It’s just a fact of business. As you grow, sometimes you “outgrow” what may have been the best strategic partnership on the planet! Or, you are growing and can no longer put the time into focusing on your website, your brand, your presence in the community and more. And we all know what happens when we don’t focus, right?
So where do you find the first, or next, strategic partner for your marketing efforts? How do you find the proper fit for an advertising agency, digital agency, public relations firm, SEO company and more? It’s a challenge for all companies — small, medium and large — to find that perfect “partner.”
And, what I’m talking about are strategic partners, not just vendors. I’m talking about adding to your team a group of folks who will be almost as invested in your business as you are. You want to find a company that really cares about your growth and profitability because they know they will grow with you. Once you have identified that you have a need for outside support — it’s time to get started.
Your Wish List. What are your needs? Where do you need the most support in growing your business? Put in writing what you are seeking, how it will impact your business and the financial investment you are willing to make to accomplish the goals. For example, are you looking for a specific tactic in a specific area or help with your overall integrated marketing plan? Let’s look at a few scenarios.
Scenario One. Let’s say you have a Web presence and you’ve heard about SEO (search engine optimization) and you know more customers and potential customers will find you on Google and other search sites if you have your website optimized, but don’t have a clue how to get that done. In this case you are seeking a strategic partner for a specific tactic — helping you grow your Web presence. But wait. What about those colored areas on the top of Google? Those results are from pay-per-click search advertising? Can one digital agency help you accomplish your online marketing goals? Again, write down what you think you want.
Scenario Two. You know you are very good in your community at providing support to local football or baseball teams; you are an expert on pests; you fundraise for your favorite charity; and you provide a comprehensive set of services. You know it, but others in the community don’t. Your wish list may include enlisting a public relations expert to help you get the word out about what you are doing within the communities you serve. They also may be able to identify other opportunities to get recognition for your company. Again, write down what you are seeking in this area.
Scenario Three. Every day you get phone calls from local newspaper, TV, radio, billboard companies, etc., all telling you they can get you more business. Maybe they can, but how do you wade through all of the opportunities to find what works for your business? Write down what results you are looking for and then get ready to chat with an advertising agency or communications company.
Search. Now that you have your wish list, it’s time to search. To begin the process you may want to consider looking at other home service companies — maybe about your size, maybe bigger. These are companies you admire for their accomplishments in terms of their brand, presence in the community, PR efforts, website or whatever it is you are seeking. Find out who they are using. Consider asking for a referral (sound familiar?).
Set up Interviews. Set up interviews with a minimum of three companies that you may think fit with your business. And then (drum roll please), most importantly, LISTEN. Listen to what they have to say about their business and how they can assist you. Find out who would be working with you. The salesperson or a team you’ve never met? Do you like them? Is the chemistry good? Do they understand your business? Have they done their homework? Do they know how big you are and what your objectives are for growth? Do they understand the assignment at hand? How will they measure success for you? And LISTEN hard because they may have ideas that you didn’t think of. It happens. You are hiring for expertise right?
The Finalists. Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to two companies, go and visit them — at their locations. The intangibles will emerge. Meet the folks who will actually be assigned to your business. Is the owner of their business involved in your business? Are you a small fish in a big pond? Are they financially stable? Overall, does the culture of the company you are going to be paying to partner with you feel like a culture you can work with? Are they a good strategic fit to help grow your business?
Finally You’ve Decided! You’ve now devoted quite a bit of time to the process of selecting a strategic partner. Taking the time up front will pay off in a partner you will have to help grow your business for years to come. Strategic partners have value that cannot be measured. They go that extra mile for you and your business because they are invested in your growth. I promise you it is worth your time. These days, customers find us in a variety of ways — and the digital world just keeps getting bigger. Making sure you have strong strategic partners will only help you grow.
The author is chief marketing and strategy officer for Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.