A problem shared is a problem halved

Why partnerships are the single fastest way to grow your business in 2021.

Straight up, I can say anyone who wasn’t even a little freaked out by 2020’s rollercoaster is a rarity. And if you’re a business owner, it was likely especially tough. You would have dealt with hurdles, pressure, uncertainty. In the US alone, 92 per cent of small businesses “reinvented” themselves to survive the pandemic.

This year – as the ABS says the Australian economy is set for a rapid recovery amid the vaccine rollout – everyone’s looking to cut costs. And there’s one real secret to doing that. 2021 should be less about reinvention, more about collaboration.

It’s what I call the Spice Girls Syndrome. When they were together, the girl band did great business. As solo acts, they crashed and burned.

Decades of experience have shown me the same principle – doubling up on skills and markets – applies to business. Marketing partnerships are the fastest, most cost-effective pathway to success.

To be clear, partnerships don’t mean permanently hitching your wagon creatively and legally to another business. They see two or more businesses joining forces to create something great, then having the flexibility to step back once the project is done.

“A strong partner sends more traffic to your site, and more eyes on the page means stronger metrics.”

Today, I urge every business to do the same. I’m so passionate about the power of partnerships that I now have a business dedicated to teaching small-business owners how to identify and negotiate their own marketing partnerships.

I’ve used partnerships to slash costs in my business, position it globally, pay for an editor for my first bestseller, catch the media’s eye and even dress me for speaking engagements around the world.

Eight benefits of partnerships

1. Save money

When I started my first business, I needed to build an online community. Paid ads weren’t working. So I found a business with a similar client base that wasn’t a direct competitor.

We teamed up to run a competition – I negotiated two Thermomixes as prizes – and, bingo, my community grew by 7000 in 10 days.

That was a huge revelation. Advertising costs were zero and rewards were concrete and immediate. I took that same principle of strength in numbers, and grew my community to 150,000 without ever spending more than $300 a month on advertising.

2. Position your business

Using marketing partnerships to leverage someone else’s reputation is smart. Back in 2011 when I announced I was launching a group buying site, everyone told me about their bad experiences buying online. Buying off the internet was still new, and I had to gain my audience’s trust fast.

So, I formed a partnership with playgroups around the country. They were seen as trustworthy. They had been around for decades supporting new parents. I negotiated a partnership with the WA Playgroup Association where five per cent of every purchase on my site was donated to a playgroup of purchaser’s choice. This helped playgroups fundraise and showed my community I was reputable. Tick and tick.

3. Get in front of ideal clients

Too often clients say, “I’m too small to approach that big brand”. Some brands love partnering with small business, because of the lack of bureaucracy and the agile ‘[email protected]!t-done’ attitude. Xero and Sendle collaborated with me when I was a newly-formed start-up because I was the conduit to reach a particular audience. Be bold when it comes to your list of potential partners.

4. Boost profits

In 2017, a report found mid-sized Australian companies who use partners more than five times a year stand to make $430,000 in sales uplifts. Consistent partnerships are a way for marketers and brands to land benefits you can’t buy.

5. Build social media communities and your email list

Partnerships mean a classic two-for-the-price-of-one deal – you piggyback onto someone’s else’s community for free. It’s why ‘influencer’ businesswomen like Nadia Bartel and Rebecca Judd frequently collaborate – their individual followers start following the other, and sales of their clothing lines and other products rocket. (Six years after giving up her media ad sales job to start a blog, Bartel now has 569K followers, and ex occupational therapist Judd 828K.)

In 2019, Campaign Monitor reported email is 40 times more effective at landing new customers than Facebook or Twitter. A strong email list and grow your own – customers or visitors who want to receive digital information about your business – is a golden ticket. Email has a high conversion rate and its real estate you own, not just rent. Partnerships give you the chance to access someone else’s established list – it’s a no brainer that could reshape how your business looks almost overnight.

6. Increase site traffic and get more leads

In 2020, global lockdowns made it harder to buy anything in person. That led to a huge uptick in online activity, with IBISWorld projecting online business will increase by 11.1 per cent in 2021. A strong partner sends more traffic to your site, and more eyes on the page means stronger metrics.

7. Become an expert

The media loves finding reputable ‘talking heads’ to comment on issues and products. As well as writing regularly for publications, I act as a content source for journalists. This keeps up my profile to grow awareness and remain top of mind among my ideal client base.

Last year I was asked by a key publication to comment on the Thank You brand’s latest partnership play to get a meeting with Unilever and P&G. That happened because I’ve set myself up as a regular content source and editors know they can reach out and get a fast reply. This has seen me featured in full page spreads in mainstream media in Australia.

8. Fund a project

I never set out to be an author and was terrified about putting my first book into the world a couple of years ago. So, I felt it was important to have an amazing editor and after much searching and convincing, I secured someone who has just left a leading publishing house and was curious about the-self publishing world.

She came at a cost, and as a new start-up I had to be creative about how to fund her. I put on my thinking cap about who else was trying to communicate to my market. I knew women were entering business at three times the rate of men, so I thought they’d have to be a focus for Xero, the cloud based accounting software bookkeeping company.

I sent off a pitch and over the next three weeks negotiated the sponsorship of my book, which covered the costs of my amazing editor. My book ended up on Booktopia’s Business Bestseller list four months after launch.

The bottom line? I believe you are one marketing partnership away from the success you desire. Victoria Beckham, if you’re ever tempted to become a solo singer again, take heed: there’s true power in numbers.

This article first appeared in issue 32 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine