In the 1990s, when I began thinking about how to help entrepreneurs prepare for the 21st century, I condensed the areas requiring a heightened level of importance into three critical disciplines:
1. Leveraging technology in every aspect of your business;
2. Professional networking, as opposed to just meeting new people;
3. Building strategic alliances as a growth strategy.
If by now you haven’t become at least somewhat proficient with the tech stuff, you don’t have much time to adapt, adopt and survive. Better get busy.
And thanks to the work of people like the legendary Ivan Misner, founder of Business Network International (BNI), most of us now subscribe to what I call Misner’s Razor: “It isn’t netplay; it’s network.”
But what about that alliance thing?
Blasingame’s Second Law of Small Business states: It’s redundant to say, “undercapitalized small business.” It’s a natural law that small businesses come to the end of their resources - people, assets, technology, cash and credit - much quicker than do our big business brethren and sistren. So by that definition, we have to do something as primordial as when Og asked Gog to hold the chisel while he carved out his new stone invention that looked a lot like a donut. We have to seek and develop alliances.
Answer these questions:
- Is your business growth hampered by a lack of people, capital or other assets?
- Would you like to bid on a request-for-proposal (RFP) that has specifications beyond your company’s ability to perform?
- Are you reluctant to ask a large customer about their future plans for fear that your organization may not be able to step up to the answer?
If you answer any of these - or variations thereof - in the affirmative, perhaps it’s time to pursue one or more of these three alliance examples, in descending order of formality.
A partnership is more formal and typically longer term. Regardless of how it’s structured, in general, all partners have a vested interest in the success of the entire enterprise. Think of two business owners buying a commercial duplex and sharing the space because neither has the cash or credit to swing the deal alone. Most partnerships are best organized with the help of an attorney. But remember, because it’s more formal, probably even legally binding, choose your partners well.
Once, when consulting a mentor about choosing a business partner, he used hyperbole to encourage caution by saying, “A partner is only good for two things: sex and dancing.” But it isn’t hyperbolic to say that alignment of values between the parties is imperative to a successful partnership. This is a natural law: Regardless of how symbiotic the combined contributions may be to the venture, a partnership founded by parties with conflicting values is doomed from the beginning. Choose your partners well.
By definition, a subcontractor becomes a contractual participant you bring in to help fulfill a larger project for which you are the lead vendor or general contractor. Unlike a partner, a sub expects to get paid for delivery of work or products regardless of how the project turns out.
Subcontractors are a great way to leverage your business without giving up control of the opportunity. But remember that with this step you’ve created a performance chain. And we all know that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A weak subcontractor could undermine your performance, harm your brand, and may even take you down.
Like partners, choose your sub-contractors well.
This relationship is typically less formal. Let’s say a web designer, a programmer and a search engine optimization expert plug each other in on projects as peers, instead of as subcontractors. After a project is executed and paid for, the participants go their own way until the next symbiotic scenario. The most successful professionals I know claim, nurture and go to market with many and varied strategic alliance relationships. And most were born from networking.
Going forward, I believe we’re going to see more enthusiasm and growth in the marketplace than in the past few years. That should mean more business, which should present more opportunities for alliances.
Before giving up on a project because you don’t have the in-house resources, look around for ways to create alliances that allow you to take advantage of an opportunity. Start establishing them now - before you need them.
Write this on a rock … If Og the caveman can create an alliance, you can, too.