Going into business doesn’t have to mean going it alone.
Some small and medium enterprise owners get so bogged down with daily responsibilities, or staying one step ahead of the competition, they miss the opportunities right in front of them.
Instead of competing, building relationships in business could be more beneficial for building your brand.
The rise of the sharing economy and the constant evolution of digital technology have made collaborations and relationship-building easier than ever.
And with recent statistics revealing only four in 10 Australian businesses are still trading after three years, it’s never too early to get started.
So who should you build relationships with? And how?
Perhaps the biggest mistake people make in business is thinking of marketing as self promotion.
Effective marketing is never based on blatant advertising, price point, or listing all the bells and whistles of what you have to sell. In fact, it’s not about you at all.
When we meet someone at a party or go on a first date, we (hopefully) don’t just sit there and talk about ourselves. If we do, it probably won’t end well.
In an ideal scenario, we ask questions, get to know the other person and then identify our similarities and differences, how we fit into that picture, and what we can bring to the relationship.
Customer romance should be exactly the same. Whether you’re in the B2B or B2C sector, your marketing efforts should always seek to build relationships with your customers, so you can show them not only why they need what you have to offer, but also why they want it specifically from you.
Partnerships and collaborations
Getting your brand seen is one of the biggest challenges for any new business.
But your brand could leverage off a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship with an established business that shares a similar customer base.
Business relationships look different for everyone but might include:
- Collaborating with another business from a complementary field to create a new product, service or event that you can’t deliver alone. For example, a nutritionist might collaborate with a naturopath and a yoga instructor to offer a health retreat. They will gain exposure to each other’s health-oriented customers, without competing.
- Partnering with a business of a different expertise can add value for your clients and increase your sales. A graphic designer might sub-contract their services to a marketing agency or copywriter, creating a relationship with mutual benefits for both parties and their clients.
- Networking with other brands by offering product samples or discounts to share with their customers. An online wine retailer might consider offering a discount code as a free gift for customers of a women’s clothing retailer or cosmetics brand.
The most successful business relationships are mutually beneficial, and increase exposure to an engaged and relevant audience.
Modern business relationships come in many forms – and one of the most popular methods we see today is the rise of the influencer.
Influencer marketing has been largely driven by the rise of social media, giving brands a limitless global platform to reach a large and engaged audience.
But they get someone else to do the talking for them. A bit like a ‘wing man’ on the dance floor!
Celebrities, athletes, bloggers, Instagrammers, other businesses and events can all be potential influencers.
The key is to identify someone or something that’s already popular with your target market – then get them to introduce you.
Influencer marketing is popular with fashion, cosmetics, travel and health brands, with some paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to be featured in a single Instagram post.
But influencer marketing doesn’t have to be costly. There are still plenty of blogs, websites, publications and events willing to promote brands that align with them if they they have something genuinely beneficial to offer their followers.
Sometimes providing a free sample or goodie bag is all it takes! Start the conversation, and see where it leads.
Love thy neighbour
Some small businesses have taken a hit from online shopping and international retail giants.
But there is a vibrant and growing ‘buy local’ movement, supported by councils, business groups and town-proud shoppers.
Instead of competing against each other, local business can reap the rewards of banding together for everything from promotional shopping events to community fundraisers.
Building solid relationships with neighbouring businesses can open the door to new collaboration opportunities, media exposure and more customers.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?
A positive mindset is essential in business so it’s important not to get weighed down by competitor analysis.
But occasionally peering over your shoulder can be beneficial for knowing what the competition is doing, how their own relationships are fairing, and where your business sits in comparison.
It also pays to keep a close eye on any nasty ‘exes’ – those competitors or customers with an axe to grind. The instant nature of social media requires proactive brand protection and damage control measures.
Maybe a business relationship went sour, someone had a poor experience, left a damaging review online, or they just like causing trouble. Whatever the case, you can’t afford to ignore your enemies in the business world.
Recent statistics show 44% of Australian social media users read business reviews on Facebook, and six in 10 will base their purchase decision on those reviews.
So it’s important to monitor reviews, respond to both positive and negative feedback, and report fake or damaging reviews to Facebook to have them removed from your page.