Creating Successful Alliances and Partnerships through Networking

Douglas Wilder, former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the first elected Black Governor in the United States gave me advice that I will never forget. He said, “From this point on, when you walk into a room, walk in that room like you own it, when you talk with people remember to stand on your principles, keep your word, and people will want to associate with you.” His advice became synonymous with my career and everyday living.

At the time, that advice seemed a bit arrogant, but in retrospect, his advice has granted me passages into many executive suites, corporate boardrooms and has helped me build solid relationships. His advice came at a time when I was desperately seeking to glean knowledge and help from anyone who was willing to share insight on what it takes to be successful in business as a young African-American-especially one on the lecture circuit.

Seemingly overnight, in a section of Fairfax, Virginia, businesses stretching a two-block radius have changed ownership from a predominately-White entrepreneurial establishment to an Asian and Latino establishment. They are receiving thriving support from each other. Granted, I find it great to witness that in the land of milk and honey success can be achieved by all. But, how long will African-Americans continue to allow years of division to stop us from gaining the riches and wealth we deserve? Why is it difficult for African-Americans to build business alliances and partnerships with each other?

Marie Johns, President and CEO of Verizon Communications Washington Company said, “Creating alliances and partnerships is a dynamic organic process. It is formed and reshaped. As professionals move to different sets of responsibilities there is a need to network with new people as well as maintain current alliances. One can never say that their network is complete. There are always interesting people with whom one can engage who would end up being a valuable experience.”

In today’s business culture, having productive relationships for commerce exchange is a way of life. People do business with people they know and with people, they like. They do business by referrals from people whose judgment they trust. Albert Einstein said it best, “Trust is what stands the test of experience.”

Similarly, Frank Fahrenkopf, Co-Chairman of the Commission for Presidential Debates said during our interview it’s best to “Look for opportunities and see where there is a need, think about it while making sure that you have a plan, set objectives that are reachable then prove yourself by your professionalism as you go along with every small step until you reach the end. It is highly important to be able to articulate your views once your objectives have been set.”

It’s foundations like Emerging Business Forum who see the need and are bringing minorities together as a culmination of the essentials for business growth, knowledge transfer for personal and business relationships. But, does former Governor Wilder have a valid point in how to attract quality relationships? More importantly, what are colleges doing to educate students in creating alliances before they get into the workforce?

Cliff McKnight, Counselor and Associate Professor at Montgomery College in Maryland believes “that colleges should engage students in leadership activities such as clubs and other organizations through the office of student life. It’s a major component for student development.” His belief is noble. But without a formal setting is joining clubs enough to provide competent networking skills?

Dr. Ivan Misner, President and Founder, of BNI (Business Network Int’l), an international organization that manages two thousand networking chapters says, no! Colleges and universities are not teaching networking skills because the professors don’t know the subject matter.” Why? “Because it’s an emerging topic and many are unfamiliar with the art of networking themselves,” Misner said.

After years of research, informative interviews, and hundreds of social events, I discovered the key to creating successful alliances and partnerships is by utilizing the NAAP Approach. The NAAP Approach is coined and defined as a three-dimensional approach to creating long-lasting partnerships. The rules of engagement are:

oNetworking–First stage, strictly for building a Rolodex of contacts and expertise. Identify professionals that have partnership potential.

oAction-Alliance–Second stage, relationship building takes place at this stage. It is important that keeping in touch or practicing due diligence. This process can take months or several years.

oPartnerships–Third stage, after completing stages one and two, a shared purpose for partnering can be determined. At this point, there should be a solid foundation for working together; call in your chits.

Contrastingly, Marilyn Crawford, of Primetime Omni media says, “If you have established a genuine relationship with a person there’s no such thing as calling in a chit. If you need help with something and you go to a certain person, you are essentially forwarding the relationship. In turn, they are simply forwarding opportunities to other people.” Crawford continued by saying, “If I need something from an alliance, I am comfortable enough with the relationship to pick up the telephone and say this is what I need, can you help me? On the other hand, because that person is comfortable with me they will say either yes or no. Just be prepared for possible rejection.”

Rejection! Rejection? Many African-Americans will say that the fundamental nature of rejection is nothing new and the word itself carries no meaning until the banks and lending institutions makes the word real. “It’s the banks, they refuse to give minorities loans,” a woman said while reading the draft of this article. Maybe Rennie Williams, a professional barber dubbed by the Washington Post as a “debater laureate” says what some are afraid to say, “It’s trust. Whom can you really trust in business? Many African-Americans don’t trust each other and that mistrust stagnates our culture.”

In my opinion, the easiest and most effective way to accomplish creating many strong partnerships simultaneously is to:

oGo direct to the decision maker. Begin at the top. It’s the top down theory. Going direct to the top will eliminate corporate politics that come with starting at the bottom. Top decision makers assign projects to the appropriate person.

oPresent your credentials before an introduction. Having a good image can open many doors. Presenting your credentials before you meet with potential partners allows them to have an idea of who you are and the past work you have done.

oProvide any professional supporting documentation. Submitting supporting documentation such as patents, trade articles, or related accomplishments is often the deciding factor whether executives will accept your request for a meeting.

oHave a reason for the dialogue. Make sure the purpose for communicating with potential alliances is compelling. Ask yourself this, is the meeting more to help them or help me? If it is more for them, your chances of collaborating are greatly increased.

oMaintain good values, strong ethics, and moral principles. Would you do business with a liar and a cheat? Of course not! Never assume that you know someone’s values and ethics. The best rule of thumb is to carry yourself and treat others with the highest respect.

Creating successful alliances and partnerships is critical more than ever before. It takes more than having a college degree and it takes more than just having a prominent job title. Just remember, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, creating partnerships that work takes personality and action. Once you put these two ingredients together and see the benefit of the alliances you form, you will understand why Tim Russert, Host of the television news magazine Meet the Press says, “Creating partnerships has been the most important component helping me build my career.”

There’s Strength in Strategic Alliances

An alliance is really just a business-to-business collaboration. Some people use the term business networking when referring to alliances. Alliances are formed for many reasons. When you are a small business owner, it’s important to understand that there is a strength that can be utilized by strategic alliances, which may be overlooked in light of developing new business and developing additional revenue streams.

Small business alliances produce great rewards

Alliances between small businesses can offer additional benefits besides an increase in business. For instance, there are alliances of small business owners who proactively approach office supply corporations, internet service providers, health care providers and others on behalf of their membership base in order to secure better rates, additional services, and other benefits as the result of the alliance they’ve formed. There’s strength in numbers when you’re a small business owner, and if there are some products or services that you’re looking for to enhance your business, chances are other small business owners are looking for similar products or services too. Why not form a strategic alliance and approach the product or service provider as a group to show that there is a need? There is a market and that you are aligned in hopes of doing business with large companies who are willing to work with you.

Capitalize upon merged resources

Additionally, small businesses can combine more limited resources in order to appear in more high traffic advertising areas than what each business could afford to do on its own. For instance, one small business networking group decided to participate in a local high traffic tradeshow, on behalf of the businesses that chose to be involved. Using the banner of their combined membership, the group divided and conquered the tradeshow fees and staffing for the event, with each participating company taking a time slot and promoting his or her business, as well as the alliance that they had formed. Not only did the participating members increase visibility and gain new business, the networking group added new members that were unaware of their activities, and thereby increased the strength of the alliance by providing a larger member base to include in negotiations.

Synergetic referrals

Another business group of marketing professionals found strength in forming a strategic alliance amongst themselves in order to offer a more comprehensive service package to large clients than any of the independent businesses was able to offer on their own. While they had to deal with some service crossover, it was determined that the size of the potential contracts outweighed what any one business would give up in revenue if crossover in services did occur. To handle the situation, it was written in the alliance contract that the company who brought the business to the table would have the last say in who would work on each contract and what the final compensation would be in the event of a crossover situation. The business owners were like-minded in that they all agreed to act in the best interest of the alliance’s clients first in order to provide a service level above and beyond the large marketing communications firms with which they were competing. By operating as a virtual team of experts, this alliance was able to increase business for all of the participants; they understood the strength in approaching large clients with a more comprehensive offering than any of them could offer independently. It paid off in the end.

Leverage the strengths of a strategic alliance on behalf of your business and tap into clients and resources you may not have thought previously available.

Networking Strategic Alliances

BNI (Business Networking International) coined the phrase “giver’s gain”, which basically means that if you give referrals, leads or resources the recipients will want to repay you somehow. The problem is that as your network grows, it will become increasingly difficult to give referrals to everyone in your network.

This is somewhat counterintuitive because most people would think that as they add contacts to their network it will be easier to refer the new members of your network to each other. However, if you know five accountants it is difficult to refer to all five of them equally. One way to give back to your network is to develop a number of strategic alliances.

There are a few basic steps you should follow to help ensure that your new alliances are effective. First, be sure to think about what you want the alliance to accomplish. Are you simply trying to reach new potential customers? Or are you also trying to reduce your marketing costs? In general, think about the goals of the alliance. Here are some things you might want to consider.

– You will get access to the networks of your partners.

– You will get to associate your business with another, potentially, more established brand.

– You can decrease your overall marketing costs, while expanding your reach.

– You can learn from other businesses. What has been successful for them in the past?

Next you should think about who you want to partner with. If you are a Realtor, you might think of mortgage originators or real estate attorney’s that you could partner with. Bear in mind that your partner does not have to have the same goals are you, but they should be complementary. Here are several ways you can potentially form and alliance with another business.

– Create an alliance with a customer – Creating a mutually beneficial relationship with a key customer can strengthen the relationship and reduce your risk of losing this key customer.

– Create an alliance with a market leader – If you are a small business, you may be able to reap hue rewards from partnering with the market leader in your area. You may be able to offer a level of local penetration that a big company may have trouble creating on it’s own. The alliance may not offer a huge financial incentive for the small business but you can leverage the alliance in your own marketing program. If you are the market leader, consider partnering with a young, easer business that might be able to offer you this type of market penetration.

– Create an alliance with a non-profit organization – You might be able to create an alliance with a trade organization or local community organization, which offer not only direct rewards, but also in-direct rewards from helping a good cause.

– Create an alliance with a former employer – Your company may offer a service that complements the services offered by a former employer.

– Create an alliance with a competitor – while you have to pay very close attention to detail when partnering with a competitor, you might be able to tap into their resources to extend your reach. They might be a competitor, but may not have the specific expertise that you do. For example, many people would consider Yahoo! and Microsoft’s MSN internet portal to be competitors, but MSN recognized Yahoo! Strengths in keyword driven advertising and started featuring Yahoo! Ads with their search results. Of course, MSN is now developing their own contextual advertising system, which means the partnership is coming to an end soon.

– Create an alliance with a parelell industry – simply stated, find another business in your market but that is not a direct competitor and then team up to market to the same customer base. Each company can pitch in financially and see incremental results from their marketing activities.

Planning out exactly how the alliance will work is the next step. You and your partner should clearly outline what each party is going to be responsible for and how results are going to be monitored. Be sure to discuss the costs involved in the alliance and make sure that each party has a clear understanding of what all of the costs will be. Here are some ideas to consider.

– Ask your partner to display your literature and/or products. A Realtor may be able to display brochure from a mortgage broker in their office or include it in the packet of information they present new clients.

– Ask your partner to link to your website from theirs. An accounting firm may be able to place a link to your financial planning practice on their website.

– Include your brochure in a partners mailings. A delivery company might be willing to include your brochure in the invoices they send to their customers each month.

– Develop joint marketing materials that promote both businesses and share the expenses of implementing the plan. For example, a handyman and a landscaper may develop a direct mail piece that promotes both companies and then each company can contribute to the mailing expenses.

– Develop a “preferred partner” program that offers customers a financial incentive to buy products in tandem from two companies at once. For example, a car dealership might form a partnership with a service station and offer maintenance bundled with the purchase price of a car. A health club may offer a joint membership to a local tennis or pool club.
Develop a seminar with another business – develop a educational seminar program with a business in your industry and then market the events as a team.

– Publish news about the businesses you have developed an alliance with.

– Introduce your new partners to your key clients. Perhaps you can invite your partner to events you are involved in.

– Serve as a sponsor for events your partners are involved in.

Once you have set up your alliance and implemented your plan, it is critical that the lines of communication stay open and that you pay attention to the relationship you have formed. Check in with your partner to make sure they are happy with the way things are going.

Set up a weekly meeting or conference call with your partner and go through a progress report. You may also find it helpful to create a “report card” for your project before it begins. Base your report card on the goals you laid out early in the relationship and then revisit it over time. By laying out the goals in advance, each person involved with the project will understand what is expected of them. In addition, it is harder to ignore setbacks and bumps in the road if expectations are fully developed and everyone is on the same page before the project begins.

The most common mistakes involve failing to clearly communicate through each stage of the alliances growth. Think about the overall value proposition, where each parties goals are aligned and mismatched, the level of commitment or excitement from each party. Always think about how the alliance can become a win-win for everyone involved. If you do not think you can really add value, don’t participate because you do not want to damage your credibility. Finally, if the alliance simply does not add measurable value to your business, do not participate.

Creating these formal alliances will help you develop and strengthen the relationships you already have. Power networkers can create multiple alliances with multiple members of their network. These alliances have the added benefit of allowing you to add value to a number of businesses without having to actually give specific referrals to a number of businesses individually.