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Pros of partnering

How does a small company act like a big one? By building relationships with other businesses to increase sales for all. It's called partnering, and it's the most important success strategy in business today.

If you've recently received a marketing piece from a professional association or an offer from a major credit card company, that's partnering in action. The association or bank offers you a group of services delivered via a network of partners that provide everything from reduced rates on rental cars and long-distance services to life insurance.

Partnership marketing is the new survival strategy for entrepreneurs, too. With the number of new businesses on the rise nationwide, there's increasing competition for market share in every sector. By wooing marketing partners that successfully sell products or services to your target customers, you can expand your business and create a big-company image while sharing marketing tasks and expenses. Beyond the cost savings, you'll also gain access to valuable resources, such as qualified prospect lists and the support of larger, more experienced marketing partners.

Here are four ways partnering strategies can help you build your new business.

1. Launch a new product or service. Say you've developed a new product or service and want to launch it nationally, but don't have millions of dollars to do it on your own. Why not partner with a major association or corporation that's already marketing to the same target audience?

Suppose you've created a revolutionary Web-design product for entrepreneurs that's simple and affordable. If you partner with a small-business association, a financial services company that targets small businesses nationally, or even one of the top five long-distance carriers, both sides benefit. You assist them by adding value to the group of products and services they offer. Meanwhile, your product becomes part of their national marketing program, so you get access to a huge prospect base, wide exposure for your new product and expert marketers to put the program together. (Not to mention, you save millions!)

2. Test a new market. The right marketing partners can help you test a variation of an existing product on an entirely new market or market segment. Say your company sells sports apparel for school teams and you decide to test-market bomber jackets with vintage sports-car emblems, targeted at adult sports-car enthusiasts. Rather than attack this new market on your own, you could partner with associations or businesses that sell related products to sports-car drivers and test-market your bomber jackets to their customers at a special price. Your company would gain access to qualified prospects for the new product, get quick feedback (whether good or bad) on the test-marketing effort, and save a lot of money.

3. Widen your prospect base. One of the best ways for start-ups to expand without adding overhead is to partner with companies or people offering complementary services. You'll often see an advertising copywriter teaming with an art director to offer full-service advertising development. Together, they have access to a wider range of prospects and can bill for their work on a project basis, rather than hourly, increasing their incomes. They can also combine their marketing efforts, reducing the amount of time each of them has to spend individually marketing his or her services.

4. Expand your business geographically.What happens when a medical billing service in Los Angeles partners with similar businesses in Dallas, Chicago and Boston? They establish relationships that allow them to share resources and expertise. At the same time, they create a nationwide company image. With this type of partnering, each business can choose to keep its own corporate culture and client base, or the companies can blend into a single, larger entity.

Take, for example, the graphic designer from Washington, DC, who had three full-time employees and a thriving business. When she got engaged to a New Yorker, she needed a way to start a new life there without giving up her growing business. She succeeded by partnering with a graphic design firm in New York City, collaborating with them and working from their offices two days a week. Within a year, she had full-time offices in both cities.

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Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.
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