From the September 2004 issue of Startups

There are many different levels of business partnerships-from your interactions with vendors and investors to dealings you have with your landlord. These relationships may begin because of convenience, but very few evolve into long-lasting partnerships. Strategic alliances make it easier to achieve success; their common elements are trust, goal sharing and a good personality fit.

Entrepreneurs are often too selective when they choose who to talk to about their businesses, missing wonderful opportunities. A woman who started a bridal shop did not want to appear to be constantly "selling" to family members, so she decided not to mention her business to them. A cousin stopped in the store, loved it, and told everyone. Strategic alliance income from friends and family now generates more than 20 percent of the store's sales.

Many entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable speaking about their businesses; they don't want to appear to be begging for sales. They forget a basic rule to achieving success: People are there to help; let them. And if they do not volunteer help, move on. This rule includes family!

To develop relationships that can be built into strategic alliances and continuing referral sources:

1. Stop wondering "What is the other person going to think of me?" We often pro-ject our insecurities onto others. It's self-sabotage. You won't ever build a successful relationship if you're not vocal about your objectives. When networking, you may think "That person is bored; I need to move on." The goal is simple: Get to know your audience! You want to discover people with whom you can connect. Most people are not judging you-they are just trying to understand you and your business.

2. Introduce yourself first. Everyone is a stranger to your business until they hear about it. Don't start by trying to sell people; it negates the possibility of relationship building. Do mention the main benefit your business offers, such as "I love taking the frustration out of taxes." Sharing your main benefit helps you believe in yourself, and it attracts the right potential partners and allows them to feel comfortable asking questions. If you don't tell someone about your business, you can never create a winning partnership.

3. During the conversation, discover one way you can help the other person. Everyone wants to succeed. Find a way you can assist the other person in achieving his or her goals. Can you introduce them to a new customer, share marketing strategies that worked, or refer a professional who can help them overcome a challenge? If you promise to provide someone with information, write the action step on the back of his or her card and follow up quickly.

4. Establish a time for your next conversation. Relationships and trust are formed through many interactions with a person over time. Don't explain everything about your business the first time you meet someone. Simply ask if he or she would like to share other ideas and contacts at another time. Your ability to reveal more information as trust is gained is a natural course to a great business relationship.

You never know who can help you achieve success. Continue to share ideas and contacts, and you will be rewarded. More important, you will develop "unshakable confidence" in speaking to others about your business.


Speaker and consultant , aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business.