Innovating Your Way to Smart Business Deals

March 9, 2009

regionalnetworkinggroupsSo you run a business, or you work in a business, or you would like to run or work in a business?  Any way you look at it, this applies to you.

Business is all about connections; Business to business connections, business to consumer connections, employee to employer connections, employee to employee connections, etc.  There are ways that each connection can help you and hurt you, and steps you can take so that each connection can be improved/more helpful.

One connection in particular can be more helpful than a lot of people think, that’s a business to business connection.  I guarantee that if your name is out in the open, linked to your company, you have been contacted time and again by various companies.  Most of the time they are marketing or selling their services, trying to get a link to their website from you, or something else that helps them (regardless of whether or not it helps you). And most times, we just delete these emails, hang up on their calls, and erase their voicemails.

But in tough economic times, where being creative and innovative is key to finding long term success, maybe its time to rethink that strategy.

There are many times when you can use various business connections to your advantage, even if it is not immediately evident from an email or sales call.  For example, could a link to your website help you out?  Could you advertise with them in exchange for exclusive rights or privileges?  Do they have a distribution method you could use to your advantage?

Face it, there are companies out there that do some things better than you do.  Teaming with them so that you are both serving each other could give you some leverage and help you move forward.  Don’t be afraid to give something up to get something in return either.  Maybe you can offer discounted features, free advertising, or something else in return for a partnership.

One example that might help illustrate this point came to me from a friend of mine in the marketing industry.  He works as a consultant for a major clothing distributor who recently redesigned their website/services.  They decided to form an online advertising partnership with a growing music service/network to launch a combined affiliate program across the web.  This was an idea that developed very rapidly from a chance phone call and one that has already paid off in a very short time.

What kinds of business deals can you pull off to keep moving forward?  Think about it, and act on it.  It could lead to new business and stronger connections inside and outside of your industry.

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Outsource Your Internet Strategy: Value in Innovative Partnerships

December 17, 2008

Web promotion and advertising is essential to the success of many, if not all, companies today.  But it is a tricky area for a lot of people.  It becomes even trickier if you are talking about a brick and mortar company that has no real online experience or activity.  If you are a relative unknown on the web, the chances of you sticking around in the new economy are slim and none.

Luckily, there are companies that dominate business on the web.  I am talking about companies that were formed and developed online, with no real offline business activity.  These companies, like social networks, e-commerce retailers, and search engines operate primarily online and have already carved out their corner of the online marketplace.  So why not reach out to them?

A partnership with an online company can go a long way toward helping an offline company compete in an online world.  Instead of going it alone, and guessing your way to success (or failure, most likely), try leveraging their brand on the web to increase exposure and improve business.  Many organizations (ie. Salvation Army) have tried the hard way only to find out it didn’t work.

Step one, do a little research.  Find out what types of companies are reaching your target audience online.  Figure out who is popular, why they are popular, and how a potential partnership could work.  Prepare yourself for negotiations, but go in with an open mind.  Many of these online companies have their own strategies that have taken them to where they are, and a partnership with an offline company might be a relatively new concept.

Step two, reach out to them.  Tell them what you are interested in doing.  Explain to them how it can help both parties reach new audiences.  Even if all you are doing is adding content to their website, or inventory for them to sell, a simple revenue share might do the trick.  And it will still get you the necessary exposure that your are looking for.

Step three, let go.  Your instinct will be to try to control this new online strategy.  Most things online can only be controlled up to a certain point before consumer behavior takes over.  Most likely, the web-based company you are partnering with will have a better idea of how to implement and manage this strategy, so give them some control.

One basic example would be a retail store with limited online exposure partnering with Woot, Amazon, or an eBay store.  Another is a restaurant that partners with an online menu server to get some attention.  This can be purely marketing and advertising, or it can be co-branded sponsorships.  You can add content, inventory, money, or your own customer base.  Be creative.

In the end, even if it costs you some money, it will still be cheaper than trying to develop your own content online.  And if it works, you can just do more of it.  The truth is, even if you are not struggling now, the time is coming that a company who has no presence on the web will become absolete.

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Don’t Get Caught in the Recession Trap

December 9, 2008

“Oh no, we’re in a recession,” you think to yourself, “How is my small business ever going to survive?”

“We’ll have to lay off the entire staff.  We’ll have to cut our marketing budget.  We can’t buy any new supplies.  Time to buckle down and wait for them to tell me when it’s over.”

It’s time to take a good long look at the reality of your business.  The recession is real, and it may be impacting us for quite some time, but it will not touch everyone.  Everywhere you look there are businesses that are managing to move along quite well.  And if you own or operate a small business, don’t get sucked into thinking that you have to be stingy right now.  That could be the mistake that costs you your success.

The National Small Business Administration has eased lending to small businesses nationwide.  That means that the tightening credit market may not affect you as much as the big corporations.  And for many small businesses, the amount of credit needed is not significant enough to cause any real trouble.

Small businesses are nimble.  You can come up with new and innovative ways to do business early and often.  This leaves the door open to meet new customer needs, market aggressively without spending a lot of money, and offer a little compassion to your bigger clients who may be feeling the recession more than you are.

It’s true, some small businesses are definitely going to be affected.  But many are not.  Many have the opportunity to thrive and grow during this time.  I am currently working with two small businesses that have seen increased growth in the past few months, and there are no signs of slowing.  Here are a few strategies that your small business could use to grow while everyone around you sinks:

1.    Increase your online marketing. It’s cheap and easy to run a couple of search engine ads.  Develop a word of mouth campaign that your customers can use to spread the word.

2.    Lower your prices. Your customers are cutting their spending.  If you want their business now and in the future, cater to their needs.  They will remember you for it.

3.    Offer a free trial to potential customers. If you can take advantage of those people or businesses that are price shopping now, you can steal some market share from the competition.  Now might be the cheapest time to attract new business.

4.    Focus on customer service. People need to know that you care.  Now, more than ever, a good customer service department can go a long way towards forging strong customer loyalty.

5. Create a detailed spending plan.  Don’t be afraid to spend money, just know where it is all going.  Find the things that are working, and do more of it.  When the market comes back, you’ll find yourself on top.

Just because the economy is in a recession, that does not mean you are.  Take a second to think for yourself.  Could your business be doing more right now?  The way to get to where you want to be is to be moving forward as everyone else is standing still.

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