my clients.
21. Start Small, Build It Up
As the founder of Pro Business Plans, I’ve formed dozens of strategic partnerships with big brands. Based on my experience, if one of your people doesn’t know someone, it’s best to find a way to get acquainted and build the relationship over time. People run big brands, they’re afraid of losing their jobs over you, so you build trust over time that other big brands have in their name.
22. Focus on What's Needed
We saw a need to connect businesses for collaboration & best practice sharing to support local economic development. We then built a partnership with our public access TV station, Montgomery Community Media, & created “Small Business Network”. It’s now one of our County’s most respected business gatherings. Our success has attracted sponsors like M&T Bank & a recent program afforded me the chance to interview Sodexo, Freddie Mac, & McCormick & Company supplier diversity leaders.
23. Outreach, Outreach, Outreach
The one tip that seems super obvious, but almost NO ONE does, is to personally reach out to people. This doesn't mean finding their contact info and faking some praise about a blog they wrote. I mean genuinely just reaching out to influencers over email, twitter, or linkedin and saying "You came highly recommended as a follow on twitter, just wanted to say hi". A simple message like this goes a long way to convincing people, brands, and companies that you aren't some spammy company.
24. Trust to Partnerships
The one key attribute to success is to build trust within the organization that you want to partner. Say yes to any small project opportunities to build your relationships and that can lead to 30 years of success as is the case for our small construction management company that has been fully embedded in local educational institutions and municipalities in San Diego. Organizations that trust you will continue to expand their offerings.
25. Do Your Legwork!
Running giveaways with larger brands can be very successful because it allows your brand to leverage their audience. The tough part is getting those brands to be interested in participating in a giveaway with you (the smaller brand). What I've found to be successful is to offer to put forth all the legwork on the giveaway. This can include handling all of the necessary photography, graphic design, and even shipping out the giveaway products to the winners (if doing physical products).
26. Emphasize the Personal Touch
Try to engage with executives on a personal level. Through my experience at several trade shows, I've had a few commissions from larger businesses and they've all come from striking up a conversation with an executive or higher-up. The appeal of doing business with a smaller company is the personal touch, so engage them about what your personal touch entails and be enthusiastic about your business.
27. Solve A Problem, Add Value!
My one best tip for landing effective partnerships with bigger businesses and brands is bring added value. Be different. Ask for the referral.
My specialty is revenue recovery for government agencies, IT and Telecom companies. I recovered $7.5 Million dollars in a year for a government agency. For example, I was just referred to work with Elias L. Rodriguez President/CEO of Loui Consulting Group to add value to his team by recovering unused money for the federal government.
28. Be Selective
Before I embark on a new partnership, I thoroughly research the company to determine if there's good cohesion. I review the target company’s website, published material, social media, reviews, & former employee experiences. After vetting the company, I do similar research on the decision-maker. Once I’ve established that the company has the potential to be a good match, I begin my courtship. This ensures that new business relationships are not only fruitful, but more importantly, enjoyable.
29. It's Not Always About You
Focus on the company that you are reaching out to. Often times, people get so caught up with what they can do to work with larger brands or how they can sell themselves better. They forget it can be as simple as listening to what the brand needs.
Anytime we reach out to brands we want to work with, our goal is to set up a call with them to find out what their goals are. Once I know what their pain points are, I can then tailor my pitch to best fit their needs.
30. A Unique Partnership Hack
Find out which other brands cater to the same audience that you do and then reach out to them to offer a discount to their customers.
Example: While working on an auto care company's SEO, we reached out to car leasing companies and car insurance companies and offered them a discount.
This meant they mentioned our URL and other details on their site, which resulted in SEO benefits, along with referral traffic and sales.
Syed Irfan Ajmal of Ridester
31. Treat'em Like Family
I treat my partners like family and make myself a useful part of their team. My approach to everything is how may I be of service? I make sure I'm easy to work with. I solve my own customer problems. I build cohesive relationships by celebrating common wins. I create loyalty and I buy lunch, as it's one of the best ways for all of us to connect. The objective of bigger businesses and brands is to spread their message, maintain their credibility and make customers happy. I make my partners look good!